The bearded Doc
Racers at Rest by Buzz Rose
From all reports, he was the kind of guy who
could do anything.
Born to a prominent family of physicians
in Eddington, PA, in 1906, George MacKenzie’s star shone brightly
from the start. He was handsome, athletic, articulate, and
intelligent, undertaking all challenges with flair and flourish.
He was fully expected to complete his medical education, but he
dropped out in 1928 to join the Church of the Clay. Carrying with
him only the nickname “Doc,” he sallied forth to become one of the
greatest, most colorful dirt-trackers of the day, a promoter’s
By 1930, he was a terror from the boards at
Woodbridge, NJ, and the lofty banks of Legion Ascot. But racing
wasn’t always pretty. He crashed mightily at the Detroit State Fair,
injuring himself seriously and his riding mechanic, William Berry,
The next season at Langhorne, the circular site of
some of his most sensational performances, the 25- year-old met his
match – an uncommonly pretty Verna Mather, perched atop a fire truck
in the infield. They became an instant item.
FEW DON'TS BEFORE HE DID IT
Doc Mackenzie getting some
warnings and possibly some pointers
from his sweetheart,
Miss Verna Mather, at Langhorne before starting
fifty-mile sweepstake feature, which he won."
Another obsession sprouting that summer
was Indy, where Doc qualified for his first of five consecutive
500s. He grew a beard and swore he would not shave it until he
sipped that cool Hoosier milk.
Facial fuzz was not
totally uncommon at the time. Likely the most famous follicle
frolicker was Man Mountain Dean, the 300-pound- plus wrestler
whose shaggy beard only added to his ferocity.
Choate, a renowned psychologist, spoke to the subject of beards:
“Many a man owes his success in life to the superiority complex
given to his ego by the attainment of a healthy mess of
But for Doc MacKenzie, the beard may have
meant something else, something more profound. It likely
signified recognition of the danger of his profession and his
deep fear that in an accident he might “lose my guts,” his
eagerness and ability to compete.
That didn’t happen,
even after a series of savage wrecks on his way to 35 wins and
the AAA Eastern Championship in 1935.
Nor did it happen
at Reading, PA, on July 12, 1936 when Doc collided with Floyd
Roberts. Both entered nearby Homeopathic Hospital near death,
and they shared a room for two weeks.
Verna was at the
hospital the whole time, tending to her man, and Doc proposed.
They were married right there on Monday, July 20, Floyd Roberts
filling in as best man right from his bed.
But Verna had
a catch. Doc told reporters, “That beard has been my lucky
charm, but it comes off if Verna says so.” Out came the razor.
The last weekend in August, Doc was at it again. He went to
the Springfield (IL) mile and set a new record of 38.57, only to
drop out of the feature with exhaustion.
The next day in
Milwaukee a clean-shaven MacKenzie seemed fully back in form. He
had the moves of a winner as he chased Billy Winn for the lead.
Then, suddenly and surprisingly, he rode over George Connors’
wheel, and flipped four times along the wall.
that night at the hospital, a devastated Verna at his side.
Doc when the luck
Doc at Indy
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181