THE TOD MACK MEMOIRS: THE BIRTH OF THE MOUNTAIN MOTOR NATIONALS
Tod Mack, a former owner of Maryland international Dragway, had his fingerprint on many promotions and innovations from the heralded facility located in Budds Creek, Md.
Mack, whose promotional home runs included the US Pro Stock Open, Mountain Motor Nationals, and The Wild Bunch, solidified his name in the ranks of significant drag racing contributors.
Mack was the first to use a pairings ladder based on qualifying times for the nitro cars when he ran the NASCAR Drag Race Division in the 1960s. Tod and Larry, along with Lex Dudas and Mike Lewis, created the ET Bracket Finals program in the early 1970s, which the group finally turned over to NHRA after a few years. MIR was the winner of the Inaugural event held at York US 30 Dragway. All in all, Tod Mack owned or operated six tracks over his career, and MIR fans benefited from his decades of experience.
In addition to the more successful promotions, Mack and longtime partner Larry Clayton introduced the world to the first four-wide fuel Funny Car match (almost four decades before Bruton Smith did the same thing in Charlotte). Then there was the wacky “Dragzacta,” which allowed fans to take part in pari-mutuel betting on weekly bracket races as they would at a horse track.
Mack was involved in a lot of drag racing.
Today, Mack has shared his memoirs with CompetitionPlus.com recalling his in drag racing. His latest offering focuses on the famous Mountain Motor Nationals, held annually at Maryland International Raceway.
Following the success of the US Pro Stock Open, races held on Monday nights in July at Maryland International Raceway we needed to find an event that could match or top that one in excitement and attendance. That would be no small task since the US Pro Stock Open was playing to full house crowds for several years at the Budds Creek, MD track.
The rules for the Pro Stock Open were patterned closely after the NHRA rules. The format worked well, making the race one of the biggest independent races in the country. It was clear to me at the time that just having faster cars for a race was not the answer. There is no question that the supercharged Funny Cars and Top Fuel Dragsters of the day were much, much quicker and faster than the Pro Stock cars. They drew big crowds to our tracks when we featured them at shows but never came close to the attendance and loyalty that the Pro Stock cars brought.
In all fairness, the Funny Cars drew bigger crowds in most other parts of the country, but I think the way that we promoted and presented the Pro Stock Open made the difference. We concentrated on promoting the personalities and brand loyalty to fans, and we created our own heroes that we could depend on to be there and put on a show. We wouldn’t be able to make the Pro Stock Open any bigger. We had just about everybody who was anybody in the class already coming every year. Running a second event would only dilute the interest and excitement, even if we could get all the drivers back for another event during the year. It had to be something else.
Before buying the track in Budds Creek, I was operating a much smaller venue in Colonial Beach, VA. I had great success there with Pro Stock shows but couldn’t afford all the big-name stars I wanted to make a good race. In those days, I didn’t even bother with trying to enforce rules. It was “Run What Ya Brung” and may the best man win. That meant one or two big-name stars in the field and filled in the rest with whoever I could find that had something that looked like a Pro Stock car. I had to find a way to hype those guys to make them interesting and exciting to the fans. That sometimes meant taking the P.T Barnum approach by giving them new nicknames or even creating compelling stories about their backgrounds.
In 1972 or 1973 I remember convincing a guy from somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina to come to one of the Pro Stock races at Colonial Beach. To make him a star, I made up some story about his family history of making moonshine and building big motors to outrun the “Revenooers”. Part of the story I concocted was that he had a “Carolina Mountain Motor” in his car and was ready to knock off some of the superstars at the race. The local sports reporter that I fed the story to picked up on that and used the “Mountain Motor” term in the headline. It created a big buzz with the fans and a lot of talk at the track in the weeks building up to the race. I made a new radio commercial emphasizing the Mountain Motor idea. It worked, and we had a huge crowd. I was embarrassed about making up a story about the guy and never did show him the newspaper, but the term “MOUNTAIN MOTOR” was born.
During a late-night session putting our Dragline newspaper together, I thought about how that term created a mystique at the Colonial Beach track and that it might be the way to promote a whole new event we were looking for at Budds Creek. It was vital that it not diminish the allure of the US Pro Stock Open. I would call it the “MOUNTAIN MOTOR NATIONALS.” I ran it by my then partner at MIR, Larry Clayton and, as usual, he said ”You’re the promoter. If you think it will work, go for it.” I figured out years later that was Larry’s way of being supportive, but insulating himself from any blame if an idea was a flop. I couldn’t have had a better partner ever that would let me freely run with my unorthodox promotion ideas.
We began to refine the idea. The plan was to take advantage of the “illegal” mystique of the “Run What Ya Brung” cars. The tag line would become “This Is The Race Where We Throw Away The Rule Book.” Anything goes! How fast could these cars go if they all show up with their illegal “Mountain Motors”?
We also had to see if we could get enough cars to make the show spectacular. The MIR fans were knowledgeable about big Pro Stock shows by this point. We couldn’t just have a few match racers show up and sell it to them. We had our regular contingent of Pro Stock guys I knew we could count on and I pitched the idea to them for feedback. The IHRA Pro Stock class was becoming pretty established, and their rules allowed for unlimited motor size. If I could sell enough of those mostly southern guys to come to Maryland, we could put together a real show. It would be an Open meet with anyone welcome, and the 16 fastest would make the show and get paid.
