Disability drives racer to victory lane

By Jessi Stone, Assistant editor | Sep 01, 2014
Photo by: Jessi Stone John Mamph is pictured with his winning 1975 Camaro.

Trophies line the shelves of Black Bear Automotive in Canton representing John Mamph’s many wins at Newport Speedway in Tennessee.

When he isn’t working on other people’s cars at his shop, he’s working to make his own car go faster on the track.

“It’s not like NASCAR — it’s not about money. It’s more about bragging rights,” Mamph said, wiping the oil off of his hands.

He’s been a stock car racer since the early 80s — winning championship races in Ocala, Branson, East Bay and Lake City, Florida, before settling down in Canton to run his business. He travels to Newport nearly every Saturday with his 1975 Camaro and his son Cameron to compete in a race against 12 to 18 other drivers.

But Mamph has overcome more than just a few competitors to make it into victory lane. In 2003, he lost his leg, and nearly lost his life, when his truck was hit by a drunk driver on a Florida highway.

“You have to understand, at that time I thought my life was over, but the friends I had wouldn’t let that happen,” he said. “My friends made me get back in the racecar and that’s the best therapy I could have had.”

Racing with an artificial right leg is tricky. Mamph said he had a hard time being able to feel the gas pedal. Instead of giving up, he altered his car’s gas pedal to make it stiffer, which helps him better control it. He hopes his perseverance can be an inspiration to others who have experienced obstacles that seem insurmountable.

“This (younger) generation likes to say ‘I can’t do it.’ That irritates me. There’s only ‘I don’t know how’ — not I can’t,” he said. “I try to inspire people so they know they can still do anything they want to do.”

Mamph doesn’t let his disability keep him from racing, but that isn’t enough — he’s in it to win it. His last first-place win was Aug. 14 at Newport. Most of the time his No. 65 Camaro starts the race at the back of the line.

The cars are ranked according to their race times during qualifying and then the ranking is flipped on the track. With the best time of completing 35 laps in about 14 minutes, Mamph always has to fight his way up from the backend. It takes a special technique to be able to get around all the cars to take the lead.

He doesn’t mind and neither do the spectators — it only adds to the excitement of the race. During his last win on Aug. 14, Mamph was a lap ahead of everyone else. To add some excitement to the race, the race director called for a yellow caution light with only five laps remaining in the race.

That means all racers had to slow down for two laps — allowing others to catch up with No. 65. But Mamph still managed to hold his own and come in first place.

Jeff Myers has been a fan of Mamph for many years and goes to Newport to watch him race.

“They inverted the cars so it’s a lot of racing,” he said. “It makes for a better show for the crowd.”

Mamph said he enjoys racing because of the show he gets to put on for the fans, the rush of adrenaline he gets when he’s in that car and the time he gets to spend with his son.

His son Cameron serves as his crew chief — watching the track for him and alerting him over the radio of any roadblocks or wrecks along the way. The two also work on the car at Black Bear Automotive.

“If you want to be the fastest, you have to work on it every week,” Mamph said. “It has to turn left going about 100 miles an hour.”

The next big race is the Davy Crockett Championship on Sept. 6 in Newport. If any businesses are interested in sponsoring Mamph’s car in Newport, contact him at 646-0420.