By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
FRANKLIN, Texas — Within any given pit area at tracks around the state of Texas, you'll find a mix of those who go after the checkered flag, and those 'big picture' guys who race for points. Both require a different approach, and points chasing isn't for everybody. It's stressful, and can downright ruin the fun.
For 56-year-old Joe Maple, chasing points (and wins, for that matter) is truly an art form. The highly skilled racer with many years of experience is going hard after his first feature win at Cotton Bowl this year in IMCA Southern Sport Mods. In 12 starts, he's earned three top-five and 10 top-10 finishes.
“To be very honest, I'm not very happy with how this season is unfolding,” Maple said with immediate candor. “We've been trying some new things, trying to get the car where I need it to be. In the last couple of weeks, I think I've hit on something that's going to help me. It's a challenge to find speed. Thanks to CRS Suspension, we're getting much faster.
“I was very close to winning some races earlier in the year, but we got away from what works for me. In the last couple of weeks, we've gotten back to where it's really close. In IMCA sanctioned racing, the high points guys start out back every week. It can get pretty tough to get through traffic in just 20 laps.”
Maple has been racing since the mid 1980s and has an impressive list of on-track accomplishments.
“I started racing back in 1984,” Maple explained. “I raced right up until 2002 when my wife got sick. I had to sell all of my equipment, and didn't get back into the sport until last year. It sure felt good to be involved in that points chase my first year back.”
Maple fought tooth and nail with James Hanusch for the Sport Mod crown last year at Cotton Bowl, and came up just three points shy of the title. After being away from racing for 18 years, he was solid. He's always been strong, from the 1990s on. His resume speaks volumes of his skills and versatility.
“I've been blessed with a lot of success over the years,” Maple explained. “I won IMCA championships for Modifieds in 1994 at Speedway 90 in China, Texas; and at Shady Oaks Speedway in Goliad, Texas. I also won a UMP championship at Battleground Speedway in 1998, and a UMP crown at Houston Raceway Park in 1999, all in cars completely built by myself.”
And that's not all. He's driven just about every kind of race car on the planet, and has won in most.
“We won several races in Sprint cars from 1987 through 1992. It's been a hell of a ride over the years.”
Maple competes in what is easily one of the most competitive classes in the sport, especially at Cotton Bowl and Heart O' Texas. He says to win a feature in 2021 has become increasingly difficult.
“It's a very tough class no matter where you run,” he said. “You have to decide which approach you want to use. You either want to race for points and accept the best finish you can get every week, or throw caution to the wind and just go for that checkered flag.”
When Maple suits up and gets ready to compete, he does so in a very nice race car.
“I run a 2020 IRP chassis from Jason Ingalls,” Maple said with pride in his voice. “I got it brand new in February of 2020, brought it home as a bare chassis and put it together by myself. With the pandemic shutting us down for two months, we got to race it starting in May. After 18 years away, I had no expectations whatsoever. As I told my wife, my goal was just to go out and have some fun.
“The first night out, I had an issue with the driveshaft. I didn't finish the feature and was credited with 14th place. The next week, I damn near won the thing. We hit the podium for several weeks in an row, were leading the points at one time, then had a distributor failure. That put me behind James, and I spent the rest of the season trying to catch him.”
As for horsepower, this is one driver who handles that task by himself. Sure, he has some machining done at times, like they all do, but when it comes to assembly and maintenance, he handles it with ease.
“I used to be a full-time mechanic before I moved into the management side of the business,” Maple said. “So I am mechanically inclined and love to work on my race car. I build my engines and they have adequate power. This way, I know exactly what parts are in it and how it should perform.
“Even though I finished sixth at CBS the last time out, I had some engine issues. I have it all apart right now in fact, and if I can, I'm going to try and run at Heart O' Texas on Friday night. I found what went wrong, so we'll get it back together and see how it runs this weekend.”
Along with his natural talent behind the wheel and mechanical expertise, Maple also has some key supporters on board who keep his No. 231 IMCA Southern Sport Mod entry on-track and competitive.
“I need to thank Wheels Tavern, Bottlenecks Bar and Grill, Speed Secrets and CRS Suspension for al they do for me. Having them on board really helps and is a source of great pride for me. I also need to thank my wife and family for the unconditional love and support. I couldn't do any of this without it.”
As the 2021 season starts to wind down and we begin to count the number of points races left to run, Maple has a clear goal in mind to achive before the gates are closed.
“I really want to get back to Victory Lane at Cotton Bowl,” he concluded. “I'm working hard to find that speed and feel we're almost there. I have to keep an eye on the points, as well, since we are still in contention. I can tell you, once this points season is over, I'll be going all out for wins this fall.”