Paul Mercure - A Working Man's Racer

By Jim Luikens

Paul Mercure
Paul Mercure Consider this scenario: you're 15 years old and growing up in the Motor City, your neighbor works at the GM Tech Center and is forever bringing home cool cars and Detroit Dragway, Motor City Dragway, Milan Dragway and Tri-City Dragway are all within two hours of your home. Additionally, NHRA holds its Nationals at Detroit Dragway to boot and that allows you to see all of the early day drag racing heroes and touring pros. This is the story of Paul Mercure whose life could not have turned out any other way when you consider what he was exposed to as a youngster.

Since Paul was too young to have a legal Michigan driver's license he worked a deal with the aforementioned neighbor, GM employee Chuck Ingrham, to have his '51 Chevrolet towed to the strip when Chuck wasn't racing his own car. Reflective of the times, the towing method was a humble tow bar and not the lavish motor homes and toter homes that today's racers use.

Chuck also raced a Chevrolet, just like Paul. But Chuck's Chevy was a hot '53 Corvette into which he had installed one of the first Chevrolet prototype V8s. Chuck's home-built Corvette V8 drag racer was an extension of his day job where he was involved in converting the production Corvette to V8 power for model year 1955.

There was no V8 power for Paul back then however, just his old reliable Chevy "Stovebolt" six cylinder engine. Despite its humble horsepower output, Paul was solidly hooked on the thrill of drag racing. As the years went by Paul's drag cars got newer and faster but they were almost always a Chevrolet. As he became more successful he expanded his travel circle and began racing at nearby NHRA Division 3 points meets as well.

Mercure won Grand Bend
In 1971 he made his first trip to the NHRA Nationals, which by now were being held in Indianapolis, as a racer. Running a '67 Camaro in D/G, he doesn't remember much about the event except that he got to see too much of Paul Blevins' tail gate. Other national events followed in places like Gainesville, Columbus and Englishtown. Just as he had done previously in local and divisional competition, Paul slowly began to run better at the national level thanks to his hard work and determination.

In 1973 Paul met Mike Keener, another Detroit-area racer of some renown, and a partnership was spawned that continues to this day. Mike and Paul had the same level of dedication, but opposite situations. Mike Keener was heavily involved in his family's business and didn't have a lot of time to spare. Paul on the other hand, had lots of time and was happy to be the wrench of the pair.

Success came quickly to the new team when they won the 1974 NHRA Sportsnationals, a race they were to win again in 1982. Besides those two wins Paul says he doesn't remember the specifics of a lot of their other victories because he's never been much of a stats guy. He's always been focused on the present and not the past.

In 1974 the team bought the former John Lukovich A/MP Camaro and had chassis man Mike Fons, another Motor City racing legend, rework it for them into a D/MP. It was about this time that the Check Mate name came to be associated with their team. They were pursuing Check Mate Boats as a sponsor and had some renderings done with that name and the horsehead logo on their car. The sponsorship never materialized but the name and logo looked so good that they adopted it as their own.

Mercure vs. Teuton in Milan
Like every successful Modified Eliminator team of that era Keener & Mercure couldn't help but fantasize about racing in Pro Stock Eliminator. In 1983 they stuck a toe in the water by running some UDRA events with a 500 cubic-inch, big block powered, 1983 Camaro that featured a Mike Fons chassis. Of course they also kept their trusty 331 CID small block around to use for B/G competition at NHRA events.

Keener & Mercure ran their Camaro for several seasons before purchasing a used Don Ness Oldsmobile Ciera from yet another Detroit racing legend, Andy Mannarino. After three seasons in the Ciera they returned to Andy's Used Race Car Lot and this time purchased the Oldsmobile Calais that Andy had been racing since he sold them his Ciera.

Three more seasons and it was time to move up again. This time they purchased a used Don Ness Camaro and then had Minnesota's Gene Fasching freshen its body and paint for them. At the end of the '91 season, and after nearly a decade of Pro Stock racing, Paul and Mike had to admit that P/S was just too doggone expensive for their budget.

Reluctantly they sold the Pro Stocker and returned to their roots by building three stockers between 1991 and 1993. The original plan was to have a '67, '68 and '69 Camaro that were all powered by identical 396 CID, 375 horsepower big block engines and have them fit into A, B and C/Stock by juggling weights and model years. Mark Yammarino, the Big Y, drove the third team car. Of the three team drivers Paul had the most success, winning a few points meets along the way.

In 1999 Paul got wind of a new class, Top Stock that was going to be contested at an event in Norwalk, Ohio. He was immediately intrigued by the structure of Top Stock, which had many similarities to Pro Stock. Luckily, his car would fit the new rules with only a few modifications. Acting quickly, he modified his car and attended that first event at Norwalk.
Mercure launches at Milan
The result was a match made in heaven and Paul has raced in every Top Stock event since. With nearly a dozen T/S wins under his belt already, he's found a home for the rest of his racing days as far as he is concerned That is unless they "go crazy" with the rules he says. The nine-event T/S schedule is just right for his budget and the time that he has available.

Besides the nine events Paul also likes to test three or four times a season as well as roughly an equal number of dyno sessions. Add that all up and poof, there goes another year. Paul does admit that on the rare occasion when he is not working until midnight on his race car he does enjoy his remote control models or a round of golf.

Paul Mercure is a working man's racer. The success he has achieved is by working harder and not by spending more. In fact, he liked it better in the old days when you couldn't just buy "the good stuff" but instead had to get by on your own creativity. But this is today and Paul is determined to make the most of it while finding a little time for himself. Wait..... Wait.....Wait a minute! He's just heard that they're running Top Stock at the Dutch Classic and he's going. Looks like he'll have to wait until next year to take it a little easier.