Green To Checkered: The Journey Of Mike Murphy From Ireland To Whelen Modified Tour Victory Lane

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour team owner Mike Murphy (right) with driver Austin Beers (Photo: Courtesy KLM Motorsports)

It was a first connection with race team owner Mike Murphy that left Ron Yuhas Jr. utterly baffled. 

Murphy had fielded an SK Modified team for driver Tom Fox for six years at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl before the two parted ways during the 2007 season. Yuhas was looking for an SK Modified ride at the Speedbowl for 2008.

“So I decide I’m going to call [Murphy] and ask him what his plans were for 2008,” Yuhas said. “I had no idea if he had something going already or if it was even a possibility to drive for him. So I gave him a call. I’m not sure how long the phone call was, but I hung up the phone and I had no idea what was happening. I didn’t know if he told me that he was not interested or I should go meet him or if I was his driver for the next year. I could not understand anything he said. That was my first impression. I hung up the phone, I had no idea what was going on.”

It’s the common thread when it comes to asking many people in racing their first impressions of Murphy. The descriptions all somehow match up. Always smiling, always seemingly the happiest guy around, wonderful team owner, passionate about family and racing and couldn’t understand anything he said upon meeting him. 

Murphy’s deep Irish brogue often leaves people wondering what he just said. 

“Now, we talk so much, I’ve got him figured out,” Yuhas said. “But that first phone call, I just hung up the phone and was like ‘Wow, what just happened?’” 

On April 1 at Richmond Raceway Murphy joined the list of winning team owners on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour when his driver Austin Beers won the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 150. 

It was a 13-year journey as a Whelen Modified Tour team owner that brought Murphy to victory lane in Richmond, but a life journey that began across the Atlantic in Ireland. 

In a strange twist, the place where Murphy was born and raised in Ireland indirectly became the impetus for his beginnings in New England short track racing. 

Growing Up, Moving On

The 66-year old Murphy was born and raised in Waterford, Ireland. The seacoast city in the southeast of Ireland is most known for Waterford Crystal. 

“My father was a carpenter, my mother was a stay at home mom,”Murphy said. “There was six children, four girls and two boys. Soccer was the main sport that we would play a lot of when I was growing up. There was no oval track racing in Ireland. It was all rally’s. That was the big sport over there for racing. Most Irish guys in racing, that was what they got into. I was alway following the rally races. I also followed Formula 1 big time back then. It was much better racing back when I was young.”

By the time he was 16 years old Murphy was going through his apprenticeship as an electrician. 

“It wasn’t a very entertaining life,” Murphy said. “Quite boring really.” 

In 1985 Murphy made the decision to come to the United States. 

“At the time everybody I knew in Ireland was coming over to the [United] States,” Murphy said. “People would go over and you’d hear some really good stories about how well they were doing. So we decided we’d come over for a year and see what it was like and then just go back home again. So I took a leave from where I was working in Ireland and I came over here. And here we are, 38 years later, I’m still here.” 

Murphy arrived in the United States on Memorial Day weekend in 1985. 

“I remember, the first thing when I was here I was crossing the Triborough Bridge coming in from the airport into the city and I saw the cars,” Murphy said. “I said ‘Holy shit.’ There were so many of them and they were so big. In Europe it seemed like all the cars were small, little Fiats and cars like that. When you see a big Cadillac, it was such a thing to see.

“I came here on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in 1985, Monday was a holiday and I started working on Tuesday,” Murphy said. “But it was not easy. Back then the work was pretty tough.” 

Murphy slept on a couch in an apartment in the Bronx, NY he shared with fellow Irish immigrant friends Frank Terry and Eamon Smith. 

“They’re friends to this day,” Murphy said. 

Murphy’s girlfriend Maggie, who would become his wife in 1987, arrived in the Bronx in June of 1985. Over the first five years they established Murphy’s business, Associated Electrical Contractors. They moved to Valley Cottage, N.Y. in 1990, three weeks after their first daughter Lyndsey was born. Kelly, their second daughter, was born in 1991. 

Mystical Fate

In 1999 Murphy took his family on a weekend trip to Mystic, Connecticut. It proved to be a getaway that would lay the foundation of what is now nearly a quarter century of involvement in short track racing. 

“We were in Mystic and we were back at the hotel after doing some things and I found a flyer from the [Waterford] Speedbowl in the lobby,” Murphy said. “We always followed NASCAR on TV. I watched it a lot on [The Nashville Network]. I really enjoyed it. So I saw this flyer that said there was stock car racing going on at a place called Waterford. I just thought we needed to go see this place called Waterford because that’s where I was from in Ireland.” 

One night at the Speedbowl and the seed was planted for Murphy. 

“I had always wanted a race car,” Murphy said. “I worked on some Rally cars at home in Ireland, but never actually had one myself. After watching NASCAR on TV and then seeing what was going on at the Speedbowl, I figured I’d give it a try.” 

