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By Sean Arnold
Walking into Rick Maguire’s office at Maguire’s Auto Repair in Williston feels a little bit like visiting a wing of a Florida stock car racing museum.
Among a strew of typical auto shop items, there are framed photos of renowned drivers, like Bobby Allison, as well as a personal collection of photos documenting Maguire’s and his late father’s racing past.
At the center of it all is Maguire’s passionate retelling of the stock car racing moments and people that have molded his time in the sport, easily sparked by a quick perusal through the memorabilia and an online blog of vintage racing photos.
“Let’s go back to the 1960s,” Maguire says with a smile while plopping his cherished photo album on the counter, when asked about his history in racing. “It was my father before me, and it’s been in family many years.”
After nearly three decades of racing, the 45-year-old stock car driver, mechanic and race team general carries on that tradition on Saturday nights at Bronson Speedway, where he’s collected three feature wins and a handful of heat victories this year.
“I keep up,” Maguire says. “I’m doing my best to do it.”
Racing is still a family affair for Maguire, who is joined by Morris “Gator” Richardson and John John Mayton, the right-hand men who work at Maguire’s shop and race for his team in the Pure Stock class. The trio work on the cars at Maguire’s home shop with their friends and family three days a weeks, with Friday's designated as pizza night. “My shop at my house would swallow this one,” he says. “That’s where all my goodies are.”
Maguire doesn’t take sponsorships, but makes sure he gets in a shout out to his body paint supplier, Gulf Coast Supply.
Though Maguire came to be known as “Fireball” by fellow racers – coined by stock racing chronicler Dave Westerman, after a crash and burn incident early in Maguire’s career, and propagated by an on-track temper tantrum Maguire now regrets – his initial start in racing as a 16-year-old in 1988 was of a lower profile.
“I was in high school and I lied about my age,” he said. “I had a car that I hid in a storage unit two towns over.”
Maguire, who was living in Merritt Island, raced at the now-defunct Orlando Speedworld in an old Chevrolet El Camino, purchased with cash he earned washing dishes and cutting grass. “I was a boy among men,” he recalled.
Maguire says the sport was different in the pre-Jeff Gordon era, before young drivers and their careers were big family investments.
“It later became, ‘Our kid doesn’t necessarily have to go to college, we’ll make him into a professional racer.’ Back then, if I ran into somebody, I wasn’t protected.
“I had two nickels to rub together, but I just wanted to do it. These days you get your father to go in on it, but it wasn’t that way. It took years for me to even win a race, because I didn’t know anything. It was a struggle.”
Maguire’s father, who dealt in the gas station business, raced in Ohio and Pennsylvania before moving the family to Florida. He preferred the dirt, while his son favors the pavement, though the latter did a two-year stint on dirt.
“I like the speed of it,” Maguire said of the asphalt. “Last year we won on dirt, but we hadn’t been on dirt in years.”
After a stint in the Navy and the passing of his father, Maguire took over the family business, an auto shop in Merritt Island, around 1992. He continued to race through the year 2000, when he moved to Williston. In addition to Bronson and Orlando, he’s raced at the New Smyrna Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sebring International Raceway, Bubba’s Raceway in Ocala, Citrus County Speedway and Daytona.
Maguire’s proudest win is the first one witnessed by his son, Gunnar, who helps work on the racecars. As he flips through the album pages, Maguire is seeing Gunnar grow up through the victory lane photos.
“When you can share it with family, that’s why we do it,” Maguire said. “My father’s been gone a long, long time, and that really dictates my racing with my son and my daughter, (14-year-old Angelina). She’s not a get-dirty kind of girl, but she does show up. She likes being a part of it with dad. It’s family, it’s life lessons – there are a lot of them to be learned.”
Maguire’s racing family looms large over the Pure Stock division at Bronson, where Richardson is poised to win the points championship. Maguire’s group rides in tribute cars: Richardson’s No. 12 racer is modeled after Allison’s Coca Cola car; Maguire drives the No. 33 Harry Gant Skoal car; and Mayton’s 81 is a Crown Royal tribute car. They also bring out a No. 11 Busch car.
“Crown, Coke, beer and dip, it’s a redneck’s dream,” Maguire says. “I’m proud of the success we’re having this year. It’s a total team effort.”
Maguire, who spent time in a Super Late Model, likes the Pure Stock class for its more carefree racing and modest upkeep, as well as its link to the past.
“We call them bombers, they’re the most fun,” he said. “They’re actually built out of old cars, which is truly the spirit of what they did back in the day, no different from my dad’s old Chevelles.”
Maguire is realistic about the struggles faced by modern stock car racing. He appreciates the younger racers coming up who are eager to learn.
“It’s a family endeavor, because one person can’t do it. If you pull back and look at the golden days of racing, you just see throngs of men and women enjoying the weekend. There’s so much entertainment right now that you can choose from; life is hectic and busy.
“And everybody doesn’t want to put in their time to get better at their craft,” Maguire continued. “I don’t win a lot of weeks. I finished second (on July 10), but I fought so hard for a second-place finish that it was like a win, even though it wasn’t. Age and experience are crucial in this sport. It takes years to come to the right setup and patience. For many years, it was a middle-aged man’s sport. You didn’t get to the cup series until your late 20s usually. The sport is with youth now.”
Regardless of the state of the sport, Maguire’s thrill for the competition hasn’t diminished. That becomes clear in how energized he gets while reviewing the video from his latest race, a nail-biting battle for second with the always-formidable Larry Welter Jr.
“(Welter) gave me everything he had,” Maguire said. “When we go to Bronson, we like to win, but we don’t expect it. We like everybody to have a good time. We’re about the show.”
*The Bronson Speedway welcomes Limited Late Model Sportsman, Pure Stocks, Strictly Stocks and Kids Big Wheels this Saturday, July 23. Gates open at 4 p.m., and racing begins at 7:30 p.m. Grandstand admissions are $12 for adults, $8 for I.D.-carrying students, seniors and military personnel, and $5 for children ages 5-12. Children under 5 get in free.
Sean Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (352) 493-4796.