Mike McLaughlin Growing up in Waterloo, New York probably meant you would go on Saturdays to Maple Grove Speedway and see the cars and stars of auto racing. Born, on October 6, 1956, that is exactly what young Mike McLaughlin would do, go see the races and watch his favorite driver Chuck Ciprich. Mike had the racing bug.
During his high school years he worked part time at Show Car Engineering, a local speed shop owned by Howard Conkey. There Mike learned the ins and outs of race car chassis work. He had the knowledge to build his own cars, but lacked the money.
“It was Denis Taney who told me how to get started,” related Mike. “We were very close friends.”
Mike, with the blessings of his family, borrowed the money to build his first car. But finding a lender was difficult. “Every where I went they told me I was Crazy,” remembered Mike.
Thanks to Dave Kingston and his Exxon station a McLaughlin chassised modified was completed by 1976. Mike topped off his creation with a Pinto body and had the car painted. In honor of all those who called him crazy, he numbered his creation CraZ 8.
It had taken some eight years to make his dream a reality, but he would now take to the track. But where to race, Waterloo’s Maple Grove Speedway had been closed. Local businessman Dominic Tantalo had plans to reopen the defunct speedway to McLaughlin’s delight. His mother related that they lived so close to Maple Grove that Mike drove his race car to the track that first night.
But it was learning pains that plagued McLaughlin. All he could do was spin out and crash. Mike’s frustration saw him hang his helmet up and crew on cars fielded by Norm Foster for Jimmy Shampine and late model racer Jeff Kappesser.
Thanks to his parents and cousin Dan Rosata, he was again behind the wheel of his CraZ8 in 1979. Late that season Mike tasted victory, winning his very first modified feature. He had just beaten out legendary driver Will Cagle to the finish line. Mike had taken the lead from Darrell Welty with just seven laps remaining in the race when Welty went high in the third turn. Cagle also got by Welty and started to pressure Mike. But he held on and grabbed the win.
In 1980, Mike rejoined the DIRT circuit with his Tantalo Construction sponsored Gremlin bodied modified. He would win nine features that year. By winning the final race of the year at Rolling Wheels, he earned his first track championship, beating out Will Cagle by a mere two points. Not only had he won a track championship in just his fourth year of racing, but he finished second in points at Canandaigua and third at Weedsport. He was also third in overall Mr. DIRT points.
It was during these early years that announcer Joe Marotta nicknamed him “Magic Shoes”.
In 1981, Mike expressed an interest in racing sprint cars. “I did get to run a sprint car at both Rolling Wheels and Weedsport,” remembered Mike. However he returned to the DIRT Circuit. One year later, after much discussion with Howard and Ida Conkey and an offer made by Norm Foster to drive a former Jimmy Shampine offset supermodified, McLaughlin became a rookie driver on the asphalt at Oswego Speedway.
On July 17, 1982, Norm Foster owned Potato Wagon/CraZ 8 driven by McLaughlin entered the $1000 Winner’s Club at Oswego by beating Doug Hevron to the finish line for their first supermodified feature victory.
Mike would team up with Foster to field a car for Syracuse, usually a red 59, a team car to Merv Triechler’s 58. But Mike never finished as well as he did in his first Syracuse SDW race in 1980, when he earned a tenth place finish.
McLaughlin would go on an win the 1982 Supermodified Rookie of the Year award, but anyone connected with Oswego in 1982 can not forget the sadness of losing Jim Shampine in an accident during the modified 200-lapper, Classic Weekend.
When Norm Foster had to get out of racing, Mike’s reputation for winning helped him. Proving his worth on asphalt, Mike picked up a ride in the famed number 3 “old blue” modified owned by Leo Boehler. He would take that team to victory in 1984 at Oswego. A year later he won the Bud 200 behind the wheel of the Boehler machine. He was now a certified threat to win on either dirt or asphalt.
During this part of Mike’s racing career he also ventured to the Race of Champions at Pocono, where he earned two fifth place finishes, 1984 and 1989.
He would dabble in NASCAR Pro Late Model racing too driving for Harry and Mike Greci in 1984. He would become the Most Popular Driver in the Busch North series twice and obtain 7 wins in 51 starts.
McLaughlin would claim four modified wins at Oswego during his career. But more important he had successfully made the difficult switch from dirt to asphalt. He even dabbled in the NASCAR Nationwide Series running at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s two events. The following year he was 28 years old and he placed 11th in a Nationwide event. He also began his full time career in Whelen NASCAR Modified racing in the Boehler “old blue” machine. He would end up 2nd in tour points at years end posting 16 top fives and 22 top tens in 29 starts.
“Leo gave me the modified I won at Martinsville the last time,” stated Mike. “It still sits here and has not been run since.”
In 1986, he won his first Whelen Modified Tour event. But now he was driving the Sheri Cup 12 owned by Bill Corazzo. On the crew were Greg and Scott Zipadelli and crew chief Clyde McLeod. The team ended up sixth in series points, but added six tour wins to Mike’s growing resume.
Two years later Mike was crowned NASCAR Whelen Modified champion. He would run for ten years on the modified tour scene, winning a total of 16 feature races, 83 top fives and 116 top tens in 172 starts.
Mike would return to the DIRT circuit to run a race at Sanair Super Speedway’s DIRT-Asphalt Challenge race in 1989. He drove the number 1, Phil’s Chevrolet modified and would finish 20th in that race.
As for the Nationwide Series he would start 314 races, winning six, obtaining 58 top fives and 110 ten tens. He started a full time schedule in Nationwide in 1994. That same year he attempted two NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire and Watkins Glen.