Not long after the visiting the Speedbowl Murphy acquired a Late Model chassis and went to work on creating a race team to run at Waterford. Murphy and a group of friends from Ireland built their car and showed up one week for a practice at the track. 

Former Speedbowl racer, car builder and now Stafford Speedway director of racing operations and competition Tom Fox remembers Murphy and a group of his friends showing up in Waterford, towing their car behind a white van on an open trailer. 

“Back then I was building race cars in North Stonington at my Fox Motorsports shop,” Fox said. “I was building complete cars and I used to go to the practices at the Speedbowl all the time to help my customers.

“These guys pulled up and had what appeared to be a Late Model that really didn’t look like one of our Late Models, but it was a Late Model. They had called [track owner] Terry Eames about coming down for practice. It was Murph and a bunch of his friends trying to get the car to go on the race track and they were really struggling. 

“Apparently him and a bunch of his friends built the car to the rulebook without looking at any of the race cars that raced there. You can get a completely different perspective of what you’re allowed to build by looking at the rulebook only and not understand what the actual animal is that the rulebook pertains to. They built something that fit the rulebook but really wasn’t a Late Model that fit the standards of what the Speedbowl Late Model was. So they struggled for an hour or so just trying to get the car ready. Terry wandered over and asked me if I could go help them. He told me it was their first time at a track and they never had a car before. So I went over and that was my introduction to Murph. And all of the sudden I realized you needed to learn how to speak Murph pretty quickly or you had no idea what’s going on.” 

Said Murphy: “We didn’t know what we were doing. We had a rulebook and that was it. So Tommy kind of took us under his wing and showed us the things we should change.” 

On August 28, 1999 the Murphy owned No. 73 Late Model made its debut at the Speedbowl. Behind the wheel was Murphy’s friend and fellow Irish immigrant Mike O’Sullivan. He finished 20th in that night’s feature. Another friend of Murphy’s from Ireland – Noel Barry – ran the car two more times that season, recording finishes of 18th place each time. O’Sullivan ran the car in eight events in 2000 for Murphy. After the 2000 season Murphy had Fox build him a new Late Model to run locally with driver John Materas. 

“They had some bad luck and they ended up [damaging the car bad] the first or second time it hit the track,” Fox said. “Within a race or two it needed [more major repairs]. It was just a whole series of these bad things happening with Murph’s brand new race car. They struggled through much of the year running at Thompson [Speedway] and Waterford. At the end of that year Murphy asked me if I would drive his car at the Speedbowl Finale. I said sure. 

“Over the winter I did some more work on the car and Murph called me and asked me if I would like to drive it full-time. I really didn’t want to do a Late Model again at that point in my life. I was trying to get into the SK [Modified] program. I told him I’d really rather run an SK [Modified]. He said, ‘How about if I buy an SK Modified and you run them both?’ So in 2002 I raced for Murph with both the Late Model and the SK Modified at the Speedbowl” 

Murphy would celebrate his first victory as a car owner in the second SK Modified feature of the 2002 season at the Speedbowl. Murphy and Fox got their second win together in the fifth Late Model feature of 2002. Fox ended the season with five SK Modified wins and was fourth in the division’s standings. After the season Murphy sold the Late Model and put the team’s focus solely on running the SK Modified. They would record 14 SK Modified wins over six seasons before parting ways during the 2007 season. 

“After I had the first phone call with him, I had no idea what he wanted to do or if he even wanted me to race for him,” Yuhas said. “So he was building his shop down in Waterford and a few days after that phone call I went down and met him. Within five minutes we had a handshake deal that I was driving for him in 2008.” 

Yuhas had one win in his first season with Murphy in 2008 in the SK Modified division at Waterford. In 2009 Yuhas recorded three victories and edged Keith Rocco to win the SK Modified championship at the Speedbowl. Yuhas had three wins again in 2010 for Murphy and ended the season second in the SK Modified standings behind Rocco. 

Making The Jump

Yuhas had run part-time on the Whelen Modified Tour in 2006 and 2007 for a family owned team. As the end of the 2010 season loomed, Murphy decided that maybe it was time to get Yuhas back on the Whelen Modified Tour. Murphy leased a car from team owner Ralph Solheim for the final Whelen Modified Tour event of the 2010 season at Thompson Speedway and the foundation was laid for moving on from the Speedbowl. With Yuhas behind the wheel for Murphy’s KLM Motorsports team – KLM for Kelly, Lyndsey, and Maggie – the tam made the jump to run the Whelen Modified Tour regularly for the 2011 season.

The team ran 10 of 16 events in 2011 and then ran full-time in 2012 and 2013, finishing 10th in the standings in 2012 and 12th in 2013. Injuries suffered in a crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 20, 2014 took Yuhas out of the car. Shawn Solomito drove in the season’s final event for the team in 2014. Yuhas took over as the team’s crew chief and Anthony Nocella ran for the team in 2015. In 2016 Rob Summers took over behind the wheel for KLM Motorsports. 

