A NASCAR columnist among us
Mike McCourt is not the man you think of while considering the typical Vineyarder. In fact, the favorite beach of the 14-year Edgartown resident is not South Beach or Lucy Vincent Beach; it is Daytona Beach. The island of Martha's Vineyard, known more for its history of whaling than weight jacking, has its very own NASCAR columnist.
While many on the Island may recognize Mr. McCourt as the general manager of Murdick's Fudge of Massachusetts, which has Island locations in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven, it is likely that few know him for his weekly seasonal NASCAR column, "Mike's Garage" in the Gaylord Herald-Times. The 51-year-old native of Gaylord, Michigan is in reasonably uncharted waters as far as NASCAR fans are concerned.
Mike McCourt. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Growing up in Michigan in the late 1950s and '60s, it was tough for Mr. McCourt not to be intrigued by cars. "Growing up I was always into cars and my father was always interested in cars," he said. "We would always go around all the dealerships when the new cars were announced at the end of September." Citing Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts as his first favorite racecar driver, Mr. McCourt notes, "I was probably a NASCAR fan from about 6 or 7 years old."
So the question remains, how did the NASCAR enthusiast end up in the hotbed of everything un-NASCAR? After working in the wholesale meat business for 16 years in northern Michigan, Mr. McCourt began working at an oil and gas company, when he was presented with an opportunity to come east.
"(Murdick's Fudge) originated on Mackinaw Island in Michigan. Through some friendships, I got to know the owner in Northern Michigan and one day he approached me and asked me if I'd be interested in coming out and running the shops out here," Mr. McCourt said. "After thinking about it and after three or four meetings I decided to come out here and give it a whirl."
McCourt decided to shift his focus from fuel cells to fudge, despite never having been to Martha's Vineyard. "In fact," Mr. McCourt notes, "I wasn't really sure where Martha's Vineyard was."
First settling on the Island 14 years ago, Mr. McCourt did not find the same NASCAR connection that he left in Michigan. "I'd watch a race, but I wouldn't mention it to anybody," Mr. McCourt recalls. An avid fan of football and baseball, it did not take Mr. McCourt long to become a huge fan of the Red Sox and Patriots, two teams about which he certainly had no trouble making conversation. Interest in NASCAR on the Island, however, has changed over time.
"It's amazing how many NASCAR fans are here," Mr. McCourt said. "It's been a closet sport for a while, but I think it's come out. People are talking about it. The manager of the post office here in Edgartown is a big NASCAR fan. I know several other people (on the Island) that I've come across that were big fans that I had no idea about."
Yet Martha's Vineyard and the northeast United States in general can hardly be considered the core of NASCAR's fandom. This is not unbeknownst to Mr. McCourt, who offered an explanation. "I don't know if it's the stigma that comes with NASCAR and its past, being in the Bible Belt and the southeast," Mr. McCourt said. "I think a lot of people have put their noses up to NASCAR. It's a blue-collar sport, there's no doubt about it. NASCAR fans have always had the Budweiser, beer-smashing image.
"Guys that grow up, and get their first car and work on their first car, that's a NASCAR fan. There's only one track in the northeast (New Hampshire International Speedway), I think that has something to do with it."
However, Mr. McCourt is quick to point out NASCAR's slowly shifting fan base. "A big NASCAR fan is the anchor for NBC news (Brian Williams). I think the sport has taken on a more upper-level fan base. I've noticed, going to races, the person you're sitting next to is changing. They're a little more sophisticated, and ticket prices sort of dictate that."
Reading "Mike's Garage," one would have a difficult time disagreeing with Mr. McCourt, who seems to know everything there is to know about NASCAR. While attending "Speedweek," in Daytona, Florida, NASCAR's official start to the racing season at which the Nextel Cup Series (the most well-known NASCAR series), Busch Series (considered the minor leagues of NASCAR), and Craftsman Truck Series (NASCAR's pick-up truck racing series) all have their opening races, the idea for Mr. McCourt to have his own NASCAR column was conceived.
Mr. McCourt had come to Daytona (as he does every year) with his friend Jim Grisso, editor of the Gaylord Herald-Times, who was working on a NASCAR article. After witnessing Mr. McCourt correctly answer 49 out of 50 quiz questions about legendary driver Dale Earnhardt, Mr. Grisso offered Mr. McCourt his own column on the spot. Since then, Mr. McCourt has written "Mike's Garage" every week during the racing season, and has become syndicated on several racing web sites.
Mr. McCourt stays on the Island from April 1 to late December. He splits his time off-Island between Florida, Michigan, and as many races as he can get to.