Here was the kicker. Remember the story about hosting a race on a Monday hight? Scheduling this many racers was no easy task from a promoter’s point of view. The racer conversations and endless phone calls revealed a daunting fact. The race would have to be held on a Wednesday night to avoid conflict with any other events and the racer schedules of all the cars we needed. I think the very first event went off in August of 1980 and we took a big gamble again with a ton of money in promotion, a mid-week night, and an unproven product. Just the kind of odds gamblers like Larry and I liked. Anyone who follows big time Pro Stock Drag Racing knows how it turned out. Another sold-out show and Larry and I coined a new name for an exciting group of cars.
This race was a lot of fun for us at the office. We got to let our imaginations run wild with promotion ideas and ways to entertain the fans. It was like playing with a new toy in many ways. We even got to create a legend at the track when we came up with the idea of having one of our favorite customers and local folk hero be the official “Grand Marshall” of the event.
Betting on races was a popular pastime at MIR, and we even dedicated a whole grandstand for that purpose. To keep the peace, we “deputized” the biggest guy in the crowd to maintain order and settle any disputes among the bettors. His name was Eddie Freeman and to help establish his authority we had signage made to identify the grandstand as the “Eddie Freeman Grandstand.” The sign was adorned with artwork showing a hand with a wad of dollar bills. Eddie became something like the pied piper with a huge following that was great for business. He also became a great friend to Larry and me with some accompanying perks.
Eddie and his brothers ran the Red Cap baggage service at the Richmond, VA airport. That just happened to be where one of the few direct flights on the East coast to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island and the Bahamas Princess Casino embarked. That was one of the spots that Larry and I frequented during the offseason. When we would go to the Richmond airport, we got the royal red carpet reception from the Freeman brothers. It was almost embarrassing the way they stopped traffic and parted crowds to escort us to the front of any lines. I’m sure it left people whispering and wondering who these VIPs must be.
Eddie’s job as “Grand Marshall” was to begin the festivities at the race by standing on the concrete retaining wall at the starting line and “officially” tearing up an NHRA Rule Book and throwing it away. The roar from the crowd that first night was absolutely incredible when he did that. Eddie and that ritual became an important part of the Mountain Motor Nationals. I instinctively knew by that reaction that we had another huge winner on our hands. I think it was the next day that Larry started the paperwork to trademark the Mountain Motor name. After the word spread in the industry about the success of the event, we did give permission to our good friend Vinny Napp at the Englishtown, NJ track to use the Mountain Motor name at his event. All the other “copy cat” races that popped up later were actually in violation of the law.
The betting action was always heavy at MIR, and following every run, the grandstand would turn green as money was exchanged. I can remember one night when boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard and his entourage were in the middle of the stands betting thousands of dollars on the races. He was a big fan of Pro Stock racing and was at several of the events. We actually didn’t even need Eddie to police the action that night with Sugar Ray there.
The Mountain Motor Nationals drew thousands of fans from Maine to Florida for years after that. There was a special mystique about it that took on a life of its own, and I firmly believe that its very name had a great deal to do with it. The race was a smash hit for us up to the time Larry and I retired. It probably had a lot to do with allowing us to retire young enough to enjoy life. Thank you to all the racers and fans who made it possible. The great racing throughout the years didn’t hurt either.
One of the funniest incidents I can remember from the Mountain Motor races occurred the year that Warren Johnson dominated the event. For whatever reason, Warren was several miles per hour faster than everyone else in the class all season. At sometime after 2 AM following the race I was going through the pits paying some of the drivers and thanking them for coming. When I got to Warren’s trailer, there was a small group of racers mumbling about something. I remember Lee Edwards and Pat Musi being very upset about Johnson’s win and wanting to lodge some sort of protest. I laughed at first, not thinking they were serious, but they continued pushing the issue. At that point, I was tired and just wanted to go home. I asked them what they thought Warren was doing wrong, considering that the only rule was that “there were no rules.” I told Lee and Pat, their complaints were ludicrous and to get their stuff packed up and head home.
I still can’t figure out what part of “throwing away the rule book” they didn’t understand.
Of course, the most important factor in the success of the events was the great performances by the dozens of racers and support staff who were a part of the Mountain Motor Nationals great history. People who also became friends. Stars like Johnson, Edwards, Musi, Reher & Morrison, Carlton Phillips, Johnny Dowey, Jim Yates, Bill Jenkins, Roy Hill, Bob Harris, Don Nicholson, Harold Denton, Charlie Rogers, Ronnie Lyles, and many, many more who provided thrills for the thousands of fans who attended. Great engine builders like Sonny Leonard, Scott Shafiroff, Bob Ingles, Richie Zul, Animal Jim Feurer and others who built the chassis’ and performance parts were also fixtures at the events. And no race events are ever complete without the support of the motorsports press who help promote and document them. Journalists and photographers like Francis Butler, Steve Collison, Dave Wallace, Dave Bishop, Jon Asher and what seemed like a Who’s Who of racing magazine notables always lined the guard rails during the events and blessed us with the great coverage that separates “just races” from “real happenings”.
To all who participated, watched or helped produce this amazing series of races I will be forever grateful.