Joe Fontana, NEAR Member
Joe Fontana
Photo Courtesy of Rich Belmonte

Joe Fontana joined NEAR in 1981 as a lifetime member. His list of accomplishments spans 64 years of racing, encompassing participation throughout New England, California, Utah, Germany, New Zealand and Australia; representing a truly global career.

Life for Joe began in Hamden, Connecticut. He served our country from 1943-1945 retiring as a Lieutenant JG from the Navy. Following his graduation from Columbia University in 1948 with two BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Naval Science, he got hooked on stock car racing after attending numerous races as a spectator at Plainville Stadium in the early '50s. Joe went on to continue his formal education at the University of Michigan receiving an Associates Degree in Jet Engine Propulsion in '53. He also accepted the challenge of building an in-line six cylinder engine and installing it in a 1934, 4 spring Chevy coupe.

Joe's history in racing includes being a car owner, engine builder, mechanic, driver, sponsor and skipper in yacht racing. Successful Cup drivers, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, started their career with Fontana built 4 cylinder engines; NEAR Hall of Famers that drove for Fontana include Moe Gherzi, Moon Burgess, Hully Bunn, Dave Humphrey, Ed Flemke and Sparky Belmont; as well as Phil Mitchell, another outstanding driver - who won the Plainville Stadium Championship in 1956.

The Moon Burgess/Fontana Flying Eagle #1 was one
of the first NEAR cars remade into a replica that
Moon owned in the eighties.

Photo Courtesy of Rich Belmonte
Sparky Belmont in Joe's J4 (sometimes run as J40)
GMC powered coupe that won nineteen straight
feature races in 1955 under the CORA banner.
Photo Courtesy of Rich Belmonte

In 1951, Joe started his racing days at Plainville Stadium in the Fly'n Jimmy GMC powered coupe with Moon Burgess doing the driving. Racing venues included Bridgeport, West Haven, Waterford, Riverside, Seekonk, Cherry Park and Thompson.

As an Engine Builder, Joe's motors won 122 Features; 11 Track Champions including the Modified Championships at West Haven, Bridgeport and Cherry Park; One National Title; and 19 Most consecutive Feature Wins with driver, Sparky Belmont - and in one race, lapping the Thompson field (with numerous OHV V-8s) in a '55 cut-down. As a Drag Racing driver, Joe raced the Lions Drag Strip, Street Class; Bonneville Salt Flats, 16 wins, Best Run 268 mph and the Fastest 80 year old world record, 2006. As an Engine Builder, Joe won 12 Wally's in the Funny Cars and a couple of wins in the Blown Alcohol Dragsters along with three NEMA Championships and numerous Midget Racing Championships.

Joe was the Founder of "Fontana Automotive"; designing and building four generations of Fontana Midget Engines.

Racing for Joe was not limited to land, he also raced on the water establishing a World Record in 1988 and won the Newport to Ensenada yacht race in 1995 in a 78-foot mono-hull to beat Dennis Conner (who had just won the America's Cup Race in Perth, Australia) in an ultra-light catamaran and setting a new world's record. Joe was also the recipient of five "Best in Class" in sailboat racing.

By Judy Poirier