"Barefoot Bob" McCreadie has raced and won all over the place, even in Australia, but he almost walked away from his career as a racer about 15 years ago--or a couple of hundred wins ago if you're counting trophies, which McCreadie isn't.
He had just won at Flemington, New Jersey, and realized he had beaten the best of the best in Modified racing. He savored the moment and thought about how he had accomplished everything in the sport he had set out to do, and more, since he began racing in 1971. Now, he decided at Flemington that night, would be a good time to quit. No more long nights at the shop. No more hauling a race car all over the country.
"Barefoot Bob" has crossed the finish line first 500 times in his career.
The thought didn't have a chance. "Retirement" never made it past Flemington's Victory Lane. McCreadie, after all, personifies that indefinable something that motivates men to race week after week, year after year, short track after short track. As a competitor in Glen Donnelly's DIRT Modified series since its inception in 1976, McCreadie has been one of racing's most prolific winners, recently claiming his 500th career win, including 300 big-block DIRT Modified victories.
Mike Hayslett, a mechanic for McCreadie's team and a life-long friend of the DIRT legend, has been present for all but eight of the 500 victories. But a single race several years ago sticks out in Hayslett's mind as a defining event in McCreadie's career.
They were running Brewerton (New York) Speedway and McCreadie was leading when a light rain began falling. Thinking he had a tire going down, McCreadie pulled into the pits on lap 16, just shy of halfway in the 35-lap race. Before the other cars went back around to complete lap 17, a downpour hit and the race, short of halfway, had to be postponed for a week. Because he was caught in the pits, McCreadie would have to restart the race from last place.
"All that week in the garage, Bob was kicking himself in the fanny for making a mistake like that, for thinking he had a flat tire when actually it was just the racetrack going away because of rain," says Hayslett. "It bothered him all week long and we went back down there the next week--and although he had to start dead last in a field of very, very good cars--he just drove spectacularly hard and won the race anyway from dead last, in 19 laps. When somebody has that much drive and so much passion to win that they don't give up in a situation like that, it sticks in your mind."
Such determination has led to a phenomenal record since Barefoot Bob earned his first win in 1975. He says it took him five seasons to get that first victory, but for over 30 years now, racing has been the McCreadie family's livelihood.
In the 28 seasons since that initial win, McCreadie has won 12 or more races in a season 19 times and has never experienced a winless year. He's won 22 or more races in a season seven times, 31 or more three times, and had a 47-win campaign in 1994, while running 91 events. In nine seasons, from '89 to '97, McCreadie won 226 races, an average of 25 victories per year.
"He had those years, especially the early to mid-'90s, where he could just do nothing wrong at all," says Brett Hearn, one of McCreadie's DIRT rivals. "I mean, he could have problems with his primary car, pull his back-up car off the trailer, start dead last, and still smoke us all. He just had some incredible years."
Nonetheless, when he started out, the goals were simple.
McCreadie's No. 9 car returned to prominence this season after suffering a couple of down
"When I started I just wanted to win a race," says McCreadie. "It took, I don't know, however many years before we got where we could win a race. We got on a roll during the years and won a lot of races and went all over the country. We went to Australia and won. I mean, we've won everywhere that our division runs and won every prestigious race there is to win. We only did it for our egos and for the money thing. But it ended up being a business and we had good sponsors, so we kept on doing it. I think we won about everything that could be won and did about everything we could about 10 years ago. Everything else has just been gravy and having a good time at the races and meeting people."
Two prominent milestones, the 500th career victory and the 300th one in the big-block DIRT Modified division, came within weeks of each other in the summer of 2002. The milestone wins meant a return to competitive form for McCreadie, after a couple of down years caused in part when he suffered a broken back for the second time in his career and had a bout with pneumonia. After a 19-win season in '99, McCreadie won just four times in 2000 and five times in 2001. But for details on McCreadie's victories, you have to go to Hayslett, who has kept records on every event the team has won.
"(Winning 500 races) is probably a lot more exciting for the guys on my crew," says McCreadie. "I don't ever look back. I look ahead more than anything else."
If he wants to review the past, a mere glance at his crew might provide all he's looking for, as Hayslett and other crewmembers have maintained a fierce loyalty to McCreadie and his career. Hayslett and Hugh and Steven Naylor have been with him from the beginning, and Dale Munn and Tim Hatt have been part of the crew for over 15 years. Munn's son, Nick, has worked in the shop for four years, and many others have stood alongside McCreadie over the years. "It's just a bunch of guys, Bob's friends, who go and help him," says Hayslett.
McCreadie's son, Tim, 27, has also built a strong career in DIRT Modifieds, becoming one of the top drivers in the series. Bob insists that Tim has forged his own way in the sport, with advice from Bob and some fatherly help when he ran the small-block division. "He's got a lot of ability," says Bob. "He's done more in the few years he's raced than I did at the start. Like I say, it took me five years to win that first race. He won the first time out. He had just a lot of natural ability, and it shows."
And there's one other key component in Tim's career that's prominent in the McCreadie family's racing legacy. "He's having a lot of fun," says Bob. "That's the main thing. That's what it's all about in this league. If you're up in NASCAR or Outlaws or whatever, there's a lot of pressure and a lot of travel and all that. There's enough in what we do, but you've got to really love what you're doing to do this stuff. It's a 24-hour job."
It's a job that Barefoot Bob plans to keep for a while, at least through next season, maybe more if he can remain competitive and keep enjoying what he does. Either way, his crew will be behind him.
"We've been called kind of a clan, our group, and that's probably the best explanation I can give for the way we are," says McCreadie. "We're really tight-knit and don't let outsiders in. That doesn't mean we're not friendly, but we've enjoyed this together. It's just been kind of a clannish bunch of guys who went out and had fun."
Like working with friends and family? "That's exactly it," says McCreadie. "They've been my friends, not my crew."
One more reason why the thought of retirement never made it out of Flemington Speedway that night.