His first win came in 1995 at Dover and ended the year finishing third in points. Following a winless 1996, Mike won twice more in 1997; Watkins Glen and New Hampshire. He was also named the Most Popular Driver that season in Nationwide racing.
He would leave Cicci-Welliver racing in 1999, moving on to the Innovative Motorsports #48 team in 2000. A year later he drove the unsponsored #20 for Joe Gibbs Racing. He would take the team to victory at Talladega. The team could not complete the season unsponsored so Mike moved to the #18 MBNA the remainder of the season. He would finish seventh in points.
“Winning that race was one of the most outstanding moments I had in racing,” related Mike. “I had so many moments, but that ranks right up there.”
In 2002, Gibbs moved his son Coy into the MBNA ride, leaving McLaughlin without a ride. Mike then picked up a ride in the Angela’s Motorsports Ford. However the team failed to pay it’s bills and folded before the start of the 2003 season. He had earned enough respect to have fans and friends donate enough for him to race the Daytona Nationwide event, where he finished 29th
2013 INDUCTEES AND AWARD WINNERS page 1
In the end we opted to keep the inductee number at three drivers. This year’s inductees include Frank Cozze, Mike McLaughlin and pioneer driver Blackie Watt.
Cozze’s accomplishments are well documented throughout the northeast. Based in Wind Gap, PA, Frank produced numerous modified victories in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Under the DIRT banner he has recorded 43 big block feature wins and 4 additional small block wins. His biggest victory coming during Super DIRT Week XXXVI, in 2008, taking his first big block feature win at Syracuse.
Mike McLaughlin fits in the same mold as Jim Hurtibise. Starting his racing career on the dirt at Waterloo’s Maple Grove Speedway, McLaughlin earned his first DIRT big block feature win in 1979 at the Land of Legends, Canandaigua Speedway. After a stellar dirt modified career McLaughlin moved on to the NASCAR Modified circuit were he won 16 races and took the NASCAR Modified Championship title in 1988. He then added an additional 7 wins in the NASCAR K&N Eastern series. In 1989 he attempted his first NASCAR Bush (Nationwide) Series start. After 17 years behind the wheel of the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series cars he accumulated 6 wins and 5 poles.
Blackie Watt concentrated his driving in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. While Watt drove in a number of what were referred to a “bugs” and “cut down” car events, he is well documents behind the wheel of the Pitkavish ’37 Chevy modified. Watt dominated the Lernerville Speedway non-point Super DIRT Series events, winning three times. He competed at Super DIRT Week twice, having finished 37th in the very first running of the race. Watt has nearly 144 modified feature wins to his name.
Breaking from tradition of having the inductions ceremonies on a Sunday afternoon at the end of May, this year the induction and award ceremonies will take place on Tuesday evening, June 4, at 7 p.m., as the kickoff activity for the “All Star – Hall of Fame” races scheduled for Rolling Wheels Raceway the following afternoon and evening.
This year’s award winners include an expanded measure for the mechanic award, a great car owner, three new women in racing winners and a family being named as the outstanding service award winners.
In 1996 the Heath family, (founders at Five Mile Point) were honored with the Lenny J. Sammons Outstanding Service award. As far as families go, the Friesen family won the same award in 2003. In 2013 the Petrocci family will be so honored. Much of the family’s credit goes to Rolling Wheels Raceway founder and builder, Robert N. Petrocci. Unfortunately he never really got to see and enjoy what he created, being killed in a racing accident at another track in 1970.
This year the Mechanic Award goes to the team of Milt Johnson and Bruce Fleischman and their famed B&M Speed Shop located in Rochester, NY. These two men created some of the best engines in modified racing history. Milt may best be known as the father of Alan and Danny Johnson. But in the “glory years” of modified racing he helped to make winning engines for many top drivers including Richie Evans and Jerry Cook.
The Gene DeWitt Car Owner award this year goes to George Smith Sr., who help to field some of the most memorable modifieds in the northeast, the famed State Line Safety sponsored cars.
There are also three Gater Photo News Women in Racing Awards being presented. This year the honors go to Marsha Wetmore, Jayne Doust and Wendy Kennedy. Wetmore may best be known for her promotional efforts on the then “Outlaw” circuit. Doust was a mainstay in the DIRT office for many years and helped to create the annual ticket renewal program for SDW. Kennedy helped to keep the famed Flemington Fair Speedway going. She was the person behind the scenes that made it all work.
The Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame, located in Weedsport, NY, is a non-profit institution. A volunteer staff keeps the museum open throughout the year.
Stay up to speed and get up to the minute information on the official Facebook home for the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame & Classic Car Museum @ https://www.facebook.com/dirtmotorsports.halloffame and at our web-site www.dirthalloffame-classiccarmuseum.com
About the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame & Classic Car Museum
Founded in 1992 under the guidance of Dirt Motorsports founder and racing innovator Glenn Donnelly, the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame assembled memorabilia, artifacts and the amazing racecars from the incredible story of racings rich and abundant history. Hosting it's annual inductions and dozens of events through the entire year, the venue, on the grounds of the Cayuga County Fair in Weedsport, New York has become an integral part of racings remarkable and fond past, it's vibrant and electric present and exciting future. With its zero-off season, fan friendly, climate controlled with a weatherman's certified zero percent chance of rain outs, the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame offers an unparalleled opportunity in the racing world for marketing, partnerships, sponsorships and motorsports outreach with multi-platform, dynamic, fan driven event style entertainment on a broad scale, call the Hall today for your customized package and get your company in front of sports fans all year round, make every day a race day and take the checkered flag with your marketing dollars through a partnership with the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame & Classic Car Museum.