When Joe Amato was eleven years old, his dad opened an auto parts store, A&A Auto Parts, where Joe went to work and began learning what would ultimately become his prime career. Also at that time, some of his dad’s employees were racing on weekends and started taking Joe with them and it wasn’t long before he was hooked. Joe’s first car was a ’53 Ford that he started modifying shortly after he got it. When Joe was 16, his father was forced to quit working after undergoing open heart surgery and Joe made the decision to quit school and run the auto parts full time. Despite the workload of running the auto parts store, Joe found time to go racing on weekends and soon learned that the more successful he was on the track, the more business he did. By the time Joe was twenty, the auto parts store had grown to five stores. Unfortunately, at the age of 32, Joe’s dad died leaving him the job of managing an expanding business specializing in speed accessories. Ultimately, A&A Auto Parts and Keystone Automotive Warehouse became one of the most well-known and largest suppliers of parts and accessories in the automotive business.
In two decades of racing, Amato piloted his hot rods through many unforgettable laps. From his first victory in ’79 when he drove an Alcohol Dragster to the Pro Comp title of the renowned Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL, to his final Winner’s Circle cele- bration at his home track of Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, PA, in the fall of 2000, Amato sipped champagne with more regularity than any of his Top Fuel peers. In fact, the Snoopy clad Superstar never finished outside the Top Ten in points standings.
Always looking for an edge that would help him find a quicker way down the drag strip, Amato was a tireless innovator who was rewarded with his share of NHRA milestone moments. He also had a great talent for surrounding himself with the right people who were very instrumental in his success.
Amato arrived at the 1984 Gatornationals with a radical new chassis design that, among other things, featured a rear wing mounted much higher and further back than any seen before. At first, the car was little more than the object of conversation in the pits. But when Amato drove the machine to the sport’s first 260-mph pass, three wins, and the World Championship, people stopped talking and started taking notes.
A few years later, in 1987, Amato pushed the limits of technology again and recorded drag racing’s first 280-mph quarter mile pass. He followed that feat with his second World Championship just a year later.
At that point in his career Amato had little left to prove but with his typical never-say-die attitude, he turned his program up several notches to see just how far into auto racing’s stratosphere he could soar. Beginning at the turn of the decade, Amato won a record three consecutive World Championships and 14 national events in three seasons, including a stunning total of six wins in 1990, a sum never before accumulated.
Still, Amato wasn’t done adding to his legacy. He claimed 18 more”Wallys” – the nickname of the trophy handed out to National Event winners – and made headlines across the country in ’96 with the sport’s first 4.5 second pass before his abrupt retirement in the fall of 2000. In the end, it was Amato himself that stopped his meteoric career after two eye surgeries prompted his doctors to advise immediate retirement from drag racing.
After giving up the driver’s seat of his top fuel dragster, Joe continued to own and operate Amato Racing, filling the seat of the race car with 2 different rookie top fuel drivers. For the 2000 through 2005 racing seasons, Joe gave the chance of a lifetime, as the pilot of his dragster, to two young men, both great drivers.
But after the 2005 season, Joe felt it was time to move on from the professional racing circuit, and concentrate his energies in a new direction. His new passion was a familiar one. Through the early beginnings and successive expansions, of his automotive parts and accessories distributor business, Keystone Automotive, Joe was involved in the commercial real estate world. Though no longer involved in Keystone Automotive, Joe now owns and operates multiple commercial properties, through Joe Amato Properties, comprising of over 400,000 sq. ft. of rental space, some prime pieces of vacant land destined for further commercial development as well as being involved in local housing developments, Saddle Ridge and Stone Bridge.
Joe’s most recent property acquisition is located in downtown Wilkes Barre, in the heart of the city. It has provided some unique challenges, different than the Gateway Shopping Center, that needed a complete rehab at the time of his purchase, and a very distinct culturally different market from the West End Plaza, which is nestled in a very rural area of the Pocono Mountain region of Pennsylvania. The one constant, though, is that Joe invests in developments close to home, where he and his team of people are familiar with the people who make up the patrons that provide for the success of the tenants within each center, which in turn provides for a successful location under the Joe Amato Properties umbrella.
With each different property comes new challenges, and with each new endeavor comes the excitement that helps to drive Joe to continue to expand his ventures in our local real estate.