Fred Gormly was passing through Selma, just outside of Fresno, in February 1998 when he stopped at a gas station and bought a $3 Lotto quick pick that turned into an $18-million auto racing bankroll.
Gormly’s winning ticket not only changed his life, but those of several race car drivers whose careers the former Palmdale resident has subsidized with his jackpot.
Among the drivers Gormly helps are A.J. Dimarzo of Santa Clarita, a regular in the NASCAR super late model series at Irwindale Speedway, and Mike Stelter of New York, a super modified class driver who races short tracks on the East Coast.
But Gormly’s main contributions have gone to longtime friend Richard Hooper, 45, of Palmdale, a member of a well-known racing family who was given the chance to race at a higher level of competition this year, on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour, thanks to his old friend.
From 1988 until this year, Gormly and Hooper met almost every weekend at the race track. Each was a driver who competed at various tracks in Southern California, including now-closed Saugus Speedway.
Through racing, the two started a friendship of mutual admiration and respect.
“I used to do a lot for him, and he would do a lot for me,” Hooper said.
During that time, Gormly bought a few race cars, one of which Hooper wanted to buy. But Gormly wouldn’t part with it.
Eventually, though, Hooper changed Gormly’s mind.
“I sold him my car,” Gormly said. “But after I won the Lotto, I bought it back.”
Now Gormly buys pretty much whatever Hooper needs to race. He recently bought Hooper a 30-foot trailer and truck for transporting his two Southwest Tour Monte Carlos.
“Fred’s got a big heart and he loves racing,” Hooper said.
Gormly, 55, who moved back to his native Rochester, N.Y., after winning the lottery, said it will probably cost him $100,000 this year to keep Hooper racing full time at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino and in limited action on the Southwest Tour.
“He does all the work,” Gormly said. “All I do is keep my wrists in shape to write the checks. I want to see him do well. He calls me every Sunday and I get a race report.
“It makes me wish I could be in two places at once. I’d liked to be in California watching him race and I’d like to be back here [in New York] living my life.”
Hooper, who runs an auto shop in Sun Valley, mostly is content racing his 1998 Monte Carlo in the NASCAR pro stock division at Orange Show Speedway.
But he has encountered problems at other events this year.
In his first Southwest Tour race on May 15 at Irwindale Speedway, Hooper was disqualified for jumping a restart. He had qualified 31st and finished a disappointing 34th.
His troubles didn’t end there.
An aggressive driver, Hooper was leading the NASCAR late model season points standings at Irwindale when he was fined, disqualified from a race and suspended from another when track officials said he deliberately ran another car out of the June 4 main event.
Rather than contest the penalties, Hooper decided to leave Irwindale at midseason.
Hooper, because of his problems at Irwindale, said he will probably skip the Southwest Tour event there on Saturday and instead race at Orange Show Speedway in a late model event.
Despite some rough times, Gormly still has faith in Hooper’s abilities.
“Richard is what I’d call a racer,” Gormly said. “Anyone can drive a car, but there are very few people [who] are racers. He likes to go for the win every time out.”
Hooper’s passion for racing is in his blood. His father, Ray, used to run the Southern California short tracks. Hooper’s cousin, Lance, is a regular in the ARCA series and has had rides on the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Grand National circuits.
Gormly also was born to race. From the time he could ride a bike, he says, he would go out to watch races in Oswego, N.Y. He raced in the NASCAR late model division at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield and Saugus Speedway in the 1980s.
“The only sport I really like is auto racing,” Gormly said. “I might watch a little football or a little hockey. But auto racing is what I love.”
In 1982, Gormly moved from New York to the Antelope Valley, vowing never to return.
He eventually landed a job as a sales representative for a Los Angeles-based racing clutch manufacturer and distributor that had the Hoopers as clients. Working closely with auto racing teams, Gormly found himself at races most weekends.
If he wasn’t racing, he was helping on a friend’s crew or just hanging out in the pits. Gormly more often than not spent his time with Richard Hooper’s team.
Now Gormly is supporting Hooper’s team.
“The Lotto changed my life,” Gormly said. “If it wasn’t for the money, I’d be struggling to work for someone else or probably in the welfare line. It’s been very satisfying.”