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Prowler Bob McCoy - The Real McCoy
American Rodder Article about Bob McCoy by Mike Bishop
-- Mike Bishop
JUS’ DREAMIN’ – THE REAL MCCOY
There is an unusual quality in many of Bob McCoy’s paintings of open-wheel dirt track racing. Unlike the more prevalent trackside point-of-view in racing art, McCoy occasionally takes the viewer right down onto the track – into the seat of an old Champ car or Kurtis midget. This is where McCoy is most comfortable, the point-of-view with which he’s most intimate. Bob McCoy, you see, is not an artist who has raced; Bob McCoy is a racer who paints and sculpts.
In spite of early evidence of his artistic talent, McCoy’s racing career began in earnest several years before it should have – a head start, so to speak. Veteran hot rodder Bob Stewart, himself a head-starter as the shadow of his father, Ed “Axle” Stewart, the creator of the ‘Dago axle, recalls Bob McCoy’s entry into racing in San Diegoin the early ‘50s. “The Prowlers car club used to hang out at Pop Miller’s Seaside Service,” Stewart begins. “McCoy was about fourteen and he’d come by to see what was going on. He said ‘I’m gonna drive a jalopy’ – jalopy racing was big at the time – and we said ‘Sure, kid.’ He was only fourteen and we were a lot older – seventeen or eighteen,” Stewart jokes.
“Well, I was walking into Balboa Stadium on a Saturday night,” he continues, “And the first thing I see is a Model A Tudor flipping end over end down the front straightaway. It was McCoy, fourteen years old, driving jalopies!” The minimum age for drivers was 18, and McCoy was eventually found out, but not before he had a taste of rough-and-tumble dirt track racing. And not before he had sown the seeds of an on-track racing persona that has followed him throughout his career, which continues today in vintage oval track racing.
“I’m an aggressive driver,” McCoy say’s matter-of-factly, referring to his “back it into a corner” driving style. To some, an “aggressive” style is confused with recklessness – a handle that’s often been applied to McCoy’s driving. But reckless doesn’t win races, and McCoy has and still does, racing today in URA (United Racing Association) vintage dirt track events in the West, piloting two cars for two owners. “It’s supposed to be exhibition ‘racing’,” McCoy says, “but some of the old warriors find it impossible to refrain from serious dicing.” Bob’s favorite ride is a 1950 Kurtis-Kraft midget owned by Lee Cook. The Offy-powered rascal has its own good credentials with a chauffeur log that includes A. J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. Bob’s second ride is a handsome mid-‘60s Kurtis-style Champ car motivated by a roller-crank Wayne-Chevy inliner. Owned by Canadian Ron Douglas, the big car carries the same color and distinct graphics scheme as the midget – all perfectly coincidental, says McCoy.
Of his current racing program, McCoy says it could come to an abrupt halt at any time. “I’m the real outlaw of the circuit,” he says. “I keep expecting them to pull my license,” he adds, only half kidding, although he’s hardly a stranger to having his credentials voided. This would be the first time for the action being brought on by his driving style, however; it was the age issue in the past, first with the jalopies and later when it was discovered that he was too young to drive midgets. “You had to be twenty-one for midgets at the time,” McCoy says, “and I was nineteen when they found out. They said I had to wait two years – which I didn’t.” He disappeared for a little while and then came back. “Nobody noticed,” McCoy says.
Everybody noticed in the early ‘50s when, as a precocious, imaginative teenager, McCoy created a sensation with a ’40 Ford Tudor that established an entire new look and character for street-driven hot rods. His wildly flamed black sedan was soon seen nationwide on magazine covers and in feature articles and continues to influence street rod design to this day. The car also spent a lot of time at Paradise Mesa Drag Strip near San Diego as well as any street where Bob could find competition for the full-house flathead-powered sedan.
McCoy’s midget racing days following high school gave him the foundation to transition to sprint cars where he honed his skills and aggressive style, frequently winning main events throughout the West, often beating some of the best dirt track talent in the country. McCoy recalls one race at Ascot that holds particularly special memories. J. C. Agajanian had brought AJ, Mario and Big Al to town for the annual Turkey Night program, assuming that one of them would take home the biggest pile of marbles. No one thought to tell Bob McCoy, however, and at the checkers the big guns found themselves playing catch-up to the young Californian.
Sprint cars were the accepted path to Indianapolis at the time, and McCoy got his shot at the big time in 1967 when Ron Ward, Roger Ward’s brother, got Bob an Indy ride in the Joe Hunt Magneto Special. The car was a bit of a dog, McCoy says, but it was an Indy ride and that’s what mattered. But a horrendous sprint car crash just weeks before Indy left McCoy in a coma and no opportunity to race at Indy. So serious were his injuries, McCoy was given little chance to survive much less recover. But recover he did, and he returned to sprint car racing again, finally hanging it up in 1977 when it was clear that his Indy opportunities had evaporated for good.
McCoy fell back on his artistic ability full time with the sign business he had started in themed-‘60s and fed his racer’s appetite with dry-lakes and Bonneville competition in a ’25 T track roadster configured more for oval track than land-speed racing. With a short 105-inch wheelbase and an alcohol-fed Chevy big block, the slick little roadster – dubbed Red Hawk – provided Bob with white-knuckle rides at El Mirage (212 mph) and Bonneville (217 mph). “It never ran under 200 at El Mirage,” he says with obvious pride. Red Hawk is retired now, waiting for the final stages of detail work and wiring before hitting the streets as McCoy’s latest hot rod.
