Johnny Coy was a nine-time midget car champion. He won the 1958 NASCAR and 1968-69 and 1971-72 American Racing Drivers Club championships. He won numerous feature victories over a five decade career.
Born John Barbaro, Coy, as he was known throughout his racing career, was born and raised in Freeport, one block from the Freeport Stadium raceway, and lived there until moving to Brentwood in 1992.
After returning from the Army during World War II, he spent the rest of his life with cars, working as a self-employed mechanic in Bellmore and driving in races throughout the country. Nicknamed Johnny Coy by his late brother when he started racing in 1946, Coy drove midgets, three-quarter midgets, sprint cars, championship cars, Indianapolis cars and Grand National - now known as Nextel Cup - cars. He competed in more than 2,000 races, winning nearly a quarter of them.
In the late 1950s, he won all three 500-lap midget races that Islip Speedway held. He won national titles 10 times in five different classifications, from 1949 through 1978. A 1949 movie, "The Big Wheel," was loosely based on his early career, with Mickey Rooney portraying a character named Billy Coy.
Twice he attempted to drive the Indianapolis 500, passing the driving test, but his cars didn't hold up. He drove against and defeated many of the best drivers of his time. Coy competed against legendary racer Mario Andretti in midget cars in the late 1950s, winning some of them.
Andretti said, "In those days, we used to run 50-60 races a year. Johnny Coy was one of the guys who was winning. Any time you hoped to win a race you had to deal with him ... He was a real midget specialist and a damn good racer."
"He was a character, but a good character," Himes said. "We once went to a dirt track in East Windsor, N.J. He had asphalt tires on dirt, which was unheard of. They told him to start dead last just to get in the race. He won all of the events starting dead last."
Coy was inducted in the National Old Timers Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Flemington, N.J., in 1982 and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Sun Prairie, Wis., in 2005.
Just as he did more than 500 times in a 38-year auto racing career, Johnny Coy captured the checkered flag as the winner of his final race in 1984 in Thompson, Conn., driving a midget car.
A 10-time national champion who is enshrined in two auto racing halls of fame, Coy died of heart failure at the age of 81.