~ Irish Jack Murphy ~
Article Published in Volume 45 #37, December 14, 2010 in the Gater Racing News
Although in general circumstances
the term "Luck of the Irish" pertains to
the tragedies and suffering of those of
Irish descent, there were also less
ironic examples in which 18th century
Irish prospectors found gold and silver
in great quantities. For the purposes
of this article, we'll concentrate on a
truly (at least most of the time) Lucky
Irishman - that made the most of his
'Irish' Jack Murphy was born
December 22, 1927 in the town of
Phoenix, NY and related that he was
"Cheated out of Christmas". Allright,
well if you're keeping score at home,
bad luck =1. After his father passed at
age 2, he went to visit his Aunt and
Uncle on Cold Springs Road in
Liverpool, NY and "I never went back
home, I lived with them all my life." At
Liverpool High School he played all
three sports; as a center and guard in
football, a forward in basketball and
catcher in baseball. "As soon as I was
18 I enlisted in the Navy" in 1946 and
went to Great Lakes for bootcamp in
the winter. I can personally attest to
the brutal cold at Great Lakes... He
was stationed at Pearl Harbor working
as an electrician and later finished his
tour at Norfolk - "Aoogh!, what a
place!" I know about that port too...
'Sailors and dogs keep off the grass...'
Upon return to NY Jack went to work
in construction and assisted in
building Electronic Parkway in
Syracuse. He stayed in Heavy
Equipment once that job was
complete, ending up as a master
mechanic for Covino Brothers Pipeline
outfit. He also worked for other
contractors and on Nine Mile Island as
a mechanic later, as well as the Steam
Station in Oswego. His second job was
helping Fred Sass run a Speed Shop
nights "After working construction, we
did engine balancing and boring, it
was Fred's garage.." And that's where
the good luck comes into play. For me
the definition of 'Good Luck' is where
preparation and perspiration meets
opportunity, Jack and Fred prepared
mightily for opportunity in racing -
and it paid off.
"I didn't have much to do on weekends
when I got out of the Navy, a friend
asked if I wanted to go to Brewerton to
the races and I said no, I didn't want
to go. 'Aww C’mon’ and so he talked
me into it. So I went and boy, this
looked like fun. Next day I went out
and bought a '37 Ford coupe from a
farmer for $25 and built it up. It was
1949 and the Stock Car Craze was
sweeping across America, pushing the
midgets and big cars aside. "I knew
nothing about an engine, somebody
says to me, 'Get a hold of Fred Sass',
good mechanic. So I did, introduced
myself to him and we started from
there. He was a great man. Drank a
little bit...." 'That first year at
Brewerton we didn't do very well at
first. We were just starting out. Of
course I painted the car green which
was taboo at the time, a number of
them told me to either change the
color or we'll run you off the track. I
told a couple of them they'd have to
catch me first, AHAHAHA! Had the
Shamrock #6 from the start. When
Oswego was built (1951) we went up
there with that same coupe. It was dirt
then, and rocks.. It was awful, knock
your windshield out every night. Of
course, the Turcott boys, they were
tough, they'd run without a
windshield. A lot of Vernon,
Adirondack and Watertown guys were
there, the Kotary's, Hendenberg a
little, Bobby Kegebein, there was a
bunch. The track was rough,
competition was good, not anybody
had a lot of money in their car. If
anyone had a couple hundred dollars
in their race car, they had a good car.
Tires, we'd just run smooth ones from
the junkyard, sometimes they didn't
work out too good, they'd blow out.
Then Wilk's started re-capping them,
then Hoosier, then we started running
new ones."
 For 1952 Oswego was paved. "The
dust was so bad (in 1951) that it’d just
drift up into the grandstand onto
people, it was terrible. The next year
they paved it and that was a big
change. They called it the fastest half
mile in the east, but it wasn’t a half
mile. It was 100 or 200 ft. short of a
half mile. Now it’s been enlarged and
they couldn’t call it a half mile
anymore so they call it a 5/8’s
HAHHaHA.” That first year on the
Oswego asphalt, Irish Jack won his
first track championship against the
likes of “Nolan Swift, Bobby Fons out
of Rochester, Billy Rafter, most of the
guys from Brewerton, the Turcott
boys, Art Reynolds, Billy Blum, Bobby
Cameron, he got killed at Lancaster.
