Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Racing is in their blood


Four generations of Banks' McGrotty family converge on Sunset Speedway for a special race

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Four generations of the McGrotty family - (from left) Ashley Vandecoevering, Michael Vandecoevering, Alice Losli and Bob McGrotty - pose before a special race at Sunset Speedway.It’s not often that members across four generations of the same family compete in the same sport. That goes for within their lifetimes — much less simultaneously.

But that was the case at Sunset Speedway on Saturday, when four members of the McGrotty family got the red dirt track all to themselves for a race for family bragging rights.

“To have an 85-year-old and then an 18-year-old in the same sport, it’s cool,” said Ashley Vandecoevering, the 18-year-old in this familial showdown.

Ashley, who lives in Gaston and recently graduated from Banks High School, only recently took up the family pastime of racing cars. So Saturday, she joined her great grandfather and family patriarch Bob McGrotty, as well as her great aunt Alice Losli, 58, and father, Michael Vandecoevering, 37, in the family dash.

Alice is the second youngest of Bob’s five daughters, while Michael is the son of another daughter, making all three of Bob’s opponents Saturday his direct descendants.

When asked who he thought would win the race, Michael tabbed his grandfather, which provoked a laugh from both him and Alice. Even though Bob is the oldest of this foursome, it’s easy to understand why his offspring would pick him to win. After all, he does have more experience racing cars than Michael, Ashley and Alice do combined.

Alice, who lives in Troutdale, has been racing for about five years, and she has finished as high as third in a couple races. Michael started working on cars when his wife began racing a couple years ago and got hooked on the sport, and Ashley is still a rookie.

Bob, on the other hand, started racing in 1947, when he was a teenager and he and his dad built a sprint car. He was only 18 back then, when participants had to be at least 21 to be in the pits, but he got his start thanks to the unreliability of another driver and after his father signed a release so he could race.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Children line up for autographs from Banks racing legend Bob McGrotty before a race at Sunset Speedway last Saturday evening.

“Our driver didn’t show up,” Bob recalled. “Apparently, he partied too much the night before.”

That hangover was Bob’s gain, and he has been racing in some form or another ever since with sprint cars, championship cars and more recently — about the past 10 years — pure stock cars. There was also a 15-year stint of motocross racing, which Bob did even internationally, thrown in along the way.

A Banks resident since the late 1950s, Bob is still at it, even though race car driving is not that common of a hobby among the octogenarian set.

There are some drivers older than Bob who have competed in exhibition races, he pointed out, but he is still the rare — and maybe only — active racer of his age, competing week in and week out. Maybe that will change in the future, as, Bob noted, a couple other area drivers are in their 70s.

Continued good health allows Bob, who was a mechanical engineer, to continue doing what he loves.

“I just enjoy doing it, a lot of fun, good people,” he said. “I’ve met some good people, good friends through the years.”

Of course, her dad’s love affair with cars has contributed to a lifetime of memories for Alice. She remembered her dad putting an airplane engine in one vehicle that was still so loud she could hear it through ears she plugged with her fingers.

“He can fix anything. He can come up with anything to fix it,” Alice said about her dad. “He totally holds his own on the track. I’ve seen him flip his car. I’ve seen him do a lot of different stuff. He’s amazing.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Banks resident Bob McGrotty, 85, leads the pack in a special race at Sunset Speedway for his family members.“He can stay right up there with all these young kids that think they’re all just hot (stuff) and still come up somewhere in the top 10.”

In an echo of Alice’s words, after the start of Saturday’s race, it did not take long for Bob to pull to the front. Michael raced in second for much of the way, but his car overheated and so he pulled off the track not long before the finish. That left Bob breezing home, Alice in second place, and Ashley in third.

Looks like Bob still has a thing or two to teach the kids.