Central Valley

Passing of racing legend Jack McCoy

Jack McCoy of Modesto, winner of more races than anyone in the history of NASCAR's West Coast circuit, died Tuesday at 72.

Mr. McCoy, who also was in the tire business much of his life, died suddenly at a Modesto hospital, his family said.

Friends and racing colleagues remembered him as a skilled stock car driver who would have ranked with national legends had he raced full-time.

"Nobody could drive a short track like Jack McCoy — nobody," said Dick Hagerty of Oakdale. "He was just in a class of his own."

Mr. McCoy, a Dodge driver, won a record 54 races in the 1960s and 1970s in NASCAR's regional series, known at various times as Grand National West, Winston West and Pacific Coast Late Model Series. He finished first in the final standings in 1966 and 1973 and second four times.

"Jack was a tremendous competitor and representative of NASCAR on the West Coast," said Jim Hunter, a spokesman for the national organization, in a news release Wednesday.

Mr. McCoy balanced the racing with his work at McCoy Tire Co. and his home life with his wife, Peggy Joyce McCoy, and seven children.

"He was a committed father and grandpa who made life an adventure," daughter Kathleen Lengel said.

Mr. McCoy was born March 29, 1937, in Los Angeles and later moved with his family to a ranch near Ceres. His father, John McCoy, opened McCoy Tire on Ninth Street in Modesto in 1950.

Jack McCoy, who attended Turlock High School and Modesto Junior College, went to work in the family business. He later opened his own tire shop on McHenry Avenue, eventually branching into specially made tires and other supplies for race cars.

"He was a perfect gentleman when it came to business and as a person," said Jack Robinson, a long-time co-worker who now owns the two shops.

Another co-worker, Marvin Russell, remembers Mr. McCoy building his first race car at Turlock High and taking it to Stockton 99 Speedway.

"It was just in his blood," Russell said.

Mr. McCoy excelled at tracks up to five-eighths of a mile, said Ken Clapp, co-owner of the Stockton venue.

"He could start eighth or ninth in the race and get in front, and he was impossible to pass," said Clapp, a former NASCAR vice president.

"He had a high level of integrity on and off the track," Clapp added. "He also had a tremendous ability to tell his mechanic and pit crew what the car was doing and not doing. He understood the chassis really well."

Mr. McCoy retired from the circuit in 1974 but still dabbled in racing.

In 1975, he joined his wife and racer Gary Johnson in a New York-to-California race later immortalized as the Cannonball Baker Memorial Sea to Shining Sea Trophy Dash in 1975. Defying speed limits, they crossed the country in 37 hours, 50 minutes, placing second.

In 1991, Mr. McCoy proposed a 40-acre motorsports complex along the Tuolumne River near downtown Modesto. He dropped the plan in the face of environmental objections.

In 1996, Mr. McCoy set out to break the single-lap record of 15.41 seconds that he had set on Stockton's quarter-mile oval in 1965. He missed by 1.01 seconds.

Five years later, Mr. McCoy teamed with friends Chuck Billington and Don Monaco to build a Ford Flathead Lakester that topped 161 miles per hour at Dry Lakes in El Mirage.

Mr. McCoy wrote of his exploits in a 2001 book, "Racing's Real McCoy," with help from Hagerty and Keith Sellers.

Mr. McCoy is survived by his wife; his son, Dr. Harry Brown of Modesto; six daughters, Gina Vance of Modesto, Tracee Collins of Kansas, Kathleen Lengel of Ripon, Kim Tofanelli of Sacramento, Cindy Brown of Modesto and Christine Brown of Incline Village, Nev.; sister, Louise Barnick of Modesto; brothers, Dan McCoy of Atascadero and Robert McCoy of Modesto; and 14 grandchildren.

A service will be at 1:30 p.m. Monday at Franklin and Downs, McHenry Chapel, 1150 McHenry Ave., Modesto.

Remembrances may be made to the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, 301 Downey Ave., Modesto 95354, or to a favorite charity.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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