Some of the Canadians came down
too.”  The Shamrock 6 team continued
with Flathead power through 1953
picking up wins at Oswego and
Brewerton. “I was probably one of the
first ones to go overhead, Ford put out
their first overhead in 1954” and the
team branched out to new tracks  
such as the Monroe County
Fairground near Rochester, as well as
Lansdowne and Pine Crest near
Toronto. Jack also tried the NYS Fair
in 1954… “I won it three times and got
protested once..” My friend Bill Marsh
is along for this interview and he’s
been quiet up to this point, but now
he says “Yanni”. And Jack repeats
“Yannniii”.. I’d swear they both must
have watched episodes of Seinfeld and
picked up on the disdained
pronunciation of “Newman” because
they’ve repeated it in spades.. “That’s
when I had the overhead, when they
first came out with the overhead, Ford
trucks had two different sizes, 279
and 317, of course we were only
allowed 300 cubic inches. (The NYS
Fair allowed overheads at that time). I
had a sponsor (Paul J. Spaulding &
Associates) for $500.00, and the
flathead was getting pretty tired so I
told him I needed another block. So
he went down to the Lincoln dealer on
the Boulevard and they had a display
engine set up, a Lincoln 317 and he
bought it and brought it out and gave
it to me. And of course, it was 17
inches too big. ‘No problem’ he says to
me, they got paperwork for a 279,
same engine. So we ran it, we had an
awful time with it. Of course we had to
adapt it to the transmission, I don’t
recall how we did it but we did it. And
it had hydraulic lifters in it which didn’
t work, we played with it and weren’t
getting much out of it. Took the lifters
apart and made them solid and finally
got them to working. They ran two
races (at the Fair) that year, I blew up
my flathead the first race so I had
nothing to run the next one, so we
dug that engine out. It was under the
bench and Fred says ‘Boy, the
cylinders are like funnels’ I told him ‘it’
s all I got and I’ve already paid for the
registration.’ So he says, ‘I’ll put a set
of rings in it and see what happens.’
So we did, and the longer I ran it at
the Fair, the faster it got. So, Yanni
protested me afterward and Jack
Brandt checked it, ‘It’s OK’ Jack said.
Yanni didn’t know. When I pulled the
head off, he had this ¼” inch plate, he
wiped it with a rag, that went down in
the cylinder, when he checked it, it
was ¼” short on stroke. And then
Yanni checked it, he said ‘I protested
it, I’ll check it.’ So he did and agreed it
was legal. Now, right after my sponsor
Spaulding gave me this engine, he
went off on his own. He bought
another engine just like it and had his
own car that Billy Lang drove, the #53.
And of course Billy Lang and Billy
Best and Billy Wright – they all knew.
So, Billy Wright jumps up on the
fender and says ‘Check another
cylinder!’ HA HAHAHAHA. Belly
Wright did that, I coulda punched
him. Well, I already had the trophy
and the jacket, HAHAH but I didn’t
have the $500.00, that’s all you got
back then.. Brandt didn’t check
another cylinder, Yanni did. After Billy
says ‘check another cylinder’ now I
gotta turn it over and get another
cylinder on the bottom, and I’m
turning it over, I’m so upset and mad,
I didn’t think of it, to get out and back
it up a little bit, but he checked it and
‘Oh, what’s this?’ All I had to do was
turn it to the next cylinder, it went
down, the plate was still in there but
there was a gap, and that was the end
of the Lincoln engine.” “The next year
he (Yanni) won it with his flathead and
I don’t know who protested it, and HE
was over. I was stranding there just
looking, he says ‘They’re re-
conditioned rods, they get longer,
right Jack?’ I said, ‘Can’t help you
Dutt.’ So he got protested and
disqualified, HAHAHAHAHAH”  
Jack continued to run the Ford
overhead through 1955 and 1956 and
enjoyed a lot of success along the way.
