28-year-old Joseph Leister of Millington Tennessee has worked in the Engineering Department of COMP Cams since 2008. As a CAD Engineering Associate he spends his days making computer drawings of the latest innovative camshafts and related products. After-hours and on weekends it’s all about circle track racing.
Racing has always been a family affair. Joe’s father drove a dirt stock car throughout the ‘80s. When he was eight years old his father brought home a racing kart and he immediately fell in love. Growing up he spent nearly every weekend at a race track with his mom, dad, brother, and sister. “Fans can come and go,” he says, “but there is nothing like the support of your family with you every weekend.”
He actively raced karts until his dad put him in the driver’s seat of a dirt modified for a trial-by-fire series of hot laps. He was only 15 years old and had never driven any other kind of race car.
“They buckled me in and sent me out onto the track,” he says. “I went half a lap and immediately stuffed it right into the wall. My dad thought that would scare me out of it, but three weeks later we had sold all of the karting stuff and the race car was fixed.” He hasn’t looked back since.
He took a job sweeping floors and stocking racks at Bullet Cams when he was 16 and slowly worked his way up to a cam grinder. He toured Northwest Mississippi Community College while in high school and was intrigued with their CAD program. “I’d always liked to draw,” he says. “I was really impressed and wanted to learn how to create and design parts with the CAD program.”
He enrolled after high school and spent two years balancing days of school, nights of work, and weekends of racing to earn his Associates Degree in Applied Science. An employment opportunity with COMP Cams was a rare and perfect find, and he quickly applied for the position that would let him put his degree to use. He says his “hands on” experience grinding cams has been invaluable to his CAD career, and is thankful to have had that opportunity. “It really helped my understanding of what I’m creating on the computer,” he says. “These are real-world components I not only used to make, but also use on the weekends.”
He actively races dirt modifieds with his brother Paul Leister III, who has recently opened his own machine shop, and they both benefit from Joseph’s day job. The brothers handle every aspect of building cars as they can, from engine building to chassis fabrication and hanging the sheet metal. They race within a four-hour radius of Memphis, and at one time ran around 35 events in the U.S.C.S. Modified Series, though they’ve scaled that back a little to spend more time with family. He says his wife is just as enthusiastic about racing as he is – a plus for any racer.
Joseph says the best part of his job is participating in a racing-oriented atmosphere, and the excitement of being on the cutting edge of technology.