Along the same lines as Frank Mundy, Long Island resident Tetsu Fuchigami reinvented himself as George Tet, the racing florist from Ozone Park, N.Y.
In the mid-1970s, a young man named Nelson Souto Maior began to attract notice by dominating the junior formulas in his native Brazil. He had two reasons to adopt a nom de course. For one thing, his wealthy family did not approve of his career choice. For another, that was an era of rampant kidnapping for profit in South America, and since papa Souto Maior was both wealthy and a cabinet minister in the national government, it made sense for the young driver to go undercover.
It was not a very deep cover, however. He adopted his mother’s family name as his nom de course, and he remained known through three World Championships as Nelson Piquet.
Noms de course are less common today as right to work laws have taken away most of the fear of banishment, age limits are rarely enforced and the increasingly mainstream nature of the sport has made it less necessary to hide one’s identity from the family.
Still, there are a few examples from the fairly recent past. One took place at Flemington (N.J.) Speedway’s 200-lap modified season finale in the late 1980s.
A prominent driver was said to be seeking compensation for a work-related injury, a case which would have been compromised if he had been known to be driving a race car. But the money and prestige of the Flemington 200 were too much to miss. The answer was a nom de course, specifically, to assume the identity of his crew chief.
Throughout that long and dusty afternoon, the unknown Mike McKinney ran at or near the front. With a handful of laps to go, the Cinderella performance was tarnished when McKinney ran wide and dropped to fourth. Nevertheless, Mike McKinney was the hero of the day, even after his true identity was revealed.
For years afterward, Roger Laureno’s introduction at any track in the Garden State brought at least one call from the grandstand, “Where’s Mike McKinney?”
Sometimes, noms de course may refer to more than one person sharing an identity for racing purposes. Years ago, a couple of local guys named Wallace and Benson pooled their limited resources to field a street stock at Penn-Can Speedway in Susquehanna, Pa. They drove on alternating weeks and the points were credited to “Wallace Benson.”
Some noms de course seem to have no more profound purpose than a good laugh. How else can you account for Jimmy Sills as Luke Warmwater or the late Don MacTavish in his demolition derby days as Rex Karrs?
Plenty of drivers have changed their names while on the lam from various charges. But it works both ways. In the 1970s one New Yorker racing under a nom de course was in fact an officer of the law.
Trying to be someone else is a perilous undertaking, but that hasn’t prevented a long line of racers from taking that road.