“It was just a great place to be because Murph had surrounded himself by a very loyal group of people,” Summers said. “Between Ron [Yuhas], Pat [Yuhas], Jeff Yuhas, his wife, his daughters, it’s just such a great group of people in general. Murph and his wife and his daughters treated me like part of their family. They helped with my son at all the races. You couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”

Summers left the team early in the 2021 season and Timmy Solomito then ran seven events for the team before also stepping away. For the 11th race of the 2021 season – at Oswego (NY) Speedway – Murphy decided to put then teenager Austin Beers from Northampton, Pa. behind the wheel. 

“I was going to their shop to get fitted in the seat for my first race with them,” Beers said. “It was such a long ride there, I had just woke up when we got there. I didn’t know Murph, had never met him, didn’t even know what he looked like. So I was tired when we went in the shop. We walked in and I met Murph and to myself I was like ‘Am I dreaming?’ because I couldn’t understand a word this guy is saying?” That was my first impression. I couldn’t understand anything, but I just knew he was the nicest guy. And we clicked right away. Even when I couldn’t understand him, the mutual feeling was there that it was going to be a good partnership.” 

Beers finished fifth in the 2021 Whelen Modified Tour standings and won the series Rookie of the Year title. He also got better at understanding Murphy’s deep accent. 

“I can understand almost every word he says now,” Beers said. “Even on the radio now I get him. Last year I couldn’t understand a word he said on the radio except for ‘Mic Check’. Now I can even understand him on the radio.” 

Beers was making his 23rd career series start last Saturday at Richmond. He had the fastest car in practice, won the pole and then led 102 of 150 laps to get KLM Motorsports its first Whelen Modified Tour victory. 

“Austin drove an unbelievable race,” Murphy said. “Just unbelievable. I told Maggie it was the pinnacle of my racing career. The one before that was winning the [Speedbowl SK Modified] championship with Ron. And then to have Ron there with us at Richmond as the crew chief Saturday, after all this team has been through, that was so special.” 

Beers said he got emotional days later looking back on videos from the victory lane celebration and seeing team members crying after the win. 

“And the hug I had with Murph was unreal,” Beers said. “I was more happy for them I think than myself. Winning Richmond was awesome, but to get them that win was amazing.” 

Said Yuhas: “It was huge. It was a long time coming. We knew we could do it, it was just a matter of putting it all together and having the weekend that we did from practice to qualifying right up to the race. For Murph and everything that he’s put into the Tour – not only for myself but just in general on the Tour – for him to get to that and become a winning [Whelen] Modified Tour team owner is just phenomenal.” 

Murphy said he never thought much about whether or not his team would ever win on the Whelen Modified Tour. 

“I think we were resigned to the fact that we might not win,” Murphy said. “I guess I just felt like it might not ever happen. I thought we’d be that team that, you know, never won a race, but never lost a party.” 

The family feel of the team has always been something emphasized by Murphy. 

“We treat it as a sport,” Murphy said. “A lot of people treat it like a business. But I have to have fun doing it. That’s one thing for me, it has to be fun. And we’ve always enjoyed it no matter what was happening. 

“Family is the most important thing and it’s always been a family affair. And everyone on the team is family too. We’ve all been together for so long.”

Said Kelly Murphy: “It’s been our whole lives. I don’t really remember before there weren’t race cars. It’s been such a huge part of our family. We’ve always had a group where it’s been fun and been like the whole team is family.” 

After nearly a quarter century as a race team owner, Mike Murphy said he doesn’t have any timetable for getting out of the sport. He said any rumors floated in recent years that he had plans of walking away were just wrong rumors. 

“We never really thought about giving up ever,” Murphy said. “We’re too thick. I’m a thick Irishman, I wasn’t going to quit. I’ve got a few good years left at least. I have no intention of walking away anytime soon, although Maggie might tell you a different story.” 

(L-R) Lyndsey Murphy, Austin Beers, Maggie Murphy, Mike Murphy and Kelly Murphy in victory lane Saturday at Richmond Raceway (Photo: Courtesy KLM Motorsports)


  1. Terrific article Shawn 👍

  2. I agree with Ricky, nice article Shawn!
    Best of luck to them for the rest of the season!

  3. Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral
    Hush now, don’t you cry
    That’s an Irish lullaby

    Sorry, got carried away in the spirit and all.
    Lotta calls, lotta research, lotta time and you give it away.
    Tough racket, great story, thanks!

  4. Congrats to KLM,, right people are together and everything is clicking… expect this is first of many…

  5. Fast Eddie says

    Been rooting for this team since Yuhas was driving, great job and way overdue!!

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