Retro Rumblings – McCoy!
If you ever had the chance to hang out with San Diego’s Bob McCoy, you were richer for the experience. You would be hard pressed to find a man with a deeper tapestry of life experiences. Throughout his life, McCoy had that rare ability to switch off the fear factor, allowing him to go all in no matter what was in front of him.
I was lucky enough to spend a day with McCoy in 1994 when I was sent to Southern California to search for editorial opportunities and to interview some legends. Not a bad gig for a kid starting a journalism career as associate editor of the Goodguys Gazette. I mean, getting paid to go on a road trip to interview guys with decades of hot rod history was sweet indeed.
Any astute hot rodder reading this column will remember McCoy’s famous ’40 Ford Tudor. It was in 1956 when McCoy’s lowered and flamed ’40 wound up on the cover of an issue of Car Craft. That very car and cover shot set off a trend that still burns today – black, hot-licked hot rods. We dug deep enough to find this classic image of an 18-year-old McCoy taking his date to the senior prom in the Tudor. The woman’s dad had to be terrified.
In addition to being one of the original members of the Prowlers Car Club, McCoy also had strong ties to the Bean Bandits and Joaquin Arnett and was generally regarded as being one of San Diego’s signature hot rod heroes.
Gary Meadors had grown close to McCoy in the 1980s through their mutual love of hot rods, sprint cars, and wall art. McCoy was well versed in all three disciplines. What stood out that day in ’94 when I walked into his home studio were all of the pictures and paintings from his career as sprint car shoe. McCoy rode the cushion at tracks like Balboa Stadium, Ascot Park, Sacramento, El Centro, and famed Midwest tracks like the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Terre Haute, and others.
At the height of his racing career driving sprints and midgets on dirt, McCoy could put a wheel on perennial champions like Parnelli Jones, Bobby Unser, AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti and “Lone Star JR” – Johnny Rutherford himself. McCoy was widely known as a hard-charging racer and viewed as “overly aggressive” at times. His fearless and sometimes reckless approach had him screaming around the cushion, diving down low and weaving in and out of lapped traffic in harrowing fashion. His style allowed him to find many a winner’s circle but also landed him in the hospital unconscious with grave injuries at times. That’s just how flat out he was.
With rising fame, Bob McCoy was to tabbed to drive the Joe Hunt Magneto Champ Car at the Indianapolis 500 one year but crashed a sprint car prior to the event and was too busted up to drive the 500. Oh, what could have been.
When McCoy hung up his driving gloves, he got into lion taming. Who does that? He also got into rodeo riding during a stretch of his life which saw him saddling bucking broncos in Wyoming and other western locales. After that ran its course, McCoy ran in a few rough circles including a stint as a stuntman as well as being a “bill collector.” He once served as an armed guard for an underworld boss. Despite his path through so many side streets, what always remained was his passion for speed, thrills, and hot rods.
In terms of hot rods, McCoy’s vision never wavered. Like so many from his generation, he preferred solid colors, bright flames, a righteous rake, and a proper stance. The kind of stance where you walk 20 yards away from the car, turn around and size it up. McCoy’s cars always passed the eye test.
In the 1980s and ’90s when pursuing the life of a full-time artist, McCoy spent occasional weekends participating in vintage midget and sprint car races, mainly held as exhibitions throughout Southern California. He didn’t understand the exhibition part and “putting” around a track as an exhibition just didn’t register. McCoy routinely ran flat out, working the high groove around the rim and fearlessly weaving in and out of the field in an effort to lap ’em all. He was kicked out by the circuit’s organizers repeatedly for over-aggressive driving. But with his Hollywood good looks and persuasive charm he usually managed to get back in good graces.
To give you an idea of the steel in his spine, we take you back to June 8, 1986. McCoy and a few hundred others had gathered at El Mirage for an SCTA meet. With high winds that day, nobody wanted to run, expressing major concern for the crosswinds across the dry lakebed. McCoy scoffed, took out his “Redhawk” ’25 Ford T track roadster, wound it up through the gears, and blasted his way, crosswinds bedamned, to a 212mph run good for top speed of the meet. Nobody but Bob McCoy could pull off such a daring feat and live to tell about it.
This is just a glimpse into the racing and rodding aspect of Bob McCoy’s life. What we don’t have space to tell you about was his promising career as a baseball prospect as a younger man, or being raised by his grandmother while his father fought in WWII and his mother was in tinsel town pursuing an acting career.
A life of chasing speed and glory took its toll on Bob’s body. Pain was beginning to affect his ability work and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. The impact of prior injuries took a steep toll through the new millennium. One evening in the fall of 2014, McCoy walked into his backyard and took his own life. He simply couldn’t take the pain and the insanity it was causing any longer. He went out on his own terms just like he lived his life. Even until the very end, he refused to let fear dictate terms. He was a rare breed.
If you’d like the ultimate Bob McCoy fix, do yourself a favor and buy “Circle of Impact,” a book written, designed and published by his wife Lynn McCoy. It will give you the full picture of what a gift Bob McCoy was to those who live their life in the fast lane. It’s available on Amazon and other online outlets.