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Bob McCreadie, ‘the Master of Going Faster,’ Dies at 73

Bob McCreadie, who was one of the winningest drivers in dirt racing history and was regularly introduced by announcers as “the master of going faster,” died on May 15 at his home in Watertown, N.Y. He was 73.

His son Tim, who is also a dirt racing driver, confirmed the death. He said his father had been ill for several months and was in hospice care.

McCreadie won more than 500 races at weekly events and on the touring Super Dirtcar Series circuit, driving dirt-modified stock cars at 150 miles per hour around short, tight-cornered tracks at fairgrounds and speedways along the East Coast. In the course of his 35-year-career, he occasionally broke his back in spectacular wrecks.

Dirt racing is not nearly as popular (or as lucrative) as the NASCAR circuit. But to the more than 2,500 fans who typically attend races, the sport is an enduring source of small-town pride and entertainment.

McCreadie was dirt racing’s perfect Everyman: Scrawny, bespectacled, with a bushy beard, he chain-smoked, cursed vigorously and hauled his racecars with his own pickup truck instead of the fancy trailers that many of his contemporaries used.

In northern New York, where he lived, the news media covered him with roughly the same exuberance with which New York City newspapers covered Babe Ruth in his heyday. The Post-Standard of Syracuse mentioned him more than 1,200 times in his career.

“He looked like a country bumpkin,” Ron Hedger, a longtime writer for Speed Sport Insider, said in a phone interview. “The fans identified with him, and they really loved him. There was always a mob of people waiting in line for an autograph.”

The dirt racing circuit is stocked with characters known by their kooky nicknames: Danimal, A.J. Slideways, the Mad Russian, the Flying Dairy Farmer, Brett the Corporate Jet. McCreadie was Barefoot Bob.

How he got the nickname is a subject of some confusion among his fans. Some pegged it to the time he raced a car with such a narrow cockpit that he had to remove a shoe so his feet would fit. Others pointed to his hardscrabble childhood in upstate New York, where he spent summers shoeless and in trouble.

As a teenager, he hot-wired cars and sped around Watertown with his buddies, an activity that eventually led to a yearlong visit to a juvenile detention center. He passed the time by reading auto magazines and studying car engines. “Best thing that ever happened to me,” he told The New York Times in 2003.

He got a job as a mechanic after his release and tinkered with beat-up stock cars. He figured he’d race once or twice. “Then I’d get out,” he told The Times. “‘I thought it would be a passing fancy. I never thought it would be a career.”

He started racing in 1971 and won his first race four years later. He then began dominating the circuit. In 1986, he won the Miller American 200 at the New York State Fairgrounds — the Super Bowl of dirt racing. His best year was 1994, when he won 47 of 93 races.

McCreadie’s experience as a mechanic allowed him to have a Zen-like connection to his cars.

During the 1994 season, he installed a toggle switch on his dashboard that connected to an engine spark plug. As the track surface got slippery toward the end of a race, he would press the button, shorting out a cylinder to gently slow his car around turns. Other drivers would spin out.

“Anybody could have thought of that,” Mr. Hedger said, “but he was the guy that did.”

In his best year, McCreadie won somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 in race prizes. But his aggressive racing style had an occupational hazard: dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of crashes.

“You’re looking at someone who’s run thousands of races,” he told The Post-Standard in 2006. “If you tried to do percentage-wise out of the total — maybe 5 percent.”

He broke his back multiple times, including in a spectacular wreck in 1988 when his car flipped over and landed on its roof at Cayuga County Speedway in Weedsport, N.Y.

From his hospital bed after the accident, McCreadie told The Post-Standard: “I must have had my belts loose, because I went into the roof of the car as I went over. But when it came down, I slammed down hard into the seat.”

Surrounded by flowers and cards from fans, he took a tranquil view of the incident.

“It was no big thing,” he said, “just something that happens once in a while in racing that usually doesn’t amount to anything.”

Robert David McCreadie was born on Jan. 19, 1951, in Watertown. His father, William, was a taxi driver. His mother, Betty (Vincent) McCreadie, was a waitress.

McCreadie often spoke about growing up poor. Racing, he said, was his salvation.

“If it wasn’t for auto racing and for my wife, I’d probably be in jail today. Or shot dead by now,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Barefoot” (2005).

His career ended in 2006 after an accident in a parking lot. A woman crashed her S.U.V. into him as he left his doctor’s office on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. His injuries included a fractured femur and a chip fracture in his lumbar. A jury later awarded him more than $1 million in a lawsuit stemming from the incident.

“That was a real bad deal,” Tim McCreadie said. “He was running OK before that happened. But that was the end.”

McCreadie married Sandra Ritton in 1974. In addition to their son Tim, she survives him, as do another son, Jordan; a daughter, Tyne McCreadie; a sister, Kathleen Woodard; a brother, Patrick McCreadie; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Friends and family were never comfortable with McCreadie behind the wheel on paved roads.

“To be good at racing,” he told The Post-Standard in 2006, “you have to do things a little goofy. You don’t do things quite normally. What to you wouldn’t be nothing at all would scare the pants off other people.”

Especially his wife.

“I know my wife really gets after me because she’s not comfortable riding with me one bit,” he said. “So a lot of times now, I just say, ‘Here, you drive.’”

He added, “I don’t blame her.”

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