(8/29/2022 – Alex Nieten) Placerville, CA… This past weekend a single night at a California quarter mile of red clay summoned decades of memories and the countless miles raced by a pair of Elk Grove brothers.
Saturday at Placerville Speedway Paul and Bobby McMahan put the final punctuation marks on two remarkable sprint car careers. The El Dorado County bullring played an instrumental role in launching those careers, and in storybook fashion the duo returned to Placerville for one final race.
“This is something I’ve been planning for probably three years when I’ve been kind of contemplating to quit racing,” Paul McMahan explained on Saturday. “I always knew I wanted to come back to Placerville. It’s a very special place to me. It’s where I got to race my first full season. I got my first sprint car win here. I’ve got a lot of friends and family that are close to here, so it’s a very special day for me to finish my career here in Placerville.”
After Placerville helped them get started in the 1980s, both went on to build excellent sprint car resumés including becoming two of the best to ever compete with the NARC (Northern Auto Racing Club) sprint cars.
Paul began by driving for his father and establishing a solid presence in California, and then he quickly became one of the state’s strongest forces when he climbed aboard Clyde Lamar’s iconic TRI-C Machine sprinter in the early 1990s, the same car he drove on Saturday. Wheeling Lamar’s No. 3C the younger McMahan competed for multiple NARC titles, earning back-to-back runner-ups in the standings in 1994 and 1995. He collected his fair share of victories during that time frame as well.
After making a name for himself on the West Coast, McMahan decided to expand his racing ventures and competed for World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year in 1997. He then constructed one of the best tenures with the Outlaws among California natives, racking up 27 victories over roughly the next two decades and finishing a best of third in points in both 2013 and 2014.
Bobby earned 1982 Placerville Rookie of the Year honors and parlayed that success into the 1986 NARC Rookie of the Year award. Bobby competed alongside his brother on the NARC tour in the 90s, taking many trips to victory lane. He didn’t race often with the series in the 2000s but returned in the 2010s, finishing in the top-10 in points five more times during the decade, bringing his total to 16 appearances among the top-10 against California’s best.
While the brothers both eventually moved to Tennessee, their friendly personalities led to them becoming beloved within the California racing community. And their reputations made Saturday all the more emotional as they came to their original home to say goodbye.
“It was good. It was a great night,” Bobby said. “It was a lot of emotions all day. All day I’d think about it and start to well up a little bit and try and compose myself. It was just an awesome night.”
“Anytime you can race with your brother it’s great,” Paul said. “We’ve done that a lot over the years but hadn’t done it in a long time, so this is pretty cool to both finish our careers here at Placerville. It all started for both of us here.”
The family, friends, and fans occupying the packed stands welcomed the brothers with cheers each and every time they hit the track. Track promoters Scott Russell and Kami Arnold organized a special presentation for Paul early in the night, and after both of their evenings ended a little early in separate B-mains, each McMahan parked on the front stretch for some closing remarks.
“I was good, and then they stopped me out there on the front straightaway and I lost it,” Bobby said of the moments after completing his final laps in a sprint car. “I really lost it. I had to stop, take some deep breaths, and try and power through that deal. That part was tough. It was really, really tough. Everything just kind of overwhelmed me at that moment.”
Adding to the emotion was the extent of support. The local community came out in strong numbers to see the McMahans, but the outpouring of congratulatory words and encouragement stretched across the nation.
“My phone’s been blowing up,” Paul said. “I got a text from Donny Schatz today, and that meant a lot to me. Joey Saldana flew in from Indianapolis to watch my last race. I’ve got friends from Nebraska that flew in, friends from Illinois, all these different people that came to see my last race is very cool and very special.”
The night also served as a welcome reminder that the same Golden State racing scene that helped shape them is alive and well and could potentially be working on forming the next Paul or Bobby McMahan.
“There’s no slow cars in this field,” Bobby said. “There’s a bunch of really good racecars and a lot of good young drivers coming up through this deal. And it makes me feel good that we have these guys that can hopefully continue to make this sport as great as it is. Sprint car racing is by far the most exciting racing there is anywhere.”
As their time on the racetrack ended on Saturday, the night was only beginning. Once the final checkered flag of the evening flew the stands emptied into the pits where the McMahan brothers waited to greet everyone who wanted to talk.
The massive gathering that surrounded their neighboring pit areas stands as a testament to the impact of these two men. The McMahans were known equally as fierce drivers on track and as two of the most approachable and genuine people to ever grace the sport.
Tears were shed and smiles exchanged, photos were taken, and memories were shared as Saturday night at Placerville Speedway became Sunday morning. And in true McMahan fashion, both Paul and Bobby treated each person as a friend as the brothers called it a career at the place where it all began.
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I raced quarter midgets with Paul. My name is A.J. Burgin and while Paul was a few years older than me and ran a class or two higher than I did, I managed to have some good racing memories with Paul. My favorite one was we were running a dirt indoor race (a rare event) somewhere in central California. Me and another kid were running 1st or 2nd most nights and we were our only compilation at the time. Paul walks up to me, and says if I beat that guy he would give me a dollar. I did manage to win that race and the other guy finished 2nd. When I got out of the car I had one thing on my mind. Where’s Paul and he better have my dollar. After 30 minutes of intense searching I found him. He was in his driving suit and didn’t have my dollar on him of coarse. A dollar went alot farther back then and I fallowed him around for idk how long bugging him about my dollar. He finally found his mom and I got my dollar. Good memories. When Paul moved up the ranks and ran with the outlaws or any other group of sprintcars, Paul was my driver. That is who I cheered for. I consider Paul one of the best driver I’ve seen wheel a sprintcar. He didn’t tear up equipment all the time and he raced people clean. That’s what I call a good driver. I also call Paul a good friend. All great things to come to a end and nobody can race forever but sprintcar racing is a better sport because Paul was in it. Love ya bro.