Dan Laverty: How are you doing tonight? Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed.
Willy McCarthy: Ok.
DL: What year did you join the Fire Department?
DL: Did you have family members in the department already when you joined?
WM: My brother
DL: Was he the reason you joined?
WM: Yeah, basically. That, and these racing trucks.
DL: For those who do not know, who is your brother?
WM: John Fagan McCarthy
DL: When you first joined who were some of the people you looked up to?
WM: I just watched everybody. Back in them days it was Harry Penny, Bobby Spillman, Wilbur Young…
DL: Did you grow up around/watching racing?
WM: I had a neighbor who was on the drill team and when I was around eleven or twelve I used to go to all their practices.
DL: This neighbor was on The Hoboes?
DL: When you first joined what positions did you run?
WM: I started out running the discharge in Pump (suction), dragger in Efficiency, and back then we ran the big 12 on Labor Day and I got a chance to run. I ran a snap coupling in Motor Hose Replacement. That was the first time of getting off the back of the truck.
DL: As the years went on what positions did you come into running?
WM: Well, the second year I was running about five guys got drafted for the Vietnam War. We came down and we had like nine guys. I ended up spiking on the left side and I did that for 25 years.
DL: You knew this question was coming. When did the hats start?
WM: Really the kickoff of the hat to the way everyone knows it now is like 2001, 2000. Chris Murphy found this stupid looking, raggedy hat we call "Roadkill" now and he bet me I wouldn’t wear it. He bet me five dollars I wouldn’t wear it to start him in 3-Man and that was the start of it. And basically what it ended up doing is taking the pressure off my 3-Man team when they got to the line. They were more worried about the damn hat than their climbs.
DL: How many hats do you think you have?
WM: I still got about 35 or so and 95 made it to the garbage when we didn’t win those days.
DL: Who buys you the hats? The kids on the team or is it anybody and everybody.
WM: Everybody and anybody.
DL: Do you have a special room for the hats? Do you have hat keepers?
WM: Nah, they are just around the house, in one room. The wife won’t let them go anywhere else. The one that has the history is the sombrero. Part of the show here in C.I. is me and that stupid sombrero. Everybody looks forward to it now so…just having fun with it.
DL: You started in 1964 and you said you actively jumped for over 20 years. So in the mid-80’s is when you stopped jumping?
DL: And the last time you jumped was in what event?
DL: You mentioned camaraderie…
WM: The thing that you have to love about this sport is the camaraderie of it. Basically, you cut each others’ hearts out from the first man on the line in 3-Man ladder till the last bucket is dumped. We’d cut out each others’ hearts for a point. And after the last bucket is dumped, we sit and drink a couple beers together. In the week between tournaments (Willie calls them TURN-a-ments) at a fire you are liable to lay your life on the line for this guy and next Saturday you wanna cut his heart out again for seven hours.
DL: Teams come and go in cycles. Have you seen a cycle with the Hoboes? Were there rebuilding years?
WM: Oh, we’ve had them for years. It took us 17 years between 1993 and 2010, with a couple rebuilding processes in there. Then we got this group of Murphy’s, Ricky McCarthy, (Jay) Newhoff, Justin Correira, Jason Correira and they stayed through it and took their lumps. They paid the price out here. They never quit. They kept working to get better and better and now we are reaping the benefits of it. But this team got together and got to the point of “stop the nitpicking, shut up and race.” That is the mentality right now.
DL: Who might you say resembles yourself on the current team?
WM: There are a couple of them who can walk the walk and talk the talk but they can’t last all night after it. Nah, basically these kids are in much better shape - better equipment, faster equipment - but we had to get off hotter. You know when you were young…you know I could live to be a hundred and these kids could never carry the boots of the guys I ran with. But I know deep in my heart they are actually better.
DL: Do you feel that what a team gives out good vibes and positivity comes back to them?
WM: Yes, the fact is you have to believe in yourself, but damn, you gotta go out on Saturday and put it on the line. It’s put up or shut up time, especially the State Tournament. Basically the two proudest things I got out of racing was my son being the captain of the 2010 team and having my number retired by the team.
DL: Your son is Ricky McCarthy?
DL: And your number is?
DL: Your number is 14 and your brother’s number is 17 which is retired also. Would you like to
talk about your brother a little bit?
WM: I would be a little prejudiced you know, because the saying goes "Forever our Coach" and he was that. He could push you to the limit. Push you to almost want to kill him. All he was trying it do was get the best out of you possible. I was on the receiving end of a lot of ‘em. And when I had like 10 years spiking, he was telling me stuff I’m doing and how to correct it. And being the wise-ass I always was I said, “You tell me what I am doing wrong and I will know how to correct it." He said, "Fine, you got a week to correct it or I will get somebody to replace ya." This is love I say, there was only one person he loved between those lines and that was the winner. As far as my brother goes, he was hard-headed and thick but everybody who ever laced up a sneaker and got on that track was like one of his sons.
DL: What do you think your brother would have thought of all the new innovations that have happened in racing recently: the scoreboard, Drill Team Radio and now the Drill Team Blog?
WM: Chris (Murphy) was getting to him where he could understand Chris, because him and Chris could go at it but they had a mutual love and respect for each other. Chris Murphy, not only for Central Islip but for this whole sport of racing, has almost revived the whole thing - the whole interest in the sport. Basically what Chris did, whether he meant to do it or not, is put a lot more fun back into this game.
DL: Is there anything in particular that you want to talk about that we have not touched on?
WM: Well, I think one of the biggest things was that State Tournament in ’78 when we showed up without a C-Truck. We got a couple of breaks early and made a couple of breaks late. We ran all day long with no one ever mentioning a C-Truck. No one ever mentioned it…it was “shut up and race.”
DL: That tournament in ‘78 was where?
WM: In Hempstead
DL: With what team did you battle with during that day?
WM: The Hempstead Flukes
DL: So you guys ran the hardest you could that day with what you had?
WM: Well you figure after C-Hose was over and we were still around, we still had four contests to go. We weren’t in bad shape.
DL: How did you do in those last four events?
WM: Fourth in B-Hose, I believe, third in Pump, won Efficiency and won Buckets.
DL: Do you think that The Flukes thought that this was their day?
WM: They still think it was their day. Honestly and truly, we had a lot of fun with it and some of it was taken out of context but I love Albie Cooke because he went through a hell of a lot of abuse from not only us but from some other people. But Albie still has his head up high and smiles. He’s one of those guys I just loved racing with.
DL: Out of all the State Drills the Hoboes won that you were a part of, ‘78 is the one that sticks with you the most?
WM: Not really, each and everyone one of ‘em has a history of them own if you want to read into ‘em. You have whole years and the one thing I miss the most about this sport at all is…
(Points at photos on the wall of the Hoboes Shack)
Look back there at 1970 and 1976, and realize how many guys are not still here. That hurts. After 2010, we rode down the track and I went in the back of the truck, looked up and remember those guys and it hurt.
DL: That’s the one thing people can never understand: firemen are like brothers…
DL: That’s the one thing people can never understand: firemen are like brothers…
WM: Not like brothers…we are brothers.
The Drill Team Blog would like to thank Willy for taking the time to talk to us.