I traveled to Florida every spring for the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, two of the classic sports car endurance races in the world, and each year the smiling face of classmate Tom Begley would be there to greet me and talk Irish. Tom was based on the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg and his interest in motorsports was more than real…it was his life’s work for nearly 20 years.
Tom organized (legal) street races in St. Pete for over 12 years, including staging the Florida GP of St. Pete with Trans-Am as the headliner. In 2001, Tom finally convinced the infamous Chris Pook to tour his proposed seaside race circuit for IndyCar and Pook declared the prospect as “Monstrous!” In short order, Pook convinced Dover Motorsports (owner of numerous NASCAR tracks) of the GP’s potential, Tom exchanged his franchise rights for an employment contract, and Tom and Pook obtained an incredible 12-year agreement from the city council.
Unfortunately, within three weeks Pook was hired as CEO of CART (IndyCar) and Tom was forced to organize the inaugural race without his support. And to his credit, NBC broadcaster Robin Miller claimed that “the 2003 GP of St. Pete was the best first-year CART event ever!”
A given about motorsports is that no one (except for maybe Roger Penske) makes a profit from racing. Another fact is that politics are rampant and almost as bad as real politics. Way too complicated and absurd to explain except to say that our Tom Begley was the heart, soul and brains for what has become one of the great race venues in the world!
I’ve been in NASCAR for the past five years and I was more than excited about my return to the IZOD IndyCar Series and the first race of the season at the GP of St. Petersburg. It gave me the opportunity to spend the evening before the race dining with Tom and meeting his lovely wife Shirley. Absolute great time, great crab cakes and Chardonnay. Even got to ride in Tom’s famous “Land Barge,” a classic ’97 Lincoln Town Car Signature edition.
The Monaco and Long Beach GPs are pretty much considered the most spectacular races in the world. Do me a favor…watch next year’s GP of St. Pete on ABC and enjoy the “house that Tom built!”
BTW: Tom mentioned that our classmate Bob Basche is the person who obtained the IZOD title sponsorship for IndyCar when he was COB at Millsport.