Guilmino a winner on the track and in life

November 03, 2003|by MARK KELLER

Hearing the story of Vic Guilmino would make one think things haven't been going his way lately.

In the last 11 months, the 60-year-old Martinsburg resident and Hagerstown native has undergone open-heart surgery, lost his father and father-in-law and placed his mother in a nursing home.

Then there's what Guilmino describes as a "stabbing pain" in his back from what has been diagnosed as pressure on the spinal cord in his neck, possibly from a ruptured disc. He'll see a specialist at Johns Hopkins in early December.

On Tuesday, he asked me to excuse his speech, saying his mouth was still numb from an emergency root canal he had just hours earlier.


Still, through all of this adversity, Guilmino is the embodiment of the phrase, "Life goes on."

He's upbeat, friendly, engaging, funny and has plenty more stories than the ones he had time for in our one-hour conversation. Most of all, he's happy to still be around to tell the stories of his 60 years and, more specifically, the last 11 months.

It hasn't been all bad for Guilmino. On Oct. 10, he set a pair of National Hot Rod Association records at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., breaking the D/Stock Automatic class marks in the eighth-mile and quarter-mile.

Guilmino's love of drag racing and his desire to compete probably are the things that have kept him going as obstacles have been thrown in front of him over the past year.

And all those negative things that could have set him back have helped him to appreciate all of the good things in his life.

Guilmino has been drag racing since he was 18 years old, and his earliest runs were done secretively because his father was a Maryland state trooper and wouldn't allow his son to race.

"I did NOT want to get caught by my dad," Guilmino said.

He raced off and on from 1960-76, winning races at Indianapolis and Englishtown, N.J. He also spent time as a flagman at Mason Dixon Dragway in Hagerstown.

He took nearly 20 years off before buying a Buick Grand National and winning the Keystone Nationals in Bowling Green, Ky., in 1995.

In 1998, he missed out on an opportunity to buy a 1971 Mustang 429 from a seller in Colorado. Two years later, he found another '71 Mustang for sale in Pennsylvania.

Guilmino went to see the car - after assuring his wife, Sue, that they would only LOOK at the car - and found it was the same Mustang he had looked at two years before.

"The car came to me. I'm supposed to have this," Guilmino said. He bought the Mustang and has been racing it ever since.

Guilmino said he had a fair year racing in 2002. Looking back, it probably seemed like a banner season compared to what he experienced at the end of the year.

In late November, Guilmino went to his doctor for a complete physical, something he said he never had before.

He also requested a stress test, even though there was no family history of heart disease. Some of Guilmino's co-workers at Mack Trucks had undergone them, and he simply thought it would be a good idea.

How right he was. On his 60th birthday, Nov. 25, Guilmino underwent his stress test and said he had no problem getting through it. The test, however, showed something different.

The doctor called Guilmino the same day, telling him he had failed the stress test and needed to come back the next morning.

When he arrived, he was told he needed to have a catheterization test, which he refused.

"I told them to wait until the first of the year, then they could do whatever they wanted," Guilmino said. "(The doctor) said I had major blockages and I wouldn't make it until the first of the year."

Guilmino ended up at the Washington Hospital Center on a Friday night and was scheduled for surgery Monday morning. He underwent quadruple-bypass surgery less than a week after first discovering that he was sick.

"I wasn't lucky racing that year, but I sure was lucky in life," Guilmino said.

Guilmino said he's undergone several surgeries in his life - including on his back and a hernia - but that his heart surgery was the easiest of all.

He returned to work in February 2003, right around the time his father passed away.

He started racing again in April, but within three months, he had lost his father-in-law.

"That could have been all three of us gone in an eight-month stretch," Guilmino said, shaking his head.

In between, he moved his mother, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, into Homewood at Williamsport.

Guilmino kept racing, however, winning the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis and the Lucas Oil Nationals in Reading before his record-setting runs - 6.65 seconds over 1/8-mile and 10.56 seconds over 1/4-mile - in The Dutch Classic at Reading.

He's running today at Mason Dixon Dragway in the Stock Superstock Races with the knowledge that, if not for what Guilmino calls "dumb luck," he might not even be around to watch the races, let alone particpate in them.

"Look, I'm 60 years old. I'm tickled that I'm still able to do what I was doing when I was 18 or 20 and still be competitive," Guilmino said. "Other sports, running, cycling or whatever ... when you're 60 years old, you're finished.

"I enter and race now just to have a good time, and I'm still playing with the 20-year-olds that are there to win it all. And I still send them home on occasion."

Without a doubt, Guilmino enjoys every minute of that, just as he now enjoys every minute of his life.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at

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