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Jim “Mr. Magoo” Maguire
is pretty impressive when some kid comes ridin’ into racing on the
tail of a comet and runs red hot right from the start.
You can understand it in cases today
like “Kid Rocket” or Austin Dillon.
In addition to their obvious talent, their
speed is propelled by total family immersion in the sport, financial
resource, and the best of today’s advanced technology.
But how could it happen that an
unsuspecting, wide-eyed 17-year-old could have gone to his very
first race, decided it’s his passion, and five years later be at the
gate of the Brickyard? Case in point:
Jim Maguire, aka “Mr. Magoo.”
“I had been into drag racing around
Boston when I built that first cut-down in 1959.
First time out up in New Hampshire, I
flipped in the heat and won the feature.
It helped that I had a real good, polished
flathead – and no brakes.
“I guess I was a little different.
Somehow I just had no fear.
In fact, going very fast didn’t bother me.
I really enjoyed it.”
Needless to say, the railbirds took
notice, guys like the honored wrench Jim McGee, who would soon leave
New England for Indiana.
The kid had lots of speed, lots of crashes.
But that raw determination landed Magoo in
NEMA midget rosters by 1961 and some rides in Paul Doody’s sprinter.
The tipping point, though, came when the
19-year-old drove down to a URC special at the Trenton (NJ) paved
mile, looking for a ride. Harry Dee moved his dirt driver, Mario
Andretti, aside for Maguire who promptly spooked the world by
steaming from a 25th
-place starting spot to second before a wheel fell off.
The idea of sprinters on the lethal mile
meant nothing to him.
“I just went wide open, right to the
upstairs, and never backed off.
I was beginning to realize that I was young
and brash, and that they were giving me rides simply because I was
That was okay with me.
I just wanted to get to Indy.
I’d move those old guys out of the way.
Sometimes I’d literally need a couple of
bodyguards, but Louis Kunz, the URC President, liked me.
I guess I was good for the show.”
Maguire’s obsession with speeding to the
top was blinding.
It was, beyond question, open-wheel racing’s
most savage time.
Trade rags reported fatalities weekly, with
no small number of Magoo’s buddies – Don Gillette, Bobby Marshman,
and Bobby Marvin – among them.
“I did get cocky.
I was crazy as hell.
I had probably 14 flips myself, but it never
occurred to me I could get really hurt.
When people were killed, it just couldn’t
happen to me.
And, when someone came over and complained
about my driving, I would ask who they were to tell me anything.”
cool-down lap at Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1963. (Mike Calla
Seven splendid wins paved the way to
Maguire’s 1963 URC title in the Venezia Brothers’ rocket ship.
The most dramatic victory, however, slipped
It was a 30-lap USAC show down at William’s
Grove in which Magoo flat out gunned down Foyt, Hurtubise, Branson,
and all of them.
But before the trophy was given, inspectors
found the heart beating in the Venezia car ten cubic inches too big.
Now the ”Whiz Kid”, still barely old
enough to buy his own suds, was on the national radar screen and off
Friend Jim McGee set him up for his driver’s
test at Indy in the Dean Van Lines roadster.
“I was ready.
I had moved to Indy for the month of May to
I was confident.
I just knew I would have no problem on the
Prior to the weekend of the test, Magoo
stayed with Duke Cook, doing lots of TV publicity for a USAC sprint
show at New Bremen, Ohio.
But May 3, 1963 was a terrible day,
spiked with chilling, bone-breaking, out-of-the-ballpark flyers.
Maguire has no memory of it, but the law of
averages finally caught up with him.
In the violence of the accident, his right
arm was sheared off.
In time, Jim McGee came by the hospital
asking Maguire for recommendations about whom they should put in the
Dean Van Lines entry.
With no hesitation Maguire responded, “Mario
Andretti. Sure, he’s small, but he’s big in drive and spirit.”
Andretti, of course, ended up running second
at Indy that year and would become the first to win the Brickyard,
the Daytona 500, and the Formula One world championship.
“Mario’s a millionaire.
He’s the one that’s in all the history
books,” Magoo recently told local reporter Jason Remillard.
Jim Maguire was never about bitterness,
He accepts that he raced his own way, at his
Back when he woke up fully in the hospital,
USAC’s Henry Banks was there and gave him a pencil.
Maguire immediately began training himself
to print with his left hand, so much so that he became a skilled
draftsman and a mechanical engineer as well.
Equally amazing is that by 1965, he was back
in the saddle.
He won a TQ show the first night out.
He compiled 16 ARDC wins before quietly
winding down in the 1980s.
Jim Maguire lives comfortably today in
He frequents three coffee shops each morning
and a cruise night most evenings with one of his cars.
Long gone is that old time cockiness,
calming sense of community.
you have the support of those around you and
the love and understanding of a family and a wife like my Joan was,
you can do anything, no matter what the odds.”
Left-handed in 1965, ready to go into the TQs and onto the
(Mike Calla Photo)
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181