Berlin Raceway driver Tom McCarthy believes the best way to do anything is starting from the ground and working your way up.
McCarthy started from the bottom for his own race career, and in less than three years, he’s worked his way up to the top of the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Division IV standings.
McCarthy has five wins and 15 top-five finishes in 17 starts this season. The 26-year-old driver won four of the first five points races in the 4-Cylinders division at Berlin this season.
McCarthy is in his first full season racing at Berlin, a NASCAR-sanctioned 7/16-mile paved oval track in Marne, Michigan. He raced there a few times at the end of the season in 2019, and planned to do a full slate of races in 2020, before the season was shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even though his time racing at Berlin has been short, McCarthy is very familiar with the track. He grew up going there with his family, who lived about a mile from the track. He would go down in the pits after races and talk with drivers and crew chiefs, one of which was friends with his dad and started inviting McCarthy to help work on the cars on race days.
“I didn’t know anything about making adjustments on their cars,” McCarthy said. “But I kept going down there and showing up and learning things here and there and asking questions where I could and just picking it up as best I could.
“I just got to a point where I was looking at all the 4-cylinders and I was like, ‘I could probably do that.’ So I gave it a shot.”
The first car McCarthy built from scratch was a Chevy Cavalier he bought for $200. He found it online. It didn’t even run.
He took it home, pulled the motor out, took out all the seats, the interior, and the windows and put in a roll cage.
Knowing how to work on cars gave McCarthy a leg up, but he admits there was definitely a learning curve to actually driving.
“My very first time out the car actually went up in flames,” he said.
“The first night out I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I was pretty slow compared to everyone else. Everyone up there wants to help everyone so I had a few guys that I was parked next to helping me out. They changed a couple things, adjusted certain things on the car, tire pressures. And I kept getting quicker and quicker.”
It’s been a long road since that night his car caught on fire. Getting experience around his competitors at Berlin and learning how to make adjustments on the car by himself has helped McCarthy continue improving.
His goal coming into the season was to get his first official victory – McCarthy got a win last season after finishing second with the winner eventually disqualified in post-race tech, but he’d never crossed the finish line first in a race – and compete for Berlin’s track championship.
He achieved the first goal by winning the first race of the season, and he’s doing well to reach the second. He leads Berlin’s 4-Cylinder standings by 39 points.
Even he admits, though, that he wasn’t expecting to be doing this well in the national points. He currently had a 22-point lead over second place in NAAPWS Division IV.
“I try not to look at it too much because then it’ll get to my head, but it’s awesome,” McCarthy said. “It’s exciting. It’s good to know all the hard work has been paying off.”
If McCarthy does reach his goals this season, he’ll have his family by his side the whole way. His dad, Tom McCarthy II, and cousin, T.J., are his biggest helpers, and his whole family – including his girlfriend, Catherine, his mom, two brothers, and two sisters – are also always there for support.
“It feels like it’s been getting bigger and bigger every year,” McCarthy said. “More and more of my brothers and sisters and family and cousins are all involved and showing up at the track and help out. So it’s pretty cool.
“It makes it more fun, makes it more exciting. Especially when we’re doing good like this. It kind of pushes me to keep going and keep trying harder and harder.”
Helping on McCarthy’s car also inspired his dad to give racing a try, and the elder McCarthy now also races in the 4-Cylinder class at Berlin. While McCarthy said his dad was the one who taught him everything he knows about working on cars, it’s been fun for the son to flip those roles and become the teacher when it comes to actually driving.
“When I first started getting into it I got the car and my dad helped me from the start, pulling motors, fixing them, working on the cars, setting them up, doing everything. He’s been there for every step of the way,” McCarthy said. “Now it’s kind of flip-flopped where I’m trying to teach him and help him in driving and making changes, what the car’s doing, what we should do now, that sort of thing. It’s kind of interesting … It’s a great time.”
McCarthy said his goals for the season have grown some from the start of the year. The former three-sport athlete knows he can’t start settling for small goals now, and he wants to continue to find ways to get faster and faster.
“It’s been a long road since the first day out to be leading the points like this now. It’s kind of cool,” McCarthy said.
“I think just the competitiveness of it. Just getting out there and doing something that’s fun and something I enjoy doing in front of people. I like that. I was a three-sport athlete in high school, and that whole brotherhood, camaraderie, locker room feel kind of went away after high school. Being a part of the track and all the race teams we have down there kind of brings that intensity back which is something I missed and I enjoy doing it again.”
Berlin Raceway will host the Battle at Berlin on Friday and Saturday this week.