After sitting out last year due to injury, Boyer resident Mike Murphy got back on the race track in the UMP modified series. He was a bit apprehensive at first, but ended this race season in good standing – second place overall after 17 races.
“After getting hurt, I didn’t know how well it was going to go,” Murphy said. “We just got another car this year. It was the first time I was out, and it took us awhile to get going. We hit our stride pretty quick, but I didn’t know how my body was going to take that beating and banging.”
Murphy persevered and managed to have a great season despite sticking to just the Elkins Speedway track. With UMP, there are races all up and down the east coast, but adding travel to the schedule just wasn’t in the cards this year.
“It’s such a hard job getting it ready to go and then having to travel,” Murphy said. “Elkins is 50-to-60 miles away, but everywhere else, we’re looking at a 120 mile drive. When I was running before and we were doing a lot of traveling, I remember coming home and it would be daylight when we’d pull in here.”
But, in the next season, he plans to travel more and get into some bigger races.
Murphy had an added curve ball this year, losing his motor early in the season. But thanks to his pit crew and fellow mechanics, the Gun Slinger II car was back on the track in no time.
“Wally Starks, with S&S Enterprise, had a motor that my nephew ran a few years ago, and he let me use it,” Murphy said. “It was a little short on horsepower from what I had before. It took us a couple of races to get it figured out, but we got back in stride again.”
Joining Starks in the crew are Shawn Taylor, Phillip Propst and Vince Harper.
“The car is really picky,” Murphy said. “Vince understood the geometry of the car. He kept really detailed notes about what they did and the adjustments that they made.”
The races can be rough, much like NASCAR, but with the addition of a dirt track that is affected by the elements on a regular basis.
“Dirt track is harder because of the moisture content in the track,” Murphy said. “The way they water the track and how fast it dries out. What happens a lot of times is that you get a lot of rubber laid down and the rubber will really change it. You can go from busting tail to where you can’t get the car to steer.
“In the first race we ran with this new motor, we were running third with four laps to go, and we came up off the corner,” Murphy recalled. “I think it was right off of a restart. Everybody was stacked together, and I had a car slide up in front of me and the car behind me caught me in the back, and lifted me off the ground. He put me through the end field, and we went through this big ditch and broke the suspension on the car.”
Despite the damage and loss of a decent lead, the car recovered.
“This was probably the best year that I’ve had,” Murphy said. “We ran in seventeen races this year. Probably, by far, the best. The competition right now at Elkins is the best it’s been since I’ve been racing. A lot of years, you’d have two to three people that you really had to work hard to beat. Right now, on a regular night, you’ve got seven to twelve. If you’ve got the big people coming in, you have fifteen people that could win the race.”
Murphy said he enjoys the UMP series and while he plans to travel to more races in the future, he will continue to race in Elkins.
“I like the series we’re in just because of the competitiveness of it,” he said. “It’s good to be able to go and race against these people. One of the reasons I didn’t want to quit this year and go to other places is we were getting such a crowd at Elkins from Pocahontas County, and I didn’t want them to drive over there and me not even show up.”
While it is a competition, the race teams at Elkins have become extended family for Murphy and his family, who are always in the stands as his cheering section. His parents, Frank and Sue Murphy, wife Karen, and daughters, Michelle and Melissa, try to attend as many races as possible.
When the girls were younger, Murphy hoped that they would follow in his footsteps, but it seems they didn’t get bitten by the need for speed.
“I thought that was going to happen, but they never showed any interest,” Murphy said. “That’s just like driving a car. They have no interest in really driving at all. And their driving skills are not the greatest, either. Them trying to get parked somewhere is a big deal.”
When told he might get in trouble with the girls for trash talking their driving skills, Murphy just laughed.
“They know it,” he said.