written by Dick Monahan
I am honored to have the opportunity to write about the man, many say in New England, was the savior of midget auto racing. He was also a champion car owner. From a personal view, he was my mentor in racing. If it weren't for John, I wouldn't have had the fun that I had in my 25 years of announcing NEMA shows.
Like many kids in the post war era, John MCarthy fell in love with the mighty midgets. He followed his favorites, especially the great Joe Sostillio, as they traveled throughout the area. Like many, he felt a real loss when the midget boom ended, and he never really cared for the stocks and modifieds with the same intensity. He was encouraged when, in 1953, the Northeastern Midget Association was formed to run inexpensive, stock block powered cars. The mighty Offenhauser engine was banned from NEMA until 1957, when the stock blocks were getting strong enough to compete with the Offies.
As soon as he could afford it, John bought himself a midget. It was a Ferguson-Powered Solon, purchased from Joe Csiki. As you might expect, John did try driving it a few times. He told me about the last time he tried: “I was out practicing at Thompson,” he said. “I felt like I was really turning some quick laps. Nobody passed me for about five or six laps. Then I heard an engine and looked over to see Len Duncan cruise by, smoking a cigarette, with one hand on the windshield. I pulled in and called it a driving career.”
He then put Bill Stauffer in the car, and started having some good runs. But, while the racing was good, he decided that the club, itself, was in a rut. A professional manager in real life, John decided he could do better. He ran for the club presidency and won. As President and booking agent, John led the way to running so-called "split shows". That is, the midgets would run as an added attraction to the regular weekly shows. This worked so well that the club was soon running 25-30 shows a year. As the NEMA stock block cars became stronger, John also encouraged joint shows with the American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC), our neighbors to the west and south. This enabled both clubs to offer promoters a bigger field of cars, at a bigger purse.
John's own car was one of those becoming stronger. Now with Chevy II power, and with Lou Frey at the wheel, John won the 1970 NEMA Championship. Dave Humphrey drove it to another title in 1971. That was the year that Jerry Wall debuted his “Yellow Jacket” rear-engined Chevy V-4. Wall had a lot of engine problems, but when it ran, it was unbeatable. In an effort to counter wall, John commissioned Rollie Lindblad to design and build a laydown, mid-engined car. In it's first year, the new car, called the "Badger", had lots of shakedown problems, but it was fast. Either Wall or Humphrey won most of the races. In 1973, as Wall had even more engine troubles, McCarthy and Humphrey got their act together and won another Championship. Unfortunately, the badger and other laydowns were so good that it caused a lot of political problems in NEMA, and in other clubs across the country. The underlying problem was that many, if not most, midget owners wanted to run cars that looked like the cars they had loved as kids. So, just as with sprint cars and supermodifieds, the new cars were restricted or just plain banned everywhere over time.
Finally, after ten terms, John felt it was time to give someone else the reins of NEMA. Unfortunately, he did this in the middle of the year, causing an immediate promotion of his vice-president, who even more unfortunately was me. I did my best to carry on John's work and was followed in the office by some guys who, I think did even better. The base that John built has kept the club running successfully even today. John kept racing, and he and Rollie Lindblad kept coming up with badgers modified to fit the increasingly restrictive limits placed on them. But, finally John sold the car and retired. After a few quite years, John started working with his old friend and one time midget owner, Bob Bahre, on the Annual Vintage Celebration at NHIS. Once again, his managerial skills have built this event to the biggest of its kind in the nation.
Other interesting facts...
- John won three NEMA Championships in the span of four years in 1970, 1971, and 1973.
- He earned an MBA from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and served his country in the Army National Guard.
- During his youth, he was a clubhouse boy for the Boston Red Sox and during breaks, often played cribbage with Ted Williams.
- He was at the forefront of the Electronic Data Processing/Information Technology revolution as a Senior Executive at Wyman-Gordon Company for 29 years, retiring in 1985.
- He retired to Tilton, NH and began a long career in public service as an active civic leader and often spoke at State House and Senate hearings.
- He was involved with charitable work and served on the Board of Directors at St. Vincent Hospital.
- John passed away at his home in Tilton, NH in December of 2014.
NEAR Hall of Fame
A Moment in Time...
Remembering one of NEMA's most spectacular wrecks at Westboro Speedway...
(Photos courtesy of Randy Lindblad and Bob Miour)
(Photos courtesy of Randy Lindblad and Bob Miour)
"Dave hit the wall cage first and was not hurt, a testimony to the Badger's construction. John McCarthy had scheduled a post-race party at his house, which he held in spite of the work he had to do. When Dave walked in, he said, "What are you doing partying? Fix my sled." They didn't get it fixed in time to run at Star the next night, so Dave jumped into Ralph Miller's Edmunds/SESCO and won the main event" - by Dick Monahan
Read all about McCarthy and Humphrey's Championship run for the 1971 season in NEMA's first published yearbook. (Prior to this NEMA just issued banquet programs).
NHIS Vintage Celebration
Vintage Celebration ("Vic Yerardi Memorial") is the largest on track Vintage oval race car event in the US. Eligible Vintage cars include: Midget, Sprints, Champ cars, Indy cars and Stock cars. The event was the brainchild of Bob Bahre, the former track owner, and the late Vic Yerardi, a huge supporter of the Vintage Car movement. The event name was changed after Vic Yerardi, passed away in 1991. It is now known as the "Vic Yerardi Memorial".