Bob McCoy’s art took a new direction in the mid-‘80s when he began painting commissioned portraits of friends’ hot rods and race cars. His commission work has grown so well in the last few years he no longer has time for commercial sign painting and flame jobs and striping. In addition to commissions, Bob has printed a number of his illustrations which he sells at street rod events and races in the West. His original paintings sell for $1,000 to as much as $5,000. His custom cartoon panels are almost always done to order and they’ve proved to be extremely popular for special awards and trophies and a great way to immortalize rods and rodders.
Some of McCoy’s favorite work today is the creation of sculptures of famous and seminal oval track race cars. Although he builds the cars in two scales – 1/8 and1/4 - McCoy points out that they aren’t scale models in the strictest sense because he takes liberties with some of the details in the pursuit of realism. Many extremely nice scale models look like highly detailed toys, McCoy says. Photographs of his sculptures are often taken for the actual car they depict. When McCoy showed Roger Ward a photo of a sculpture of the famous old No. 98 Champ car, the two-time Indy winner set to reminiscing about the car and its history, recalling among other things its Indy 500 victory in 1952, driven by Troy Ruttman. When McCoy told him the car in the picture was a model, Ward called him a liar and remained unconvinced until McCoy brought out the ¼-scale sculpture. McCoy’s sculptures are indeed realistic, and he says that the form is continually evolving with each successive car just a little more refined than the one that preceded it.
During our visit, McCoy was waiting for wheels to come back from the plating shop so he could complete a spectacular sculpture of the No. 99 Belanger Special he’s building for Boyd Coddington. The wheel in question is one of those neat refinements and McCoy is very excited about it, in spite of considerable added time and cost involved to design and create what turns out to be the second set of wheels for this sculpture – a little “extra” that won’t be reflected in the final price. Boyd will get the car for the original agreed-upon price of $7,000. It doesn’t take a mathematical wizard to see that McCoy’s sculptures are bargains – $7,000 for the 1/4-scale cars and $3,000 for the 1/8-scale sculptures. To a question concerning the time involved, McCoy holds up a hand signaling Stop! Don’t go there! “I haven’t figured it out, I’m not going to, and I don’t even want to know,” he says. For Bob McCoy the real payoff comes from doing the work, the loving creation of the likenesses of the heroic race cars that are his passion, his life.
-- Mike Bishop
note: this article is copied from https://www.good-guys.com/?p=8561&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=131.
Hot Rodding has lost a true original. Word came to us today that El Cajon based artist, rodder and all around rebel rouser Bob McCoy has passed away. He was 77. McCoy was a fixture at Goodguys and
other events over the past three decades selling his signature hot rod and circle track oriented art and sculptures.
But he was so much more to so many people. To us here at Goodguys he was a rodder we looked up to. He was never short on opinions, tirelessly promoted pre’49 hot rods and never wavered from his passionate beliefs, including; a hot rod should be low, flamed and driven and sometimes raced! He was also someone who we leaned on for the perfect wall art to honor our Woman of the Year. He picked the Real McCoy award at Goodguys events for decades – an honor bestowed to a bitchin’ traditional hot rod. He was a close friend of our Founder & Chairman Gary Meadors, who Gary had deep respect and admiration for. McCoy’s signature “break out art” – where the car in the painting actually “breaks out” of the frame in a three dimensional landscape litters the walls of Goodguys headquarters in Pleasanton, Califiornia.
Based in the San Diego area his entire life, his rodding and racing career spawned more than half a century. McCoy began his racing career at Balboa Stadium driving jalopies in his teen years. It was in the mid 50’s when his hammered and flamed ’40 Ford Tudor adorned the cover of Car Craft in 1956 as well as Hot Rod’s annual in 1958, setting off a trend that still burns today. He was one of the original members of the Prowlers of San Diego.
He later went on to drive midgets and then sprint cars before signing a contract to drive in the Indianapolis 500 in the late ’60s. He was critically injured prior to the 500 and was unable to drive the Joe Hunt Magneto car at Indy as planned. His driving style was simply balls out.
In the 1980s and 1990s, McCoy participated in vintage midget and sprint car races, mainly held as exhibitions out west. He didn’t understand the exhibition part, routinely running flat out, working the high groove around the rim (a McCoy signature), and fearlessly weaving in and out of the field in an effort to lap ‘em all. He was kicked out repeatedly for over aggressive driving.
To give you an idea of the steel in his spine, we take you back to June 8th, 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 cross winds across the dry lake bend. McCoy scoffed, took out his “Redhawk” ’25 Ford T track roadster, wound it up through the gears and blasted his way, cross-winds-be-damned to a 212mph run good for top speed of the meet!
He really did do it all and departed this world with more experiences than anyone you’ll ever meet. In addition to his hi-speed exploits, he had other exotic careers such as wild animal taming and rodeo bronc riding. In the 1990s, Plans were underway to make a feature film of his life.
His unique art consumed the second half of his life, a passion which he took with him until his final day. His thousands of experiences shaped and sculpted his art. “Whenever I draw a scene from an early ’60s dirt track race, as soon as I’m done, I feel as though I’ve run the entire race myself,” he once said.
In 2009, his wife Lynn published a 346-page book titled Circle of Impact – The True Life Events of a Brave Action Figure, painstakingly chronicling Bob’s legendary career behind the wheel and behind the canvas.
Over the last several years, McCoy’s years of hi-flying spills and chills might have slowed his gait, but he remained active in hot rod circles, doing his art and driving to his favorite events.
According to the information we received, he passed away Tuesday, September 29th at 7pm. We’re still awaiting word on any memorial services and will post those here when available. May he rest in peace.