– by Dana R. Rowe
Crystal and Richie Murray showed up at the beginning of the 2018 season at Seekonk Speedway. They were shepherding a green-and-black Mitsubishi Eclipse for the Sport Four Division. They shared the car, each driving on alternate weekends. Richie was headed toward his sophomore year at Tiverton High, and Crystal was preparing to enter her senior session; but over last summer, they were following family tradition. Their dad, Rob Murray, had raced the banks of the oval in the 1990s and Grandpa Richie in the 1980’s.
The senior Richie Murray had, in fact, cornered the Championship in the Mini-Modifieds in 1986. He, in turn, had been spurred on by his brother, George Murray, who was top gun in the Modifieds in ‘75 and ‘76, then became the second champion in the (then) new Pro Stock division.
Rob Murray stepped into a late model in the ‘90s then moved up to Pro Stocks. “They have so much more experience than I did,” he says. “I stepped right into a Late Model. Never had a V-8 before.” (Rob’s street cars had always been four-cylinder specials.) “I said – this has all kinds of power! Wow!”
It therefore came as no surprise on opening night of 2018 that Sport Four rookie Richie Murray went to the front and started to run away from the field. He seemed headed for a big win until the Eclipse’s transmission jumped out of gear, his car decelerated rapidly and a crowd charged past him.
Richie evened the score with a trip to Victory Lane by mid-season. Crystal was hefting the trophy on the final night of the regular season. In fact, for that win, she had edged out AJ Manuel, who lives next door to the Tiverton garage that plays home to the Murray Family Racing team. AJ used to give the kids rides up and down the side street in a golf cart when they were small, according to their mom, Michelle Murray. She is also a long-time fan of motorsports: “My pepe was big in tractor-pulling,” she says.
AJ had grown up around the garage, watching and assisting the Murrays’ quest for speed. Now in a seat of his own, he had earned the Sport Four championship during Crystal and Richie’s rookie year. AJ (the A is for Alexander) also finished second in Richie’s win at the season-ending Venditti Memorial race, a festival of speed commemorating Speedway founder, D. Anthony Venditti. In fact, Rob’s instructions to his daughter the night she won very much involved AJ. “I told her to stay with AJ,” Rob says. “She stayed with him in practice and had the fastest time. She stayed with him in the heat and had the fastest time. She went out and chased him in the feature, and won!”
In Victory Lane following her lap around the Speedway with checkered flag in hand, Crystal stepped from the car for her winner’s interview onto a cloud and her feet Never touched the ground. She bounced, she bubbled and the joy shone from her. Track announcer Kevin Boucher said of the moment: “Her enthusiasm was welcome. It was beyond what we’ve experienced in a while. A 17- year-old winning her first race. It was absolutely phenomenal. She kept exclaiming, ‘Oh, my god, oh, my god!’ It was catching and her enthusiasm fed into the crowd.”
Rob is perhaps the unsung hero of the clan. He never really retired from racing. He put his Pro Stock in the garage and picked up on racing go karts at Quic Raceway in Tiverton, among a tight-knit group of competitors. As his two kids got older, they wanted to join in. He built a kart for Richie.
Then Crystal wanted one. The family raced there until the track closed after the owner died. However, Quic Oil of Tiverton is still sponsoring the Murrays’ racecars.
Crystal won 7 or 8 races, while Richie had a couple his first season, three the following year and four on the next season. When they sold the Mini Cuppers, they were the winningest racecars on the track.
Which put them in the Mitsubishi at Seekonk – home field for the Murrays. In addition to keeping the kids flying around the oval, Rob worked on a host of teams’ vehicles. “I got 12 wins last year,” he says. ‘Three with AJ, two with Richie, one from Crystal, two with Kyle Casper and four with Josh Hedges.” Hedges added a second championship – in pickup trucks – to the one AJ brought to Rob’s circle. That’s a lot of winning for a guy who “retired” in 2006.
Grandfather Richie smiles happily, sitting amid his family, listening to them telling racing stories in the big garage. His smile is immense. “It’s fun watching him (Rob) teach them,” he says. His family in racing is extended. Dave Banville, who was on his crew, has recently taken custody of Richie’s old VW division Bug to make room for the truck in the garage. Banfill has been adriver nad builder of racecars ever since working on Murray’s crew. Bryan Souza and James Lawrence went on to become champions in Seekonk’s Late Model Division. Both honored Richie by numbering their cars 81, Richie’s number from his racing days.
Things have changed over the winter off-season. Coming into 2019, They no longer have to share one car. Josh Hedges has moved into Late Models at Seekonk, and his brother, Jeremy (the owner of Josh’s truck) has watched – and likes — Richie’s style. Rob had been on the truck team helping Josh. And Rich had raced Josh in karts. So he’s awarded the seat to Richie for the ‘19 season. Jeremy’s Hedges Contracting and Excavation keeps up sponsorship of both cars. Sponsors Chuckran Auto Parts and South Coast Power Equipment come along for the ride. Racers know the value of financial support in this expensive sport, So Rob’s uncle has Bununu on the car and long time racer Ed Holewiak’s daughter and son-in-law added their B&M (Beth & Mike) Maintenance to the fundraising.
“Meanwhile,” says Crystal, “I’ve got a car to myself, now.” Well, until mid-August when she heads off to Worcester Poly-Tech to study medical technology. “I’m excited for college, but I’m going to miss racing,” she says. She will have 10 weeks of oval-tracking until then to carry with her to Worcester on a cloud.
AJ looks around at all the faces in the garage and smiles. He’s coming back to try to repeat his Sport Four championship. He’s also the tire man on Richie’s truck. Local racing consistently sees teams crossing over to help each other. That’s one of the great things, according to Seekonk Race Director Len Ellis, Jr.: “Hey, you don’t give away your setup, but you want to help each other out. It’s what racing’s about.”
For 2019, Crystal is looking to “pick up where I left off last year.” Richie wants to shoot for Rookie of the Year in Trucks. “There’s only one year you can do that,” he says. “And there are a lot of rookies this year. And you always want to win.”
“I love it,” adds Rob. There’s nothing like it. Well, there’s nothing like taking that win.”