Auto racing: Legendary 'Barefoot' Bob McCreadie, Watertown native, dies at age 73

May 17—WATERTOWN — Bob McCreadie, the Watertown native who rose from scrappy, troubled kid to legendary dirt track racer who compiled more than 500 victories at 56 speedways, died Wednesday after a long illness. He was 73.

McCreadie's death was mourned throughout the sport as tributes flooded social media, from racing organizations to tracks to the fans who followed him from race to race and lifted him to folk-hero status during his career that ran from 1975-2005.

"The DIRTcar racing world was saddened to learn (Bob) McCreadie has passed away," the Super DIRTcar Series posted on X. "... One of the greatest to ever drive a Big Block modified with more than 500 victories in his career, including 39 wins with the Super DIRTcar Series plus the 1986 Super DIRT Week title on the Syracuse Mile that cemented his status as one of the best ever."

McCreadie, in referencing his young days, said he wouldn't be the same without auto racing, stating it in the first line of his autobiography, "Barefoot".

"If it wasn't for auto racing and for my wife (Sandra), I'd probably be in jail today. Or shot dead by now," he said.

McCreadie was born January 19, 1951 and grew up in Watertown as a trouble-making kid who enjoyed stealing cars as much as riding them. But through the assistance of several people early in his life and eventually his talent and well-noted hard work, he became the most successful driver in modified racing.

McCreadie compiled 507 track victories over a 30-year period. He claimed 29 points championships and eight series championships. During an epic year in 1994, he won 47 features. He won back-to-back Super DIRT series titles in 1994 and 1995. His most prestigious victory is often considered the 1986 Super DIRT Week victory at the Syracuse fairgrounds.

McCreadie, named DIRT's Most Popular Driver four times, was known across the country due to his success but also his barnstorming nature in which he raced from the north country to Florida to the southwest United States to Canada and even Australia. Known as "Barefoot Bob," a moniker that followed him through the end of his career, he drew scores of fans, especially youngsters.

McCreadie began in the sport in 1971 and first drove a car with his well-known No. 9 in 1972. But he didn't win his first feature until 1975. McCreadie, driving his innovative Plymouth Barracuda super-light, super-narrow car, won his first race in May of '75 at Evans Mills. The car drew plenty of protests from rivals and inspectors.

The car also underlined the "Barefoot" nickname, which he said he first picked up as a teenager due to constantly walking around without shoes and often bare-chested. The driver's compartment on his unusual car was so narrow, McCreadie had to take off his boots and drive in his stocking feet to fit in the car.

McCreadie excelled in small-block races, enjoying his most success in 1979 and 1980, when he won 32 and 34 races, respectively. He often won three or four races a weekend and was known for challenging the best drivers and then winning.

He switched to big blocks in 1981, and after a dispute that led to him boycotting Can-Am Speedway in LaFargeville for years, he expanded to winning races throughout the state and started racing regularly at tracks in Canandaigua and Weedsport.

"'Barefoot' captured the hearts of thousands of fans across the country," the Weedsport Speedway said.

McCreadie, described as both affable and shy, out to win and also humble, won 59 big-block features between 1985-87, the most of anyone on the circuit. He took third during Super DIRT Week in 1985 and devoted his energies toward the 1986 race, winning there for the only time in his history, at a track he said he disliked.

While McCreadie said he rarely looked back on his career in favor of preparing for the next race, he acknowledged he was very fortunate.

"It's pretty difficult to make a living at it," he said about racing in 2005. "One out of a thousand succeed."

McCreadie didn't excel without sacrifice. He struggled with injuries throughout his career. He broke his back five times in racing accidents, including a spectacular crash in 1988 when he lost his steering after breaking a bolt and driving off the back straightaway at full speed. But he kept coming back, driving his familiar orange-and-blue car.

McCreadie's racing career ended due to another crash that wasn't related to the sport. On May 31, 2006, four days after being inducted into the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame in Weedsport, he was driving his motorcycle in the parking lot at the Medical Arts Building in Watertown and was struck by a car. McCreadie suffered a broken bone in his back, broken ribs and a broken leg. He tried repeatedly to return to the track to race but never did.

McCreadie's sons, Tim, and Jordan, are both successful race drivers with Tim winning races and acclaim throughout the country as a late model driver. Bob and Tim raced against each other many times.

McCreadie was inducted into the Walk of Fame at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., in April 2003. He was inducted into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame in 2008 and inducted into the North Country Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.

Calling hours for McCreadie will be Sunday, from 1 to 5 p.m., at the D.L. Calarco Funeral Home in Watertown.