“I took a year off from Oswego and ran
Rochester and Dryden. Jackie Soper
was the hot dog down there and of
course everyone wanted to see him
beat. And we put our wide tires on
and couldn’t even get around the
track. The tire salesman, he comes in
and is laughing, he said ‘Let me make
you a set of tires’, I said ok. Took old
820x15, capped and sifed them and I
went down there and beat Jackie. I
wouldn’t believe it but those skinny
tires worked at Dryden.” “Of course I
ran Lafayette then too – OH GOD –
you don’t want to go off the
backstretch there, then you’d be way
down there. Oh, that was a dustbowl!
Then he’d take oil all over the whole
track before the race, what a mess! Oh
Jesus! There was a guy who had a
nice racecar there once, he didn’t have
much anything for floorboards, he was
a mess..” Bill Marsh chimes in
“Lafayette had real good apples..” “I
won the Monroe County
Championship one year and I don’t
know what year it was (1956?). I’d run
up there, of course that was Nascar,
then I’d go back to Oswego. Next
thing, here comes the notice in the
mail, ‘you’ve been fined and lost
points’. I paid that 3 or 4 times and I
didn’t go back to Oswego that year. I
said to Ed Otto ‘Geeze, you took the
money, didn’t have to take the points
too.’ Monroe County was a nice track.”
Jack turns to Bill Marsh, “I’d be down
a couple of days after I raced to your
Dad’s (Harley Marsh). He’d ask ‘How’d
you do?’ And I said, Well, I was leading
the feature and all of a sudden it
started getting hot and I lost it. He
said ‘Let me fix those pistons for you.’
So finally, I let him and I couldn’t
believe what it did. Didn’t slow down
no more.” Bill relates ‘He didn’t like
the cam ground piston, he liked them
round with lots of clearance.” Jack
agreed, “Yep, he was after me quite a
while about that and he was right.”
During this period it should be noted
that many drivers started showing up
with lights on the top of their cars,
Nolan Swift had 10 miniature bowling
pins that he would ‘light up’ when
taking the lead. Similarly, Eddie
Bellinger had a large #3 in lights and
Jack added a #6 to the top of his car.
“When Nolan put the 10 pins on his
car and lit them up, I says my
ambition is to make him turn those
light off. HAHAHAH I finally did it at
Rochester and boy when I passed
Nolan, I hit the switch.”
Even after paying fines and loosing
Nascar points, the temptation to run
outlaw proved to great… “At Menands I
did try to run under an assumed
name. It was a 500 lap race on a ¼
mile track. We were allowed two cars
on a team. I was running Nascar at the
time and Lee Bliss was running
Oswego. He was running a flathead
and I was running the overhead Ford.
I had the fastest time trial so I went
out first and you ran as long as you
wanted then came in between two
cones on the back stretch and the
other car went out. They kept score by
car numbers, mine was 6 and Lee was
5, some kept track of team cars and
different numbers. Well, they had no
idea where anybody was, all they
knew was who was first, second and
third. And that was something to go
out there, you didn’t have the big
Championship rears then and man,
those little rears would get hot. You’d
pour grease in the rear every time you
came in. So, we win it and they said
we didn’t. You were allowed a
Sportsman and a Modified, I was the
Modified, Lee was the Sportsman, he
had the flathead. The drivers down
there interpreted it that
you had to have two Flatheads. So we
went to talk to the promoter, and they’
re going
back and forth so finally the racers
said ‘let’s take 1st, 2nd and 3rd and
we’ll split it.’ ‘No,’ we said, ‘we won it’
and we wanted our money. We told
the promoter, ‘it’s getting late and we’
ve got to work tomorrow so we’re going
to impound the purse and we’ll figure
it out next week. ‘No’ said the
promoter, ‘we can’t do that, so we’ll
pay 1st, 2nd and 3rd and figure the
rest out later.’ Well, they never did
figure it out, I talked to guys later and
they never got paid. I said to Lee,
‘Well, we got our money and the
trophy but we might have to fight our
way out of here… we got out but it was
brutal, 500 laps Christ!”
