Despite injury, Cloquet man stays involved in racing“I couldn’t do this without him.” Those are the words of one of WISSOTA’s best late-model race car drivers – Hermantown’s Darrell Nelson, speaking about Cloquet’s Mike Meagher. Meagher, a 1976 graduate of Cloquet High School, has overcome a particularly cruel twist of fate to stay with the sport he loves – and is one of a number of area race enthusiasts who helps put the cars on the local tracks each week.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
“I couldn’t do this without him.”
Those are the words of one of WISSOTA’s best late-model race car drivers – Hermantown’s Darrell Nelson, speaking about Cloquet’s Mike Meagher.
Meagher, a 1976 graduate of Cloquet High School, has overcome a particularly cruel twist of fate to stay with the sport he loves – and is one of a number of area race enthusiasts who helps put the cars on the local tracks each week.
Four years ago, Meagher was Nelson’s friendly rival in the late models, racing each week against a man he had known for nearly 30 years.
Then, a tragic workplace accident ended Meagher’s racing career.
While lying on a creeper performing work underneath a vehicle, a one-ton truck ran over Meagher’s ankles. The resulting injury ended his racing days.
“I got nerve disease from it, torn ligaments that still haven’t been fixed,” Meagher said. “But, you gotta live with it.”
attitude is remarkable, but to hear him tell it, he’s grateful to be where he is.
“I feel fortunate to be walking,” he admitted. “Up until two years ago I needed a cane to walk, until I got an experimental drug from a doctor in St. Paul. I don’t have much feeling in the joints now and I don’t need the cane.”
As a result, Meagher can walk – but can’t drive a competitive vehicle.
That’s where Nelson came in.
“I’ve been friends with him since we’ve been 12 years old,” Meagher said. “He asked me to help him – he knew I wanted to be involved.”
And involved, he is.
Meagher hasn’t missed one of Nelson’s races in two and a half years, including his late-model victory last Sunday night at Proctor Speedway.
Nelson runs two late-model vehicles and Meagher is vital to making sure both are in race condition.
“He’s good (people),” Nelson said. “Really, when you think about it, I couldn’t do this without him.”
Another of Meagher’s longtime friends is another Cloquet late-model driver, Dave Esse.
“I’ve known Mike since high school and you won’t find a more honest, hard-working guy,” Esse said. “He’s one of those loyal, true friends and I’d do anything for him in racing. He’d do the same for me.”
Meagher, who is nicknamed “Spider” by Nelson and can’t for the life of him figure out why, knew he had to figure out a way to stay involved with
“It’s hard when you have done something all your life and then you can’t do it,” he said. “But it’s good to work with Darrell. He gets along with everyone and then beats everyone.”
The weekly grind for a race crew and driver can add up quickly.
“We have two cars so it’s twice as much work,” Meagher explains. “The last couple weeks we’ve been going to midweek modified races. We were going to race Tuesday night in Ogilvie, Wednesday in Superior, and Friday and Saturday again in Superior. It’s kind of like living like a ‘carnie.’”
Meagher says he knows Nelson’s cars so well he could almost repair them in his sleep.
“We do it all the time,” he laughed. “Last year there was one weekend where we weren’t running well, so we took the whole car apart. Three hours later we found what was wrong, fixed it, put the car back together, went out that night and won. That was gratifying.”
The schedule is hectic but in today’s economy, racing often can sometimes be a necessity. It’s a balancing act.
“A lot of it is overhead,” Meagher explains. “You try to make as much as you can to keep the cars going. There’s so much you put into it, if you cover expenses you’re doing well.”
Esse understands. Having a difficult season by his standards, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton hockey coach knows how hard it is to win, having done it last season himself in a late model race.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in sports,” he said. “Nothing compares to it. You cannot just hop into the car and win. The late models are the most sophisticated cars around, with over 100,000 ways to set them up. And you have to do it by hand. That’s why Mike is so
So for every Darrell Nelson, there’s at least one Mike Meagher. And they make the cars go – quietly.
“That’s the way he and his family are,” Esse said. “They aren’t real outspoken people. He didn’t want anyone to rally around him (when he was injured). But he’s got a ton of respect in the racing community and he’s a tremendous father to his daughter as well.”
“I’ll do this as long as I still have the desire,” Meagher said. “There’s nothing else I’ve found that fills the need in my life like racing. It’s a commitment.”