By Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor
While some women in their 60s are slowing down, one Boyne City native is only speeding up.
You won’t find Mary Hawley knitting socks from a rocking chair on a warm summer day because she’s too busy setting land speed records.
“It doesn’t really feel like you’re going that fast,” said Mary, who recently set the land speed record for 1,000 cc engines on the salt flats in Utah. “If you drive a vehicle on the highway, the trees and everything kind of zip past you, but on the salt flats it’s just all white—there’s nothing to see go by.”
If you’re impressed with her feat because of her age, then you should also know this was Mary’s first time behind the wheel of a race car.
Mary’s husband Jay Hawley is also a land speed record holder, and it was at his urging that Mary gave racing a try.
“He’s always wanted a timing slip from the salt flats,” Mary said. “We’ve been going out there since 1994, and some friends built the truck with that in mind.”
Jay set his record last year in the same Chevy S10 pickup that his wife used in recent weeks to get into the record books.
Jay’s notable speed was 137 mph and Mary’s was 132.8.
However, during one of the runs Mary made, she topped 140 mph.
Unfortunately, due to her second qualifying run being rained out, her top eligible time was the lower speed.
Originally from Boyne City, the Hawleys now live in Utah.
They became involved in racing at the salt flats almost by accident.
“My wife’s parents came out in 1994, and Mary and her mother went to Wendover to gamble and her father and I went to Bonneville to see the races,” Jay said. “That kind of hooked me.”
While at that first race, Jay met the Burkdoll family, which consists of three generations of race car drivers.
“We established an acquaintanceship with them and crewed and supported their efforts when they were running a streamliner that went 300 mph or a little better,” Jay said.
Mary added, “We’ve just been going out ever since then.”
According to Mary, the project to build the S10 for Jay’s race was a secret.
“The fellow that built the truck, B.J., is kind of like a son to us so it’s kind of a family thing,” she said. “He and his wife and kids were there, and his mom and dad were there, and his brother was there, and it was hugs all around.”
Mary said watching her husband set a record last year was the most exciting part because it was all a surprise to him.
“He didn’t know they were building the truck until they were two-and-a-half months in,” she said. “Last year, it brought tears to my eyes; this year, it was just excitement because I knew I had gone that fast and I had set a new record.”
Jay said his wife was a little skeptical at first, but once he got her in the seat, she enjoyed driving.
“I thought it was fantastic,” he said. “She made a pass and while she was waiting to make another pass, she commented that she wished we had been doing this 20 years ago.”
Jay added, “I just wish the run she ran at 140 mph hadn’t been rained out.”
Not to worry, said Mary, because she is far from finished.
“My husband had two chances and I’m thinking I need to have two chances to beat his record,” she said.
Jay said he is very proud of his wife, and thankful to the Burkdoll family for making the experience possible.
“We were extremely fortunate,” Jay said. “I’ve seen people struggle out there and try to qualify and set a land speed record for a long time.”
He added, “We were incredibly fortunate to have some people behind us that knew what they were doing.”
Mary said her family considers her the daredevil of the family.
“I thought it was very adventurous of her to try something new,” said Mary’s sister Maxine Stark-Behling.
Mary said it is difficult to put into words the fun she and Jay had and encourages everyone considering racing to give it a try.
“Go for it. It’s something that they’ll never forget,” she said. “You couldn’t even imagine doing it unless you’ve been out there.”
Mary added, “If you’ve never been, you gotta go.”
The Hawleys’ records are contained in the USFRA or Utah Salt Flats Racing Association record book and SCTA which is the Southern California Timing Association record book.
Jay and Mary graduated from Boyne City High School in 1967 and moved out of the area in the early 1970s, though most of their extended families still reside in the Boyne area.