Don’t misunderstand Joe Ternullo when it comes to his 12-year-old son Joey’s racing career. The second generation flooring dealer is crazy proud of his boy’s racing accomplishments and his deep passion for the sport. But as much as he enjoys a summer night at the track, what he values just as much, if not more, is the ride to the track.
It’s during the hour-long ride from their Middletown, Conn., home of the Waterford Connecticut Speedbowl when father and son, and often daughter, Danielle, 16, get to talk.
The conversation usually focuses on Joey’s racing strategy for the night, but typically can include a give-and-take talk on everything from chores, friends, school and mom-related topics. This is what Dad calls “quality time,” a chance for him and his family to bond and share an experience they all love.
“It’s really a great family time. It’s better than anyone can imagine,” said Ternullo, an installer by trade, who owns Middletown Ceramic Tile Co. in Middletown, Conn., which was opened in 1960 by his late father Carmello.
At 4-feet, 9-inches and 75 pounds, Joey Ternullo is already thinking big—as in NASCAR big. The eighth-grader has been racing for more than half his life, starting with go-carts at age six. The idea of strapping himself inside a 750-pound racecar and roaring down a track at 70 mph is more exciting and “freaky” than scary, he said. “Sometimes I’m fearful, but I love the speed of it. You get to drive a car before you’re 16. Not many kids get that chance.”
When driving, Joey said he focuses on two things—staying away from the wall and watching for looming crashes ahead of him.
The young Ternullo’s game plan has worked on most races but, unfortunately, didn’t help last year when his car flipped and he needed to be helped by paramedics. While last year’s crash shortened his season, so far this year, Joey has won two races and accumulated 366 points for a first-place ranking in the 14-driver division.
“Getting to victory lane is a thrill,” Joey said. “It makes me want to win every race.”
While Joey may be confident as he cruises around the track, his mother, Jennifer, often finds herself “wicked nervous,” while Dad said he is “walking on eggshells.”
“When he’s racing, I’m always nervous until he finished,” said Joe, who was relieved after seeing his son emerge from his car after crash. “I knew he was OK; we’ve put in the best safety equipment.” The cost of racing can be expensive and can require hard decisions for families to make, Joe said. He estimates it cost $10,000 to keep Joey’s car on the track.
Helping defray the cost of expenses such as gas, parts, tires and repairs has been Laticrete International. The maker and supplier of tile and stone flooring installation products signed on as a sponsor last year.
Born this way
Joey’s love for racing started as a toddler, his parents said. He was always fascinated by machines, especially loud ones, such as go-carts and the family sit-down lawnmower, where mowing the lawn was a ritual for father and son. He first learned to drive when sitting in his sister’s battery-powered Barbie jeep. He was 18 months old.
His passion for racing cars came a few years later after father and son attended a racecar event at a local track. On the drive home, the 6-year-old told his dad he wanted to be a racecar driver.
“He wants to be a professional and make a living out of it,” said Ternullo, “He knows it’s a tough business. There are a lot of kids who want the same thing.”
This summer Joey is racing in Wednesday night’s NASCAR-sanctioned Wild ’N Wacky point championship series at the Waterford Speedbowl. He competes in the Bandolero division, a category for youths aged 8 to 14. Drivers compile points over a 20-race season, beginning in April and ending in October. There are two basic ways to score points—finishing position and bonus points.
In the past several years, Joey has racked up 40 trophies after competing in hundreds of races. He always drives his No. 9 car—his birthday is Nov. 9t.
A racing family has to have a commitment that calls for many nights at the track and hours at the shop repairing the racecar, Jennifer said.
Still it’s worth the effort and time, especially when watching the interaction between her husband and son, she added. “They’re so close because of this racing thing. Joe’s working on the car, Joey’s right there.”
Joey said his goal this year is to win the points title and get his picture taken holding the checkered flag at the annual banquet at the end of the season.
“This is a lot of fun,” he concluded. “I get to hang out with my dad and race a car at the same time.”
John Mason is a freelance writer from Hartford, Conn., who has installed floor covering for 30 years after learning the trade from his father. He can be reached at 860.614.7560, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: On Aug. 24, the Connecticut Floor Covering Association and friends are invited to watch Joey race at the Waterford Speedbowl. The 5:30 p.m. event will feature a picnic. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for children 12 and under. For more information, please call 860.951.1644.