Spirit of Mazda: Ann O’Malley

Late “Track Mom” and wife of Dave Wheeler remembered for taking care of racers

Dave Wheeler says he knew that Ann O’Malley was a keeper – and must have liked him – when she came back to Blackhawk Farms for a second day after her first visit to a racetrack ever. Her lack of exposure to motorsports made her eagerness to jump in and take care of racers all the more remarkable. It is why O’Malley, who passed away from a brain tumor earlier this year, is being honored with a posthumous Spirit of Mazda award.

“Everybody called her the track mom, because she took care of everybody,” says Wheeler, who owns Advanced Autosports, a prep shop specializing in Spec Miata in Beloit, Wis. “We would have 12 or 15 cars at the racetrack and she made sure everybody had water and Gatorade and made lunch. She went and woke people from their motorhome when they were taking naps and overslept.”

Wheeler and O’Malley met on a dating website 11 years ago. Their first date was on a Tuesday before the June Sprints and Wheeler attempted to explain where he was going that weekend, but it was all new to her. On the way back from Road America, he called O’Malley and they talked for two hours. Her willingness to not only accompany Wheeler to Blackhawk Farms, but also return for another day, was a pretty good sign. And being new to the motorsports game herself, she took a special interest in others learning the ropes.

“She really liked dealing with the newbies, the people that were just kind of confused,” Wheeler says. “She had the patience that I don’t have to deal with them and made sure they knew where to go and when to go there. And she explained to people that when they went through registration for a test day, they still needed to go through for the race day. She was good at that kind of stuff for someone who has absolutely zero background in racing until she met me.”

Like most people who spend years around the sport, it wasn’t so much the cars or the competition that O’Malley loved, it was the racers, the crews and their families.

“I’ve said for years that you go to the racetrack the first few times for the cars, then you keep going back for 30 years for the people. She just really enjoyed the people we race with, both the direct customers and the indirect customers that were buying parts form us – but also everybody else. She was real good with the humanity side of it,” Wheeler notes. 

Her actions align perfectly with tomoiku, learning and teaching each other for mutual growth and success. For that, and for taking care of people plus so much more, Ann O’Malley is the Spirit of Mazda award winner for July.