By the end of 1956, the writing was on
the wall for the Y-block, “I said to Fred,
we can’t beat them, we’re going to
have to join them. The ’55 Chevy didn’
t have any oil filter on them, in ’56
they did and in ’57 we went to
It turned out to be a good move as
Jack returned to the Steel Palace in
1957 and at the end of the season
won the first 100 lap International
Classic with some bravado at the flag.
“It was a tight race, he (Nolan Swift)
was right on my tail and I said ‘I ain’t
never gonna let off until that first
turn, when the checkers flew I still
had my foot in it and around I went
into the cinder pile or something. He
never touched me, I just never let off
of it. It was my biggest win, $1000.00.”
And that was big money in 1957, no
wonder Jack kept his foot in it.
For 1958 Jack took up not only his
modified but a ‘B’ class Flathead car
as well at Oswego and points west. “I
remember at Spencer, Nolan Swift and
me were the only two running
Flatheads and the rest were all
running overheads. And when we got
up there they weren’t going to let us
run, we said, ‘we’re running flatheads
against your overheads.’ Dutch Hoag
and Lee Bliss replied, ‘Yeah, but we
know how those Flatheads run..’ well,
they finally let us run, Nolan won his
heat and I won mine and then Nolan
won the feature and I finished second
HAHAHAHAh!” Jack won the ‘B’ class
championship at Oswego that year
and also won Feature events in both
classes on the same night – the only
driver to date who has accomplished
that feat.
In 1959 Jack took to the road again
and tried the ‘Track of Champions’.
“That was terrible. Three times down
there (Fonda) and three wrecked cars.
I didn’t belong to the clique, Kenny
Shoemaker asked me ‘Wanta join the
club?’ – ‘No, I don’t want to join your
club.’ The first time I went down there
I’m leading the race ya know, lap after
lap I don’t see nobody in the mirror so
I started to let off a little bit, next
thing I know I’m in the grandstand
wall, Shoemaker got me WHACK!
Promoter gave me, I think it was $100
maybe $50, ‘Fix the car and come
back!’ ‘I’m gonna fix it.. yeah, three
times was enough of that.” Jack had
much better luck at the NYS Fair that
year, “One of my wins at the
Fairgrounds I borrowed a car, I didn’t
even have a car for the Fairgrounds so
I borrowed Sam Virgo’s car. Put our
motor in it and got the win, that was
number 23. I don’t remember if we
put our number on it or not, that was
a Flathead.” And that one stuck as
there was no protest this time..
With the new decade came the winds
of change at Oswego as the ‘cutdown’
era began. Invaders from the Midwest
and New England started showing up
at the Steel Palace in search of the
huge purses being offered, and the
game was changing rapidly. “Art
Bennet, we couldn’t hold a candle to
‘em. So, most of us took our bodies off,
they looked like $#!% out there you
know, just a roll bar going around.
Trying to get rid of some weight and
everything ‘cause they’re so chopped
up. We still had to use stock frames.”
And so the ‘birdcage’ car was born,
which of course soon morphed into the
‘Super-Modified’ class as the owners
quickly left the pre-war coupes behind
and started adding their own ‘hand
formed’ tin. Two of the innovators of
this era were Nolan Swift and Billy
Wright, who built a radical tube frame
car with torsion bar suspension. “Well,
he built the thing and he had it down
to Jordon’s garage in the city, and I
stopped down there one day and
Nolan is there working on it. He said
‘What do you think of this?’ And I said
‘That’s pretty nice, but’ I says, ‘If I got
anything to say about it, it’ll never
turn a wheel.’ Nolan says ‘What? Why’
s that?’ I said, ‘You’ve got to have a
stock frame.’ He says, ‘The rules say
“It may be altered.” If I take this pair of
pants and cut them off there making
them into shorts, they’re the same
pair of pants but they’re altered.’
