As long as Mike McEntyre is doing something with cars, he’s generally happy. Sometimes that means he’s supervising his staff members during a workday as they rotate and balance a customer’s tires, and other times it means he’s roaring down a racetrack in a custom-made dragster on the weekend.
“I’m just glad to get to do what I do,” he says. “I love doing it every day for a living. Not many people can say that. I don’t dread going to work because I enjoy cars ... I get to work with them all day, get to fool with them of a night, get to hear about them at supper and get to talk about them at breakfast.”
It’s true: McEntyre’s life revolves largely around automobiles, whether he’s behind the desk at McEntyre’s Auto and Discount Tire Service or he’s traveling to a race. It becomes apparent over the course of a conversation with him, though, that racing is his love when it comes to cars. He’s spent considerable time hauling his cars to tracks around the Southeast and even building and selling the highly-specialized vehicles out of his shop in the Newtown area.
A start in racing
The son of Emory and Sylvia McEntyre, Mike grew up in Calhoun, and cars have been a part of his life since he could remember. His father ran an old-fashioned filling station for years here near the interstate.
“I was born and raised in basically a filling station,” Mike says. “We were full service … when I was young, we just fooled around with cars, and that was our living.”
His father was lightly involved with drag racing, and that’s where Mike’s interest in fast cars began to develop.
“I started helping him out with his stuff when I was little, when I was 5 or 6 years old, and that was just the highlight of the weekend if we got to go to the races,” he says. “But Daddy never was quite into it the way I’ve gotten into this stuff.”
His father fixed up one of his own cars for Mike when he was 10 years old.
“He would take the four-barrel (carburetor) loose and let me drive it, and I would run in a little class called the trophy class,” Mike recalls. “I was driving a full-sized car when I was 10 years old. It was kind of dangerous, but it wasn’t fast, and that’s how I got involved in it.”
His interest soon evolved from racing the cars to actually building them, and up until recently, he sold cars fairly frequently.
“For the last four years, I was doing one to two cars a year that I was building and selling,” he says. “I’ve got cars in Florida, I’ve got cars in Texas, I’ve got cars in New England … it’s pretty neat to see a car that you’ve done and see it going down the track in New England or something.”
A well-built rear engine dragster can sell for between $35,000 and $55,000. Door cars (i.e. race cars with a sedan body as opposed to the single-piece body of a dragster) go for $35,000-$45,000, depending on the options included.
Mike recently took some time off from the endeavor when it began to interfere with actual racing, however.
“I was having to work day and night to get cars done because I had deadlines,” he says.
Passing on the tradition
Last year, he built a junior dragster for the first time. The car went to his son, Braxton, 11. The unveiling was emotional.
“We actually brought it over here and sat it in the building one day, and his sister kidnapped him … we had it stashed somewhere (during the building process),” Mike says.
Braxton began to ask questions about his father’s unusual hours as the car came together, but ultimately, the big reveal stayed a surprise. Mike has a video on his phone of the first time Braxton saw his dragster. The boy enters the garage and immediately bursts into tears at the sight of the car.
“He’s very smart, so once he saw it, he knew what had went on,” Mike says of his son. “He was like, ‘I see now why you were gone.’”
He says Braxton had a good first year racing the car
Racing rules say that until he turns 12, Braxton isn’t supposed to go faster than 8.90 seconds in an eighth of a mile, a speed which represents the index, or optimal performance speed of the car. The max speed Braxton is allowed to run falls between 79 and 80 miles per hour at this index, Mike says.
“He’s hovering around his index now,” he says. “There are a lot of street cars that aren’t running that fast.”
Customers who enter the tire store office are more than likely going to interact with Mike’s wife, Jennifer. The two run the business together. In fact, Mike bought his father out and decided to deal exclusively in tires shortly after he and Jennifer married.
Mike was reluctant to make the business move at first.
“I wasn’t ready to be tied down … It’s not what I wanted to do at the time. I just had gotten married,” he says.
“I remember he (Emory) came in one Friday and he was like, ‘I’m tired, I’m aggravated. I don’t want to do this. I either want you to buy me out, or I’m going to sell it,’” Mike recalls. “When I told him I was kind of wanting to go full tires, he was like, ‘Son, what are you thinking?’ He looks at me now, and he’s like, ‘I sure am glad you wanted to dabble around in that stuff.’”
That was when Mike was 27. He’s 46 now, and he says going into the tire business ended up being a blessing. He’s had the store for 21 years — 16 of them in the current location at 605 N. Wall St.
He credits Jennifer with being one of his main champions when it comes to racing.
“She’s one of our biggest supporters because she allows us to do this,” he says. “If she was a selfish woman, she’d get so mad at us because we spend so much time doing this, over here (in the shop). We’ve been married for 20 years. She also understands. She’s like, ‘You would not be good at sitting over here at the house doing nothing.’”
Their daughter, Riley, 17, doesn’t race either, but she enjoys spending time with her dad while he works on the cars.
“She’s never shown an interest in racing,” Mike says. “She comes over and hangs out with me of a night and talks.”
Mike’s friend, Ronald Hayes, is another big supporter of his racing endeavors.
“He helps me day and night,” Mike says.
The two call the program Dead-on Racing, Inc. in reference to Mike’s all-out attitude toward his hobby.
“We’ll write a book one day and tell the truth about this thing,” Mike says laughing.
Although he’s still on the road a good bit, he doesn’t like traveling all night like he used to. The actual timeline of a race can be grueling and is often an all-day affair. It starts with maintenance of the cars followed by time trials and then eliminations.
“We’ll race a race where there are 150 to 400 cars. We usually start sometime around 10 or 10:30 in the morning, and it goes on till 1:30 or 3 in the morning,” Mike says. “With most of our races, it’s nine or 10 rounds to win a race.”
He often brings home winnings, but he’s adamant about the fact that racing is a pastime, not a living.
“Most of the stuff I do now is what I call your big-money bracket racing where there’s a pretty large purse,” he says. “As long as I can win enough to pay for my fuel bill, I’m happy. We burn more fuel than anything.
“Anytime you can go to a race track and leave with more money than you came with, it’s a win,” he continued. “And I’ve kept it simple like that. This is not a living to me. It’s a hobby.”