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YouTube, autos and anthropology lead to Aussie adventure

Like many his age, Pennsylvania College of Technology student Joseph C. Lusk grew up admiring YouTubers, dreaming of becoming a celebrity by posting clips of his video gaming. But combining his YouTube fascination with another passion – racing – gained him his first experience abroad, practicing his favorite activity behind the wheel of a late model race car in Australia.

Well before he started watching YouTube vloggers play video games, Lusk, of Linden, watched NASCAR races on television with his dad on Sundays.

“I was drawn to that, and it was my favorite thing,” said Lusk.

So when he was 3, his parents, Hal and Cathy Lusk, bought him a go-kart for Christmas.

December Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate Joseph C. Lusk (right) celebrates a second-place finish at Heartland Raceway in Moama, Australia, as part of the Late Model Racing Victoria Series. Lusk spent a month in Australia (early in 2020, before COVID- 19 travel restrictions), racing with the team of Danny Amato and completing an anthropological study. (The Amato car is in the background, at right.)
December Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate Joseph C. Lusk (right) celebrates a second-place finish at Heartland Raceway in Moama, Australia, as part of the Late Model Racing Victoria Series. Lusk spent a month in Australia (early in 2020, before COVID- 19 travel restrictions), racing with the team of Danny Amato and completing an anthropological study. (The Amato car is in the background, at right.)

“I drove it around in our yard, and my dad noticed some potential, that I was getting the hang of it quick,” Lusk explained. “They decided to capitalize on this and get a competitive go-kart and take me to the track on the weekends. And we kept doing that for a few years.”

From go-karts, Lusk moved on to micro sprint cars, then dirt pro-stock and, today, dirt late model racing. He and his No. 20 vehicle are regulars at Clinton County Speedway and other tracks. Dirt racing, he explained, shares roots with NASCAR. Both began in the South during Prohibition, when people modified stock cars to outrun the law while smuggling alcohol. The owners of the vehicles then decided to compete to see whose souped-up car was the fastest. The difference is that NASCAR moved on to big pavement ovals, while dirt racing remained on smaller, dirt ovals.

Eventually, Lusk, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in web and interactive media from Penn College, realized that being a race car driver was a great topic for YouTube.

“Being a kid, YouTube is like free, infinite on-demand TV. I think every kid my age that played video games watched YouTube,” he said. “This generation now has a huge connection with these online creators. I thought that was super cool. I also thought I could play video games on YouTube. That wasn’t realistic, and it took me years to realize that being a race car driver is so much more niche and cool.”

He launched his Joe Lusk Racing Channel in 2015. There, he posts videos from his own races and from his travel to other racing events, as well as clips of working on the car with his dad.

He is grateful for his parents. His father, neither a racer nor a mechanic before Joseph came along, took up mechanics and built a powder-coating business after trying it on Joseph’s go-kart. He uses the business to help support Lusk’s racing career, partly through sponsorships he attains through business connections. His mother, who makes “cameo appearances” on the channel, provides endless moral support, encouraging him to embrace every opportunity, Lusk said.

The YouTube channel has gained several thousand subscribers and several hundred thousand views.

Eventually, a member of an Australian racing team saw one of Lusk’s videos and shared it with the owner of the team’s car, Danny Amato. Amato and his wife, Julie, have been involved in racing since the 1980s. Amato eventually began selling racing parts on the side. In the past decade, has made Danny Amato Australian Racing Products his full-time job, while racing less.

“After seeing my videos and seeing the dynamic of my dad and I working on our car, Julie and Danny decided they were interested in inviting me out,” Lusk said. “Primarily, Julie hoped that I could spark some of Danny’s old fire to compete and travel to races.”

It’s also kind of a big deal when an American races in Australia, and the Amatos hoped Lusk’s visit would bring attention to their business, as well. So they took a chance and emailed Lusk, explaining that they liked his videos and were interested in meeting him.

“I naturally had to read the email about 15 times before telling anyone about it,” Lusk said. “How many times do we read things that sound too good to be true, and end up being fraud?”