HAHAHAHA. I think he did it, I’m not
sure but he just took an old frame and
bolted it on the side of it. Piece of
channel on each side – there’s my
stock frame. They wouldn’t let him
run it the first time he took it up
there, and he wouldn’t take it off the
track. So they hooked a wrecker up to
it and took it off. And finally, I think
the next year (1961) they let him run
it. Eddie Bellinger and a couple of
them were really on them that first
night though, they made him park it. ”
And so began the Super-modified
 Jack joined suit and built his own
super for competition, not limiting
himself to just Oswego he also made
the trek to Shangri-La in Owego, NY
as well. “That was pretty good, nice
track down there. I wrecked a car two
or three weeks in a row with guys
blowing their engines in front of me.
Got gun-shy after a while, didn’t want
to follow anyone.” He couldn’t have
been that gun-shy as he won features
both in 1963 and 1964 there, as well
as the Super Track Championship in
1963. He obviously liked the supers,
“After I had my own Super I bought
Todd Gibson’s car (the Flintstone
Flyer) and had two for a while. Ronnie
Wallace drove Gibson’s car in the
Classic, and I drove my own. Ronnie
had gotten in quite a wreck the week
or two before and he was pretty sore,
pretty raw. And he’d had enough, he
come in the pits, they pumped some
fuel in it and pushed him back out.
He said afterwards, ‘I kept trying to
quit and they wouldn’t let me, they
kept pushing me back out.’
HAHAHAHA!” “The competition was
tough at that time. Bellinger and
Swift, Todd Gibson, Barnhart,
Shampine. Bellinger was never that
same after he got banged up. I ran the
supers through the 60’s but didn’t
have as much success. I was working,
running the Speedshop nights during
the week and not working on the race
car until Saturdays, you can’t do that.
There was a lot of competition from
those guys in Michigan too.” Jack still
looked for any advantage though in
the time that he did have.. “We tried a
crossfire, ever hear one run? Couldn’t
keep them together, they’d loosen all
the bolts on the car and getting the
wiring straight was something too…”  
Even though he wasn’t wining as
much during the 60’s, he was still in
demand as a driver and confidant as
evidenced when Jim Shampine asked
Jack to shake down his new ‘Wedge’
Super in 1969. He also drove Dave
McCredy’s back up car at Langhorne a
few times, capturing 6th spot in 1967
with, as Fred DeCarr recalled, ‘the
gears in upside down.’  Of Langhorne
he remembers, “I had a Studebaker I
took down there once, it just weighed
too much, I didn’t take enough junk
out if it. Very nice, aerodynamic car, I
qualified with it but didn’t have
enough horsepower to carry around
the extra weight.” “By 1970 I wasn’t
running much. Fred (Sass) died in ’69
or ’70 and I put the last car together
myself for the Fair, after he died that
was pretty much it.”  Jack went out
with a bang though.. Bill Marsh
recalled “You finished it up at the
track as I remember.” “Yep, I won the
heat and I said ‘Holy $#!%’ I got fast
time. Some guy come up and wanted
to buy the car from me right then,
before the feature. I said ‘You could
have it right after, but I didn’t see him
again.” It was just as well because
after winning his third NYS Fair
Championship (Yes, I’m counting
1954 as well..) Jack took the car to
Langhorne again and knocked down
another top 10 finishing 8th. “That
was about the end of it, I drove the
same car the next year (1971) for
Dean Hubbs at the Fair, the year after
I sold it to him and I couldn’t even go
around the racetrack with it, terrible.
