Joseph Reynolds Ray, Jr. also known as “Joie Ray,” is one of the nation’s pioneer race car drivers. His racing career spanned 17 seasons (1947-1963) as a Sprint, Midget, and Stock car driver in several states, mainly in the Midwest.
In 1946, Joie and his wife Susie visited Winchester Speedway in Indiana to see a AAA Sprint car race. That experience sparked his interest in auto racing. Joie returned to Louisville and began working as a crew member for race car owner Carl Ott. While reading the classifieds in a racing paper, Joie found a Dodge four-cylinder Sprint car for sale for $450.00. He decided to take a chance and play the local numbers game, betting a single dollar on number 450. He won $500 on the number and used his prize money to buy his first race car in 1946, the #7 Joe’s Special.
On Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947, in Mitchell, IN, Joie Ray made history by becoming the first African American driver to participate with white drivers in a sanctioned Sprint car race with the Midwest Dirt Track Racing Association (MDTRA), just days before Jackie Robinson’s debut in major league baseball. Shortly after that, Joie competed with the Central States Racing Association (CSRA) and the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). He was the first African American to race with them as well.
Although Joie successfully ran at the fairs in the Midwest, like many other race drivers, he had a strong desire to run in the Indianapolis 500. To do that, a driver had to be a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA), the major league organization of its time. According to records of noted racing historian Crocky Wright, Joie drove his first AAA race on June 26, 1949, in a Sprint car at Salem Speedway, IN. Joie qualified 13th in a car labeled RW; timed in at 24.158 seconds on the 1/2 mile high-banked oval, 13th out of 25 cars; finished 5th in the 3rd heat, 2nd in the Consolation race, and 8th in the Feature.
Joie nearly had an Indy Car to race, but sponsorship deals fell through. Regardless, he was the first African American licensed with AAA’s successor, the United States Auto Club (USAC).
Joie continued to race until 1963, accumulating wins in often inferior equipment and accumulating a multitude of top-5 and top-10 finishes with high-caliber drivers such as Bill Cantrell, Cliff Griffith, and Chick Smith.