Lusk eventually wrote back, and they began a yearlong pen-pal relationship that culminated when the Amatos visited the U.S.

Lusk drives a dirt late model cart in the U.S.
Lusk drives a dirt late model cart in the U.S.

“They were lining up more partners to ship parts to Australia (where dirt late model cars and their parts are mainly “imports” from the U.S.), so they visited and traveled all over the area,” Lusk said. “There are many racing parts vendors in this area, so they were around, and we met up. They spent the night at my house with my mom and dad, and it was a great meeting.

“We decided then that this was really happening. And I was to get my passport and pack my bags,” Lusk continued. “Unbelievable that hitting the upload button on YouTube a couple of times could attract such a generous offer. I still feel forever in debt.”

In February 2020, Lusk headed for a monthlong visit to Australia. There, he stayed in the Amatos’ home and traveled with the couple and their crew chief to the track to compete in the Late Model Racing Victoria Series.

“This is a touring series that hosts events all over the state of Victoria,” Lusk explained. “They are specifically for the dirt late model classification of car, which is inherently American racing.”

“My personal goal is always to win every race I compete in. I put that pressure on myself always,” Lusk said. “Officially, however, my real goal was not to wreck their car. Driving someone else’s car, there is a heightened sense of responsibility: so have clean races, make friends, and make everyone back home proud of me.”

He also had an academic goal: The trip became part of an individual studies course under the direction of Rob Cooley, associate professor of anthropology/environmental science. For his final project, Lusk produced a YouTube documentary that describes his experience through an ethnographic, objective lens.

“The goal was to describe another culture with the tools of anthropology rather than just against one’s own culture as a tourist,” Cooley explained.

Lusk also posted short video logs of his experiences and impressions throughout the trip.

It was Lusk’s second anthropology course with Cooley, and he found himself grateful as he immersed himself in a new culture as physically far from home as he could get.

“I always go into every day with an open mind, and I think this class sensitized me to things I might not have considered before,” Lusk said. “It was a huge aid in preparing myself. Knowing how to show respect in an unfamiliar culture was a huge takeaway from the course. For example, being a sponge of information, and doing my best to allow people to continue what they are doing. Instead of showing everyone my American way of doing things, I was more open to learning the Australian way.”

Lusk returned in March, just as COVID-19-related travel restrictions began. He landed safely in the U.S. and quarantined for two weeks. While he was in quarantine, schools – including Penn College – closed their buildings. Penn College’s classes were moved online for the remainder of the spring semester.

Lusk graduated with a bachelor’s degree in December and had already begun full-time work as a network specialist for the Jersey Shore Area School District.

“Penn College helped provide me with the skills to be a hirable employee,” Lusk said. “I also feel many of my classes geared me toward running a business, which is an option I am keeping wide open. It also helped me find my full-time job, which is huge in my personal career.”

While he loves his work for the school district, Lusk still sees racing as part of his future.

“Long term, I would love to keep following my racing dream,” he said. “I don’t know what I am going to do to make that happen – be it move, start a business, keep posting online, who knows?”

Whatever the direction, he feels confident lessons learned at Penn College will help him do that.

“Creating a personal brand and an online persona is very important in all aspects of business,” he said, emphasizing the power and reach of online content. “I believe that my classes at Penn College prepared me to polish that practice.”

His experience abroad has helped, too.

“I think I am most proud of the fact that I put my life on pause, got on a plane alone, and traveled as far away from home as possible,” Lusk said. “I put the utmost trust in people I had really only met once, and got in their race car that I had never driven, and performed to the best of my ability. I showed a lot of speed in the first race (though a wreck took me out), and I placed second in the final race of my tour. I was told by Danny that it was a brave thing, to get off a plane and three days later go racing like that.

“The coolest part to me is knowing that I now have a second family in a place so far away. There are so many people I met and care about there,” he added, praising the generosity of the Amatos who, he said, could have afforded “anyone in the world” to race their car.

“I could never have imagined my life taking me so far away from home on a whim like that.”

To learn more about Lusk, visit www.joeluskracing.com.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.