by Dana Rowe
You remember Hawk . . . Jim Hawkins: red number 49 Sport truck from a few seasons back. He made just about every race, but had no wins. He also raced dirt sprinters up in New Hampshire. He raced the physically grueling Iron Mans – triathlons – and marathons. He has a lotta finishes in those races, but no wins.
Well, Hawk retired from teaching math at Attleboro High School and found himself with a bit of spare time and decided to try his hand at a new kind of race: when Paul Heroux was elected Mayor of Attleboro, the state representative seat he held became vacant. Jim jumped into the race for the position. It was actually two races: a primary to win the chance to compete as a Democratic candidate and the final election against Republican city councilor Julie Hall. This time, The Hawk won a race: in fact, he won both races.
Not exactly with the breakneck speed involved at Seekonk; and, you can race for the legislature without all the punishing physical practice needed for triathlons. But it does take all the strategy and decision-making required to outwit a field of drivers enroute to the checkered flag or to complete the grueling triple events in an iron man. Jim had plenty of knowledge to back him up from his master’s degree, and all the skills he needed to be a teacher.
Jim had been a businessman in his early career. He ran a garage – Hawkins Arco, located at the junction of routes U. S. 6 and Mass. Route 136 in Swansea. Just a couple miles east of The Speedway – a location now held down by a Dunkin Donuts. He then became general manager for an auto parts chain named Daniels Automotive of Needham. There were four stores.
Hawk also became a fanatic runner, starting at age 40. Instead or running 10K local races, he went all the way to triathlons: three events in one. Begin with a lengthy open-water swim, then a bicycle race of about 100 miles, then polished off with a 26-mile Marathon. “I got my MBA and started doing triathlons the same year,” he says.
Five years in, he had to step away from triathlons to fight a battle against cancer – one which he won. Then, when he was 50, he got certified to teach and, at the same time, began doing the Iron Mans again.
Jim was quite persistent at running and triathlons: there are a couple dozen medals from the triathlons and marathons he’s run adorning his trophy wall next to the two, identical custom bikes he uses to train and compete on. “They have to be identical,” says Jim. You can’t train all those miles and then hop onto a different bike and expect the same results.
And in 2007, he married Gretchen, the love of his life – right at the finish line of the Lake Placid Ironman.
In 2009, Jim got hit by a car while doing some bicycle training. “The driver turned across the street to go into a driveway and I got broadsided.” Again, he had to set running aside.
However, as a fierce competitor, he needed something to do in his time off from teaching Math at Attleboro High School. So he started auto racing. He picked up a 600 mini sprint and began running in the dirt at Legion Speedway in Rumney, NH. It was a three-and-a-half hour drive each way.
He decided to get a truck and compete at nearby Seekonk Speedway. Mike Ronhock was selling one (Mike’s earlier Number 5) which was a 4-cylinder, steel-bodied model. Hawk began competing. The next year, he put an aluminum body on it and got a motor from LC Engineering, who built off-road, Baja-style racing motors.
Then, he bought Jody Tripp’s ride. “It was a fast truck,” says Jim, but he was moving ahead and bought a new, Lee Hayes-built fiberglass bodied truck which became his number 49. “Everybody wanted it (the Tripp ride), so I sold it. Bob Andreozzi bought it, eventually. I think it finally went to Rob Murphy.”
Hawk seems to be a collector as he also came up with the 48 truck, which he got from Dave Haywood and is now in the hands of Rick Albernaz, both occasional racers. “I, on the other hand,” says Jim, “would never miss a week. That’s why I got a top 10 a couple of years, because I wouldn’t miss a week.” He shakes his head: “It’s a fair amount of work just to be there.”
Jim aways had some help, especially coming from Radical Rick Martin. Albernaz and Haywood added more assistance. But Rick was sidelined a year with health problems and others couldn’t make it, so Hawk was on his own. “When Rick was sick, that was 2013. So I had to do my own maintenance but I really had nobody to do the setup and I could keep it reliable but I lost some of the edge for speed. Dave Haywood and Rick Albernaz have always been loyal helpers.”
The following year, he sent the truck to Martin for a complete rebuild. Now he had a fast piece of work, but in the off-season, the rules changed: coil springs were now allowed. His fast truck had the disadvantage of leaf springs.