He had wrecked it and then
straightened it out with his dump
truck and bulldozer, it was awful.” And
so ended a 22 year career of racing
full of highlights, a few
disappointments and a lot of
memories. I asked what his favorites
were: “Probably winning the first
classic. Also Dutch Hoag. Not a good
memory, but when he saved Billy
Blum’s life at Fulton. I was sitting in
the grandstand right there looking
right at ‘em. Billy hit that wall and
turned on his roof and you could see a
little flame about this big as he was
losing gas going across the track, he
was on the infield upside down,
knocked out. And I said anyone could
have put that fire out then if they’d
snuffed it immediately. But, when it
gets to that car, because the gas was
just pouring out of it, it’s going to be a
bomb, and boy, it was. The firemen,
they were just standing, way the hell
away from that car. Dutch was in that
race, parks his car on the backstretch,
ran over there, took the fire
extinguisher away from the guy and
went in the car. The fire was all
around. Billy was a big guy ya know,
and he unbuckled him and brought
him out. Layed on the ground there,
Dutch walked right to his car, drove it
in the pits, put it on the trailer and
went home. I could never say enough
about that guy. One time in
Langhorne, that track would mess up
your windshield, you couldn’t see half
the time, and I was already out of the
race. I sat down there in the first turn,
they were under caution, here he
comes down, leading the race, on the
pace lap and he’s standing on the
running board outside the car, wiping
his windshield off. I never saw
anything like that. Dutch got back in
it, got buckled up before the green
flag.” He talked of his competitors:
“No, I never got into fights. Got along
well with everyone. Oh, I had some
run in’s with Nolan. But, after we quit
racing we started hunting together,
went to Colorado. In fact the first trip
he made me sign a piece of paper, I
said ‘you’re $#1%%7#@ me’, he said,
‘No, I’m serious.’ So I signed the paper
saying I wouldn’t shoot him.
HAHAHAHAHA!!!” On Jim Shampine:
“Everyone got along with Shampine.
When I bought Gibson’s car, he called
me up. Of course, Jimmy was easy to
pass at first, just come up on him and
no problem, he smartened up though.
And he was a great competitor, he
called me up and asked ‘Would you
mind if I came out and measured up
that car?’ I said ‘No, c’mon out.’ So he
and Okie come out and measured this
and measured that. He was quite a
driver, pretty tight with money… I
read in the paper where he’d won two
or three in a row up there (Rolling
Wheels) and I though ‘what the hell is
going on’ so I went to the race and I
saw what he was doing. He come down
the straightaway  and come right tight
to the inside, let off and stay on the
bottom, the others were off high, he
drove it like asphalt..” Since we were
on the subject of driving style I asked
for a lap around Oswego: “First turn
right on the inside fence, I’ve
scrubbed a wheel on it many times.
Second turn you start to drift up. By
the fourth turn you got up there on
the bank and get that shot down the
front stretch. If the guy gives you
room, the second groove in turn one
isn’t bad.” Conversely at Syracuse:
“First thing I tell you is stay away from
that inside fence, and you don’t want
to get out in the marbles in three.” I
concur, the marbles in three will
guarantee a trip to the dry cleaners
will be necessary for your driving
suit… And that’s the style that won
Irish Jack 26 feature events at
Oswego, along with two track
championships at the track and three
Labor Day events at Syracuse. He won
races at many other tracks as well,
traveling to Shangri-La, Menands,
Lansdowne, Pine City, Brewerton,
Spencer, Lancaster, Lafayette,
Dryden, Montgomery County, Fonda
and Langhorne amongst others.  Track
Championships at Montgomery
County and Shangri-La are also on his
resume but probably his greatest
achievement was the friendships and
respect that he earned, and that has
endured from his career in racing. Bill
Marsh put it best when he said, ‘Jack’
s a good $#!%, everybody always got
along with him.” He’s continued for 40
years as a good will ambassador for
the sport since retiring from the
cockpit as a fuel distributer and ISMA
officer. There’s no doubt he’s had
some good luck along the way, and
the sport too has been lucky to have
him. It was a pleasure talking with
Jack for this interview, and along with
Happy Birthday wishes, I also want to
thank him, as well as Bill Marsh for
the opportunity. Happy Holidays to
you all, see you in 2010. Jeff
Ackerman, 6256 State Route 17C,
Endicott, NY 13760.
Monroe County 1956
Eddie Bellinger 1960
Ithaca Dryden
Eddie Bellinger
Lee Bliss
Fonda 1959
1960 Classic
Jack Burgess with Jack and Nolan Swift
1960 Classic
Swifty's new ride 1961
1961 Coupe
Shangri La 1963
Syracuse 1963
John J. “Irish Jack” Murphy, 85, of Central Square,
passed away on Thursday May 2, 2013. I'd like to
offer my condolences to his family. Jack was a great
guy, very well liked and will be greatly missed. RIP.