For Joe and Chad Covert of Saukville, drag racing is a gentle, friendly, family-oriented sport . . . until the pedal hits the metal
Most people think of those who drag race as mechanics who load up their car and take it to the local greasy track, Joe and Chad Covert say.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It is 100% family-oriented,” said Chad, 41, who lives across the road from his father in the Town of Saukville. “You go to a national event, everybody is there with their kids, wife and motor homes. It’s a family affair in every sense of the word.”
The family business, logically named Covert Operations, has been kind to the Coverts for the last 50 years.
Joe, 68, began racing at Great Lakes Dragway in Union Grove in 1968 after his first wife told him he couldn’t race stock cars at an old dirt track in Cedarburg.
“Someone convinced me to go to Michigan for a race and the hook was set,” he said. “I lost in the finals that year and I was off.”
After serving in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam until 1970, Joe raced at Union Grove for 15 years, taking an annual trip to Byron, Ill., for a larger race.
He set out on the racing circuit while running Car Maid Service in Cedarburg. He’d work 16-hour days at the garage, then head out across the country with his motor home for a few months at a time.
During his career, Joe has won more than 50 National Hot Rod, International Hot Rod Association and smaller circuit races.
He has been division champion twice, runner up six times and ranked in the top 10 in the world on four separate occasions.
Milwaukee Magazine named him to its “Most Interesting People” list in 1987.
Overall, Joe has won 24 national events and is showing little sign of slowing down.
The only thing keeping him off the track this summer is the fact that the engine on his 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass blew up during his first race of the year. The broken motor is still sitting in his garage.
If money wasn’t an issue, the Coverts would race 20 to 30 times a year, they said.
A trip to Indianapolis for a race can cost $900 just on diesel fuel to haul two rigs, three cars and a golf cart, Joe said.
“If I had somebody come up and say ‘Put Ozaukee Press on the side of your car and I’ll give you a credit card for fuel’, you wouldn’t see me all summer,” Joe said. “I’d come home and cut my grass every three weeks and be back out again.”
The Coverts race a split-window Corvette, 2005 Pontiac Grand Am and the Cutlass.
They’ve earned sponsorships from companies like Buick, Fel-Pro Gasket, Hydramatic, TCI Transmission, Aeromotive and Sunoco over the years.
Being on the road for much of their lives, the Coverts have met many lifelong friends who will drop everything to help a racer in need.
Chad recalled a trip from Kansas City to Topeka, Kan., when the tongue of the trailer they were hauling broke off and went down a steep embankment.
It took three tow trucks and a new set of axles, but the Coverts got to Kansas for the national event.
“By the time we made it, word had gotten out, and we had 20 guys helping us make the first round,” said Chad, the general manager at Heiser’s Quick Motors in Milwaukee. “That’s drag racing. You’ll borrow your motor to the guy you’re going to run against in the
The competitive side comes out on the track, Joe said.
“You’re the best of buddies with the guys, drinking beer, barbecuing the night before,” he said. “But the next day, it’s get the hell out of my way.”
One of the best pieces of advice Joe got was from NASCAR legend Bobby Allison more than 30 years ago.
“He said ‘If I get money from a sponsorship, I put half into racing and the other half goes to my family,’” Joe said. “You don’t borrow money to buy a car or trailer. When you have the money, that’s when you fix the motor and get back out there.”
While Chad admits drag racing is more of a hobby for him than it is for his father, he hopes to pass the racing tradition to his children Lydia, 16, and Parker, 14.
He actually considered selling all his racing equipment last year and paying off his house.
“I called a good friend and he said, ‘Tell me your two favorite things you can think of from last year,’” Chad said. “They were races. I can think of a win and still get the chills. I relive it all.”
Image information: A 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass fashioned into a Super Gas drag racer with Marilyn Monroe painted on its hood is one of three cars Joe (left) and Chad Covert (white shirt) and Paul Mueller race on the nationwide circuit. Photo by Sam Arendt