1973 UIM World Championship
Sheehy Drives Miss Madison as ‘Labor of
By Del Danielson
There are many vocations Tom Sheehy could be pursuing tomorrow afternoon. He could be landing a commercial airliner at San Francisco International. He could be filling an order of jockey silks for Longacres. He could be in Nashville, helping a young rock singer negotiate his first recording contract. He COULD be busy with any number of personal projects tomorrow afternoon.
Instead, Tom Sheehy of Miami, Florida, will drive a hydroplane from Madison, Indiana, in a race in Seattle, Washington. For Free.
"It’s a labor of love,"
Sheehy said yesterday after qualifying the bright yellow Miss Madison for tomorrow’s $50,000 World Championship race on Lake Washington.
"The Madison is a family affair and nobody gets paid," Sheehy said. "I drive and the crew guys work their tails off — and all we get is expense money."
Madison, home for 13,000 Hoosiers, is nestled on the banks of the Ohio River in the heart of boat-racing country.. During the annual Madison. Regatta in early July, upwards of 100,000 Midwesterners shoehorn their way into town to watch the unlimiteds.
"This boat is that town’s Miami Dolphins," Sheehy explained. "It’s Madison’s entry in pro sports. It’s all they got and they love it.
"I know it sounds trite to talk about being gung-ho or town-spirited, but it’s true. Fifteen thousand people ‘live’ in this boat."
The enthusiasm generated by Madison residents — in Sheehy’s mind — is one of the great rewards of boat racing. "The Madison folks are really something else," he said. "They want the boat to come out right side up and they cheer like hell when we just finish a heat. It makes you realize what the spirit thing really is and it’s rewarding."
Sheehy, 30, is a stocky 200-pounder in the mold of a college-football linebacker, which he once was at the University of Florida. "I started slow and tapered off after that," he said of his two-year gridiron career.
Between nonstop flights to San Francisco as co-pilot of a Delta DC-8, Sheehy finds time to help out with the family business, Thoroughbred Racing Clothes. "We make the silks for jockeys at all tracks in the United States," Sheehy said.
"We used to have horses. Irson was one of ours. It ran in the ‘48 Kentucky Derby, but got beat about 52 lengths by Citation."
Another Sheehy sideline is managing Mickey Carroll, a promising soft-rock singer out of Miami.
To relax, Sheehy races boats. He was named 1971 rookie of the year in the unlimited class and placed fourth in last summer’s Gold Cup in Detroit, driving Lee Schoenith’s Go Gale.
Sheehy is the resident clown of the traveling unlimited troupe, but he knows exactly where he’s at. One of his funniest routines is an imitation of Bill Newton, chief referee for the Unlimited Racing Commission, conducting a drivers’ meeting.
"I’ve always been somewhat of an extrovert," Sheehy explained. "I don’t have any security problems; I’ve just always kidded around."
Newton is the first to laugh when Sheehy goes into his act. "That’s the fun part," Sheehy said. "Bill thinks it’s funny. If it upset him I wouldn’t do it." Sheehy "uses" his comedy. "It’s a tension easer for the crew," he said.
A family man with two children, Patrick and Danny, Sheehy still hasn’t adjusted to the whirlwind pace of thunderboating and his part in it.
"I placed third in my first race and suddenly found myself deluged with kids wanting autographs," Sheehy said. "I signed every one of ‘em."
After six years in the obscurity of limited-class racing, Sheehy was "in the bigs."
"At last year’s Gold Cup I was separated from reality for the whole week," he said. "I just couldn’t believe that I was Bill Muncey’s team-mate. I just couldn’t fathom that, I couldn’t touch it."
On race-day morning, Sheehy woke up with a "My God, what am I doing here?"
"We were touted as . . . not the favorite, but one of the boats that could win it," Sheehy recalled. "I realized then, ‘hey. you’re on your way.’ "
A sports writer in Louisville wrote that Sheehy "is fascinated with his colleagues."
"And I still am," he said. "It’s hard to believe I’m here and the Munceys and Dean Chenoweths and Fred Alters respect me as a fellow driver who is basically decent at his work.
"It’s a hard feeling to grasp. It’s fascinating and I get a giggle out of it every time I sit and ponder it."
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 4, 1973)
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