By Norris McDonald Special to the Toronto Star Friday, October 30th, 2020
It’s always a surprise when you go to see a guy about a story and you find another.
I’d gone up to Oro-Medonte Township a couple of Fridays ago to visit an old friend, Dick Mahoney, who is a racing driver of note, the note being that he’ll soon have been racing for seven decades — but more about that later.
I was in the middle of talking to Mahoney about one of his recent acquisitions, a famous U.S. Auto Club championship dirt car that he’s restoring, when he dropped this little gem right in my lap.
In real life, Mahoney owns a long-haul trucking company. In fact, the only time we have ever exchanged cross words was a few years ago when I wrote a column suggesting transport trucks be banned from roads in the GTA during rush hour. Mahoney was not amused. In fact, he offered up one of his trucks to drive me to northern Manitoba, where it would leave me. He was only kidding. I think.
In any event, that was then and this is now. So, as we were preparing to talk about the racing car, which won the USAC championship dirt title in 1993 with Indiana’s Steve Butler aboard, I asked him about his business and how things are going. And this is what he told me:
“My company, RBM Carriers, Inc., has been in business since 1996. I started Shamrock Trucking first. In all, I’ve been at it for 50 years or so. Business is good, but right now we have seven trucks parked against the fence of our compound in Bradford. Why? We have a shortage of drivers; they don’t want to cross the border and they don’t want to work because there’s free money from the government. My son Warren is in charge now, he owns half, and we’re farming out the business because we can’t move the freight. We are not alone. Other haulers are having the same problem.”
But back to Mahoney and his life in racing.
He fell in love with the sport when he was a kid. He started in stock cars in 1961, but the open-wheel cars are really what turned his crank and he was a frequent runner with the Can-Am TQ-Midget Club before getting into the bigger and more powerful stuff, like full-size midgets and sprint cars.
Mahoney’s racing claim to fame is his age. He delights telling stories about the reactions of everyone from track announcers to journalists when they see he is no spring chicken.
“One night I’m running Humberstone (Speedway, at Port Colborne) and I finished third in the feature. We all got to stop at the finish line for the interview and they talked to the first two guys and then the announcer said, ‘And finishing third is Dick … and he turned to look at me … Whoa! HOW OLD ARE YOU ANYWAY?’ I said, ‘I’ll be 69 in a couple of weeks.’ That was six years ago.”
Four years ago, he went to race his 410-cubic-inch Chevy sprint car in the USAC Eastern Storm series.
The Storm was five or six races in seven days at tracks all over Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I came close to qualifying twice (the USAC drivers are among the best big-money racers in the U.S.). I was trying desperately to be the oldest driver to qualify for a USAC feature but I didn’t quite make it.
“Pat Sullivan, a journalist, wrote in Sprint Car & Midget Magazine that ‘Dick Mahoney will probably never win a USAC feature but we’re all better off having him here.”
Mr. Mahoney had always wanted to own a Champ Car. Propelled by a 360-cubic-inch steel block Chevy with aluminum heads, it’s the biggest and most powerful of the open-cockpit, open-wheel, oval-dirt-track racing cars. He was surfing the web one night and saw that the Butler car was for sale, so one thing led to another and he bought it. It had seen better days, but he spruced it up and now, with new seat, new hood and new paint, it looks ready to take another green flag.
It’s a famous car. As well as taking Butler to a championship, it was the car California chauffeur Johnny Parsons Jr. drove to a new track record during qualifications for the 1995 Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, a quick time that still stands.
Mahoney doesn’t plan to race it. “It’s a little bit of an antique for that. But I’d like to hot lap it (warm it up) at Ohsweken Speedway, or Brighton Speedway one of the nights I’m there with the sprint car. And I want to run the sprint car a few more times so I can say I’ve gone racing in seven decades.”
Dick Mahoney is 75 going on 25. They don’t make ’em like they used to, do they?