Hey, Hollywood, Joe C. Maynard’s NHRA Journey Should Be a Movie

Jackson Wheeler
9 Min Read


  • Joe C. Maynard, a former chief warrant officer four and 20-year Army veteran, has made 13 passes in his life in a Top Alcohol Dragster.
  • He’s also the proud owner of two Wally trophies after just two events.
  • Maynard attended drag racing school in November, which marked his first time ever in a dragster.

Someone needs to call Hollywood.

Quick.

On the other hand, Joe C. Maynard has a story that actually might be too good—or at least a little too unbelievable—for even the big screen.

Maynard is not your typical NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster pilot. Oh, he’s a pilot, all right—a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot who spent 20 years in the Army before retiring from active duty in 2016. This past fall, Maynard, the son of NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series owner Joe Maynard, thought he’d give piloting a Top Alcohol Dragster a try.

To say he’s caught on kind of quickly is the understatement of the young racing season.

Less than five months removed from attending Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School, the former chief warrant officer four—a senior-level technical and tactical expert—has made 13 passes in his life in a Top Alcohol Dragster. He’s also already the proud owner of two Wally trophies.

joe c maynard nhra top alcohol

JCM Racing

NHRA rookie Joe C. Maynard raced to a pair of Wallys in his Top Alcohol Dragster at Gainesville.

He actually won both events this past weekend in a Samsel Racing A/Fuel Dragster backed by JCM Racing and Leatherwood Distillery in Gainesville, Florida, as rain shortened the Baby Gators event from a week earlier. Maynard took care of business by notching the win in the delayed Baby Gators by beating Mike Coughlin in the semifinal and Matthew Cummings in the final for his first career Wally trophy.

Maynard then went on to win at the 55th Gatornationals event on the same Gainesville track, where he beat Dan Dietrich, Angelle Sampey, Jackie Fricke and Jeffrey Veale. The win over Veale in the final came in Maynard’s lucky 13th career pass in a Top Alcohol Dragster.

Was Maynard surprised at the two-Wally day? Sure.

How about shocked or overwhelmed by the pressure of the moment? Certainly not.

“I was a helicopter instructor pilot in the Army, for combat maneuvers, for all sorts of stuff,” Maynard told Autoweek. “I did eight tours of combat, I went through it. And so when I look at NHRA, I’m out here thinking, ‘Man, we’re not curing cancer, we’re not saving the world. We’re a traveling circus.’

“That takes half the pressure off right there because you know the worst that’s going to happen is you might get hurt. Nobody has ever shot at me yet (in NHRA). No pressure.”

joe c maynard nhra

JCM Racing

Joe C. Maynard is still learning the NHRA game.

The 45-year-old Maynard says he’s proof that it’s never too late to try something new. He’s also keen to what he says is a bit of an advantage he may have over, say, even three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart—who raced the full Top Alcohol Dragster schedule last year—or even three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Sampey—who is also making the move to the Top Alcohol Dragster class on the backend of her illustrious NHRA career.

Neither Stewart nor Sampey was able to go 2-for-2 in their first two events in Top Alcohol.

“Tony has had to unlearn a lot of things, and me, I don’t have anything to unlearn,” Maynard said.

Maynard attended Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in November, which marked his first time ever in a dragster. He was hardly a natural and was even second-guessing whether he would be able to complete the licensing phase in his first try, which was scheduled for Las Vegas just a few weeks after the dragster course.

“I didn’t do that well, I’ll be honest with you,” Maynard said of his first sessions with Hawley. “And I told Frank, ‘Look, you’re the godfather of racing, and I will listen to you. Look, don’t hide anything. Don’t protect my feelings. Tell me, do you think I’m ready?'”

Hawley’s response was a bit of a reality check.

“Frank says, ‘If you were my son, I would tell you that you probably need to come back and do another class.’

“So I thought about it. And I thought, ‘Well, if I wait any longer, that means I’m going to have to wait a full year before I can get an alcohol dragster ride.'”

Maynard ultimately ran it by the family and decided to go to Las Vegas and attempt to get the license that would allow him to race in the NHRA.

“In Vegas, I made three full runs, never even tried to half-track, never even did a launch, nothing,” Maynard said. “I made three full runs. And it went really well. And boom, I got licensed, and (NHRA veterans) Chad Green and Justin Ashley signed my license form at Vegas, and then that was it.

“This is not supposed to happen. There’s no way this should happen.”

“And then here we are in the season, and I made one test run during Wednesday before the Baby Gators, and I screwed that up. I didn’t even turn my fuel on. And then once it came to game time on Q1, I just focused, I put it all together. I literally sit in that car and meditate.”

Maynard had raced before, but it was nothing that would prepare him for his Top Alcohol effort. He gave dirt-track racing a whirl back home for one season in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he won the Clarksville Speedway’s Pure Mini Class a few years ago, driving what he describes as “a 2002 busted Escort. We worked on that thing all the time.”

That was it for his racing experience, though—well, not counting the streetlight-to-streetlight challenges with his buddies when he was in high school more than a quarter-century ago.

Hardly your typical Wally-winning racer’s background.

“I’m telling you. It’s hard for me to believe,” Maynard said. “This is not supposed to happen. There’s no way this should happen. To leave (Gainesville) with two wins in only my first two races is just incredible—and not possible without something else.

“I’m sure a lot of this is thanks to my mom, who I know was along for the ride with me this weekend,” added Maynard, referring to his mother Cathi Maynard, who died in June 2023 following a long battle with multiple sclerosis. “I got to have my dad here on the starting line with me all weekend, my kids watching along at home; it’s just been really special, and I couldn’t ask for a better start to my NHRA career.”

Headshot of Mike Pryson

Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and MLive Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek in 2011. He won several Michigan Associated Press and national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for auto racing coverage and was named the 2000 Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club’s Michigan Motorsports Writer of the Year. A Michigan native, Mike spent three years after college working in southwest Florida before realizing that the land of Disney and endless summer was no match for the challenge of freezing rain, potholes and long, cold winters in the Motor City.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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