Monday, January 25, 2010

Paraplegic stock car racer starts his winning streak

From The Longmont Times-Call in Colorado:

After a decade of racing, the losing streak is finally over for Longmont’s Mike McCarrick (pictured).

Last month, he won his first stock car race, a 45-minute, 100-lap enduro event at I-76 Speedway in Fort Morgan.

“He’s always done really good and been in the front, always 10th or better,” Bruce Allen said. Allen, also of Longmont, helps his son Cody in the same I-76 Speedway winter series and has known McCarrick for eight years.

“He’s just kept going and kept going and finally got that win last month,” Allen said. And it wasn’t an easy race: The top four finishers were all within half a lap of each other, according to Allen.

McCarrick is used to persevering and facing challenges. Forty-three years ago, he was born paralyzed from the waist down, and he learned early on to adapt to keep up with his three siblings.

“If I didn’t wear leg braces and crutches, I’d have to be in a wheelchair,” he said recently. “The doctors say I have some feeling. That’s why I do so good.”

So his approach to driving is a little different. McCarrick uses his left hand to
operate a hand control that’s connected to both the throttle and brake. His right hand grips a “suicide knob” on the steering wheel.

“It just makes it a lot easier to steer the car. If I had two hands on the wheel, I’d probably spin out more than I have been,” he joked.

Another reason for McCarrick’s success is the family that follows him to every race, acting as his pit crew.

It was 10 years ago that McCarrick’s older brother Rick decided to go racing. Mike thought it looked like fun, so they both started building cars at the same time. Coincidentally, both cars were 1983 Oldsmobile Delta 88s. To this day, Mike’s car wears number 88, and Rick’s is number 83.

Because they are in the same enduro class, the brothers often are on the track at the same time.

“I was holding my breath and gnashing my teeth yesterday trying not to hit him,” Rick McCarrick recalled after a Jan. 3 race in Fort Morgan, three weeks after Mike’s win. “We’ve bumped a few times, but we try to stay away from each other.”

Enduro is an entry-level class. Modifications are kept to a minimum to keep costs down, but racing still can be expensive, so Mike McCarrick’s parents, Dick and Barb, also chip in financially.

“You ain’t going to get rich off your winnings. That will just pay for some gas or a tire or something for the next race,” Mike McCarrick said.

McCarrick’s biggest fan, though, is his wife of 16 years, Shirley. She has missed only two of his races.

“If I wasn’t there, I’d probably be pacing the floors back and forth wondering if he’s OK,” she said.

It’s not just worry that drives her to the track, though. She is a race fan who enjoys taking photos and helping race officials keep score.

The actual race can be tough. Driving conditions are not always ideal, especially when you’re on a dirt track piloting a car with a windshield that’s been replaced with chicken wire. For safety reasons, all of the glass on a stock car is removed, allowing dirt, mud, exhaust and January snow flurries into the cockpit.

So if he’s not winning all the time, why does Mike McCarrick race? Win or lose, he says he enjoys the excitement of being on a track pushing an old V-8-powered sedan to its limits. He also has to keep himself busy, in spite of his disability.

“I’m not going to sit around,” he said. “I’ve got to keep doing something.”