MIDDLETOWN, NY – Multi- time Orange County Fair Speedway Modified driving champion Chuck McKee will announce at this weekend’s Eastern States 200 Weekend that he will formally announce his retirement from weekly driving.
“With me cutting back on racing, I’m probably more apprehensive on disappointing the fans than I am on walking away. They’ve been very good to me here and I appreciate each and every one of them,” McKee said.
“Everyone around me knows how I am; that if you’re not going to do this right way, then don’t bother doing it at all. Don’t bother wasting people’s time and money,” he said.
“I need to say ‘thank you’ to the people who have helped me tremendously throughout my career:
Mike and Bob Fox, Rolfe Schnur, Kevin Cross, Art and Emmet Broas, Audrey Katzenstein, Bob Fairweather, Roby Perino and Ed Kear, Chick Sloat, Pop, Allen and Doug Reiser, Bill Rumsey and of course, my favorite driver of all-time, Bob Malzahn.”
McKee has racked up a phenomenal 44 career victories since he began Modified racing in 1982, including the 2000 Eastern States 200. In the Eastern States 200, he’s finished in the top five six times, including two second places.
“I started coming to OCFS in the summer of 1974 with Mike and Rob Fox, my long-time friends. I was always a fan of auto racing. I was just a local Middletown kid,” McKee explained. “When I was 16-years old I used to come and clean the stands on Sunday mornings for Ben Graziano, who had the contract of cleaning up the grandstands.”
Street Stocks were McKee’s racing training ground.
“I began my racing career in a Street Stock that I drove for maybe four races,” he said. “I had no success. I just couldn’t keep it together and everything kept breaking.”
In the winter of 1981 McKee bought a Kenny Brightbill/ Don Kreitz chassis from Gary and Jerry Higbie and built his first Modified from the ground up. The motor for that first car was from retired asphalt Modified driver Graeme Bolia’s car, who was Mike Fox’s uncle.
“From there, we just kind of jumped in the fire and went Modified racing the following year in the spring of 1982.”
His first win at OCFS came on August 24, 1985, and since then, he has won at least one race for the next two decades.
McKee became good friends with Bob Malzahn and the two worked on their cars together in Bob’s garage.
McKee has two sons, Mathew (29) who resides in Charlotte, N.C, and works as a logistics specialist, and Tyler (26) who, a couple of years ago, began his own Modified career at OCFS, fulfilling a life-long dream of racing against his dad.
Tyler bought his first car. a Sportsman, from his dad in 2011. A year later, his dad’s close friend Phil Perricelli bought Tyler a car that allowed him to race full-time.
“Tyler has always wanted to drive race cars. Phil ended up buying his car and allowing Ty to continue his racing. To this day Phil is still Ty’s car owner. I enjoy watching him race. He reminds me of myself when I was young and just starting out.”
McKee’s 2015 season started out terribly when fire erupted in his car on Opening Night. Although his injuries were minor, he still thinks back to that night as one of the worst nights of his racing career.
“That night I was starting last. I went out and was going to try to put some heat in the tires. One of the bolts had come out of the back of the carburetor and I didn’t realize it. Fuel started filling up at the top of the intake. When I went into the turn and the car went sideways, it spilled out and over the headers which ignited the gas. The gas and flames were spraying into the cockpit.”
McKee drove the flaming car down the frontstretch and into the pits, where he knew he could get help to get out of the car.
“I would rather flip end over end than to have something like that happen again. One of the first guys I saw coming over with an extinguisher was Tommy Meier. It was pretty hot in there.
“If you’re running for a championship and you have one bad week, that’s okay. But a couple weeks later we blew the motor. It just took the wind out of our sails.” We were lucky that we got back up to fourth in the points,” McKee said
“Robby Perino and Kenny Kear, I couldn’t ask for better car owners,” emphasized Chuck. “ I know that they want me back for 2016, but my decision is not about the money. I’ve come to the point where when you start enjoying other things more than racing, then you shouldn’t be in it.”
“It’s not that I don’t love racing. There’s just other things in life. I’ve dedicated and given so much of my life to racing. I’ve missed weddings. I’ve missed family reunions and different functions. I haven’t been to a family reunion, ever.”
In 1985 McKee left his own wedding reception at Kuhl’s Highland House after cutting the cake to race at Middletown.
“I always told myself when I finally get out of racing, I want to walk out where I’m still competitive and I can still win. I still am.
“I’m not going to walk away completely. In 2016 we’re going to run the No. 211 car up at Accord when we get the opportunity. Periodically I’ll be at Middletown. I just don’t know right now what I’m going to be doing.”
As a past Eastern States 200 winner, McKee knows what it takes in this race
“The 200 is a lot about luck,” he said smiling. “It starts out on Friday when you get there during time trials. If you get behind, you’ll be chasing your tail the whole weekend.”
Racing for McKee has been a way of life.
“Racing is a great thing. At the same time, it’s a lot of stress. If you really want to be successful in this sport, you really have to dedicate your life to it. You don’t just walk into this and have fun racing because you’re taking too many hours of other people’s lives. If you’re going to do it and be serious, do it to be serious,” McKee said.