Feature Article, Stock Cars, Washington — July 31, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Matt Murphy and Joe Constance (issue 60)



By Steve Heeb

Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.

That obviously wasn’t Matt Murphy. The 35-year-old Super Stock driver would most likely re-write the old adage as: “If anything goes wrong (and it often does) do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Murphy was in a car accident two years ago that left him with bulged disks in his back.

The back pain didn’t keep the driver from Lynnwood, Wash., from racing in Evergreen Speedway’s Super Stock ranks, as he had done since winning the track’s Bomber championship in ’94. He even won seven trophy dashes on his way to a third place points standing last season, backing up a third ranking for the previous season.

But this April, things turned bad.

Wife Sarah says his back grew progressively worse over the course of a week. Matt had ruptured his back and had to undergo emergency surgery to prevent permanent nerve damage.

Sarah says that there was a lot of things to think about after the surgery. “He never wanted to give up the momentum the team had.”

But it was now time to take a break from racing. At least from the driver’s seat, so Matt turned to friend Joe Constance to take over driver’s duties.

“Joe was a natural choice,” says Sarah.

Far from racing go-karts in his birth state of New York, Constance has been a racing fixture at Evergreen since moving to the area in 1980. He ran in Evergreen’s Bombers ranks and picked up the track’s Mini Stocks title in ’91.

After dabbling in a few other classes, Constance won the Big 5 championship in 2001.

His stock car experience includes time in the NASCAR Northwest Series, before taking a stab at open wheel racing at Skagit Speedway. He says the sprint car just got too expensive.

Lately he has been racing for Bill Alseth to keep in the racing scene while running his performance parts venture, Joe’s Racing Products.

“It’s my business,” Constance explains. “I have to keep up with racing to design performance parts. It’s my passion, what I love to do.”

In 2003, Constance ran a limited schedule that included at least a little seat time in Mini Stocks, sprints and Super Stocks.

This year, rain soaked the region for the first two weeks after Matt handed Constance the figurative keys to the 00 Super Stock. When they finally got a chance to race, Constance rocketed to a podium finish, taking third in the June 19 race.

The success is welcome news to a team that struggled through more than enough challenges at the track.

“We do this for fun,” Matt says of the team’s enthusiasm when in the face of obstacles. “When we don’t have fun, we’re done.”

In the first three seasons after Matt moved to Super Stocks, the team went through 16 motors. A switch to Walla Walla-based Craig Performance Machine stopped the engine woes, but other obstacles quickly filled the void.

Before the start of this season, the team discovered a malfunction with the rear brake system—a problem that apparently had unknowingly plagued them all last season.

Through it all, Murphy’s original 1987 team has stuck together. Clay Lunak is crew chief, coordinating the efforts of an extended crew and family that includes Greg Gott, Dave Burke, Rob Arbuckle, Tony Gott, Sarah Murphy, Jason Murphy, Michele Murphy, Chris Arbuckle, Gayleen Gott, John Kooy, Michele Kooy, Warren Kindle and Rolly Wandler. Sadly, teammate Bruce Thompson passed away of a heart attack while driving to the track’s 2003 season opener.

Adversity doesn’t slow this group down. Dr. Hamscomd, Matt’s surgeon, well that’s different. What he says goes.

“I do exactly what they say,” Matt says of his doctors. “I’d much rather walk the rest of my life.”

And racing isn’t the only pastime that has been put on hold until Matt’s back is fully healed.

Matt was forced to put away the skates and padding for the time being. He has been playing hockey in a weekly league with track promoter Mickey Beadle’s “Team Evergreen Speedway.”

Other Team Evergreen Speedway notables include Matt’s crew members Greg Gott and John Kooy and fellow Super Stock competitor Gaylon Stewart.

“He played youth hockey in the same organization as I did,” Beadle, who has played hockey since he was 10, quick to note that Matt is still “a few” years his junior. “Matt’s good. He knows what he is doing.”

Matt started playing hockey when he was 4, joining brother Michael with the Sno-King  and Seattle Junior Hockey programs.

Beadle says Matt now helps coach the team during their Thursday night matches in the new Everett Events Center—home of the Everett Silvertips.

“He overcomes challenges,” Sarah says of her husband’s determination on and off the race track. “That’s exactly right.”

“I’m blessed to be surrounded by great family and team,” Matt says and offers special thanks to his parents Gerald and Carolyn Murphy and sisters Michele and Melanie for their encouragement.

Racing support also comes from sponsors Dex Yellow Pages, Heintzman Equipment, John Kooy Trucking, Sandblasters Inc., Able Towing and, of course, Nix Auto Wrecking.

Matt is a third generation Murphy at Nix, working for his father in the Ballard-based business opened by Matt’s grandfather in 1938.

And Matt and Sarah added a new chapter to the family history with the arrival of son Jason, a wee six months old at presstime.

With family and the future in mind, Matt is in no rush to jump back into the race car.

“He’s getting a different perspective now that he is not driving,” Sarah says of her husband.

Constance says he’ll drive until Matt is comfortable in the car again, estimating it may take until sometime in August.

“Joe’s got the ride for the rest of the year,” Matt says without hesitation.

“The team has rallied around Matt and Joe,” Sarah says of the group’s reaction after Matt’s surgery. “It’s like Joe’s always been a part of the team.”

A team that defies Murphy’s Law, and when faced with things going wrong just finds the way to get the job done.

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