“So, I didn’t come back,” he says. But the red 49 didn’t languish. When Mike Cavallaro suffered a catastrophic wreck, three years ago, they scrubbed the 49 off the doors, put Mike’s 80 on the side and used it while he rebuilt his own. That truck is now being campaigned by hotshoe Josh Hedges. You might notice the Re-Elect Hawkins for Representative sign circling the track this summer on Josh’s truck. Interesting thing about auto racing and electioneering: they enjoy the same season – mostly spring, summer and fall.
He has followed many pursuits and that suits him just fine: “I like change,” he says. And now, he gets to foment some change from the State House in Boston. He was elected in April and this makes his third month on the job after being sworn in by House Speaker DeLeo and Governor Baker. Jim needed the speed he learned at Seekonk and the duration he gained from being a triathlete to capture the seat. He thought about making the run in November, rejected it, then decided to go for it in December of 2017. He plunged in like he would the swimming leg of an Iron Man and took out nomination papers.
“I know a little bit about politics because I was a lobbyist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association,” says Jim. “I started knocking on doors at the beginning of December. At 10 below zero, I was still knocking on doors every day.” His efforts got him a win against two candidates in the primary. One opponent, who had done the best against him, gave him an endorsement and then went out knocking on doors for him.
Now, as a rookie, he had to face seasoned politician, City Councillor Julie Hall. “I was definitely the underdog in this one,” he says. “At that point, I was outspent 14-1. I don’t know how the numbers ended: that’s still being accounted.
But his determination from running triathlons and racing stock cars served him well. He continued door-knocking and in the final count he won, 52% to 48%.
The teaching experience then earned him chairmanship of the Progress Caucus Subcommittee on Education. And he went hard to work from his first moment at the Statehouse. “First day I was there, (school) testing was not in the budget.” Not good news to a career teacher. “I had no office, yet, but I got an amendment for money for testing into the budget. The next week, I got money for firefighting into it.” Good thing for the Commonwealth that Hawk retains the split-second decision-making that is so necessary in oval track racing.
Now, he’s gearing up for the debate on an opioid bill that will be next on the agenda for the legislature. “That’s going to be a quagmire,” says Jim.
Now, he’s doing it all again, because six months after winning the Special, he has to face the general election to preserve his seat. That bright red trailer that used to haul the 49 to Seekonk is now in his yard full of election signs for supporters to pick up. At least he has the advantage of running as an incumbent this time.
Hawk went back to Lake Placid, NY in 2015, at age 65 — to do the Ironman for the first time in six years. He was relentless in training, piling on the hours of running, swimming and cycling. He hadn’t planned on finishing. “There are time limits for each leg,” he says – first the 2.4-mile swim, then 112 miles on the bike, followed by a 26-mile marathon. You have to be out of the water at a certain time, and done with the biking as well as completing the marathon. If you’re beyond the limit at the end of the swim or the bike race, you don’t get to continue.
Jim came out of the water and got onto the bike. He didn’t know if he could make the cut for the cycling leg. “It’s a mountain resort. There are a lot of long climbs of at least 5 miles. It’s 8 miles up Whiteface Mountain. I made it (Whiteface). Now I’m pedaling as hard as I can to make the cutoff and start the marathon.”
He succeeded and stepped off the bike to stare down 26 miles of running. “My legs were really beat because I pedaled so hard.” But he hung in there and kept pushing. “I was on mile 16 and had 2 hours to go 10 miles. That was really tough.”
He skipped water stops and food stops, opting to depend on the high-calorie supplements dissolved in his water bag. It became a war of attrition, each step of the way. At last, the end came in sight. Several hundred yards ahead. “I could see the finish line and my legs went out on me.” Hawk had hit the wall.
“Two volunteers came out and started screaming at me. They knew they couldn’t touch or help me, but they could speak. ‘You’ve got to finish!’ and they stayed right alongside.” The announcer at the finish line could see Jim struggling toward the finish and ran down and continued to bellow encouragement. The miracle came through and Hawk stepped over the line with seconds to spare.
In the meantime, he still stops in for a Saturday night at the Speedway to watch his old Sport Trucks Division run. Most recently he was on hand as Rob Murphy, who had picked up Jim’s old truck, showed up for the first time, a month into the season, rebuilt like new, and took down the win, first try.
Jim’s retirement from Attleboro High left him plenty of time and he was wondering what else he might do when State Representative Heroux left his seat to become Mayor. He’s staying fit for another go at next year’s Lake Placid event and he’s already campaigning for the November elections. Jim says he retired from teaching in 2015. How can anybody call what Jim Hawkins has been doing “a retirement”???