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Bob McCoy Celebration of Life

Bob McCoy Celebration of Life

Bob McCoy has passed away.  The problem with discussing Bob is simply where to start.  McCoy was part historical and part mythical.  His life story is detailed in Lynn McCoy’s excellent book, which I reviewed and liked very much.  The historical part can be found in Lynn’s book, which is faithful to the subject, her husband.  The mythical and even mystical part of Bob McCoy’s life is that he represented all that we want to believe in and all that we want to become.  Knowing the real McCoy, so to speak, isn’t quite enough, we need to know that in Bob McCoy we could see an example to our own lives where we could do whatever we wanted to do.  If Bob could do it, so could we.  He had a ton of stories and I’m going to tell you right now, I believe each and every one of them; because I want to.  No, because I need to believe in them.
Bob McCoy’s history can be found all over the internet.  He was a racer, a cowboy, a rodeo man, an artist and cartoonist, a wild animal tamer, a part-time gangster and so much more.  His name just rolled off the tongue.  Like Sam Spade or Nero Wolfe or any other great sounding name, Bob McCoy can be used as a name in a good detective or spy book.  He had a genteel personality.  McCoy was likable.  He was suave and appealing.  He had the dashing looks and charm of a movie star.  It was as if McCoy could have been anyone and yet everyone, all at the same time.  And he did it so effortlessly.  Probably the only thing that McCoy didn’t have was more time.  If he had more time he definitely would have looked at his list of things to do and got after them.  At heart Bob was a hot rodder.  He saw a problem and he fixed it.  He saw a quest and went right at it.  
Most people who knew Bob can be separated into two groups; those that watched him race cars and those that knew him as an artist.  There were only a few people who knew the real Bob, or knew all the things that Bob achieved or attempted to do.  He was a racer of note and he was a great artist.  His art work, family and his wife, Lynn, made his heart sing.  They were a complete set and we saw that at the car shows when Bob would set up his tables and sign all the books on his life and then glance lovingly at Lynn and offer up a great compliment to her.  Bob thought of his artwork as cartoonish and most non-thinking people would think of that as a negative.  He represented the highest level of the cartoon-like figures that came out of the 1930’s.  There was nothing amateurish in his work.  People craved collecting his art and he had many collectors and fans.  He also had a comical side to him.  He would deliberately put clues and obscure people and facts into his work.  It made him human and if there was anything that his fans needed most, it was his humanity.
Lynn McCoy’s book, CIRCLE OF IMPACT: THE TRUE LIFE EVENTS OF A BRAVE ACTION FIGURE, is fascinating to read.  It is a very high quality book with excellent photographs and an easy, soft and clear style of writing.  Bob wrote in my copy, “To Richard, buckle up and hang on.  Bob McCoy.”  It is the theme of his life and I’m sure that he wrote that in all the books that he autographed.  McCoy’s mother Bernice never intended to be a mother.  A fling with a sailor in San Diego during the height of the Great Depression left her pregnant.  Bob was born in 1937 with his father at sea and his mother pining for the bright lights and stardom of Hollywood.  Six months after his birth his mother left him in the care of his grandmother, whom he adored.  Life was difficult for Bob.  His entire life was a challenge of self-discovery and learning by doing.  He was constantly in trouble, had few people to turn to, learned life through the college of hard knocks, made some poor decisions and yet he redeemed himself in the end, but it was never easy.  He had a thirst for action and adventure.  He dreamed all the dreams that young men have, but with only his wits to help him.  He was working before he became a teenager and learned to drive on his own, taking cars without permission when he had to.  
He had a future in baseball as the scouts came to see him on his high school team, but a fight with his coach got him kicked off the team and out of school.  He didn’t much care for school anyway.  He wanted to race cars like his cousin.  Bob was too young to drive race cars and his grandmother refused to sign his racing card, so he offered a bum some money to forge a “parent’s signature” and no one checked it out; he was ready to make his dreams a reality.  His first race was at Balboa Stadium and he crashed.  It wouldn’t be the first time he ended up in the hospital; as soon as he could he was driving again.  He street-raced until he realized people were getting killed doing that.  He raced at Paradise Mesa, a dragstrip run by the famous San Diego Bean Bandits car club.  He ran packages of money for the numbers racket.  Bob raced all over California race tracks and was seriously injured again.  The doctors told him he had a blood clot and would die soon.  Married with a young family on the way and his once successful racing career on hold and desperate for money he went back to the mob for an ill-conceived loan.
Thinking that he would die and needing money, this sounded like a sure thing.  The only problem was that he found out that the clots in his brain were healing themselves and the mob wanted their money with usurious interest.  He couldn’t pay back the loan, but the mob boss liked car racers and instead of demanding he repay the loan, allowed Bob to work as an on-call, armed body guard.  For several years he carried a pistol and protected mob bosses, but this kept him from racing.  Finally the mob boss told him his debt was settled and Bob went back to driving race cars.  He won a lot of races, but age was catching up to him and the chance to run at the Indy 500 was over for him.  He tried his hand as an animal trainer with the big cats and as a bronco rider in the rodeo until he busted up his pelvis is a serious accident that kept him bedridden.  He recovered and began his art profession that has made him one of the greatest racing artists ever.  He and his sons went to El Mirage and Bonneville to race.  He has appeared in movies and is well known among Hollywood celebrities.  Bob had four children and many grandchildren, and loved to go fishing with his son Steve.  Bob is also half Chinook Indian through his father and often attends the Indian games at the Barona Reservation.
I first met Bob at the Gilmore Roars Reunion at the old adobe in Farmers Market in Los Angeles, next door to CBS studios.  This was the area of the old Gilmore Stadium baseball field and the Gilmore race track.  Carmen and Gordon Schroeder organized the reunion and they usually had around 500 to 700 reunion attendees, including Louie, Bud and Eddie Meyer, Danny Oaks, Sam and Alice Hanks, Rodger Ward and just about everyone who ever competed on oval, Indy, champ cars, midgets, stock car, motorcycles, boats, land speed, drags and road course racing.  Bob always had his display tables set up and generously donated his art for the auction and for sale to help out his fellow racers in need.  I marveled at his artwork and style way back when, just as I do today.  Every year he came and every year he made it easier and better through his generosity.  
I would see Bob at various car shows.  He would turn up at Don Weaver’s Legends of Ascot reunion in Perris.  He was there to support Walt James at the CRA Reunion at Knott’s Berry Farm.  He was there to support the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California.  He was there to support the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.  He came to the California Car Racers Reunion at Parnelli Jones’ shop in Torrance.  He attended the GoodGuys car show in Carlsbad, the LA Roadsters and the Grand National Roadster Show at the Fairplex in Pomona.  Everywhere he went he brought that Bob McCoy smile with him and would invite you to sit down and talk to him.  He loved the fans, those that saw him race and those that admired his artwork.  His passing leaves a void; where will we see his smile and that beautiful artwork.  Bob McCoy left us with so much and I wish we had been able to give him more time to be with us.
Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]