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T.E. McHale – an appreciation

December 23, 2021
T.E. McHale with author Gordon Kirby at the 2019 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

On the Winter Solstice, the motorsports community, in particular the INDYCAR family, is mourning one of its own. T.E. McHale, 68, who managed Honda’s Honda Performance Development (HPD) racing public relations duties, elevated Honda Racing to a place where, even if you didn’t know him, you knew his work and his love for the sport of racing.

McHale started in the business with the Mansfield News-Journal, published in the Ohio city of the same name. Mansfield is the small town closest to MId-Ohio Sports Car Course, where he would come to write stories about the different racing activities occurring at this renown road course. He made great friends in the racing business during his tenure at the paper, from 1978-1995.

McHale was plucked from the anonymity of small-town newspaper reporting by Adam Saal, then the communications director for Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and the two of them, working in concert, were magic. McHale started in 1996 as a pit note reporter and soon became the news manager at CART, from 1997-2001. He moved on to be communications director for the Trans-Am Series in 2002 and then found his home, in 2003, as Honda Racing’s manager of motorsports public relations and communications from 2003 until his 2020 retirement.

T.E. usually had a smile on his face, but when it was time, he was all business

Like Adam Saal, T.E. McHale became involved with the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (MSHFA) and joined its board of directors, at one point becoming its chairman. Saal, who would know, said that, at its height HPD’s success could be summed up in McHale’s leadership. “After the departure of Honda motorsports icons Tom Elliott and Robert Clarke, it was the unassuming T.E. who was truly the heart and soul and most visible leader of Honda’s racing programs.” When McHale joined the MSHFA, “I was delighted we worked together again almost as close as we had in the previous century.”

Many beneficial programs to racers that seemed to spring up without provocation, were the work of T.E. McHale, whose generosity of spirit kept many in the media fed and clothed away from the tracks. Through his efforts, Honda became the presenting sponsor of the Road Racing Drivers Club (RRDC) Safe is Fast program and aided the publishing of Lionheart – Remembering Dan Wheldon, about his friend, the late Dan Wheldon, who won the Indianapolis 500 twice, the second time the year he died. He secured many civic-minded “deals” for Honda and Acura, most recently sponsorship of the longest-running street race in the United States, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Fittingly, T.E. McHale, a quiet man with a wide smile, let no one know he was dealing with fourth stage colon cancer until shortly before his death. His stoicism was something you could see in the man, but it was his graciousness to everyone around him that was his true calling card. He never let the small-town aura dissipate and always remembered his beginnings. And he never forgot the people who were at his side from the start.

McHale’s domain at the NTT IndyCar Series races was the Honda Racing coach and attached hospitality unit. The food is always extraordinary, the best restaurant in town – no matter which town INDYCAR visits. The menu is diverse and one item is served on a regular basis: Brussels Sprouts. McHale, whose sense of humor was truly infectious, had a rule: if you didn’t eat at least one sprout, you were not entitled to the (homemade) desserts. There were howls of protests from some in the media, but the rule was always The Rule.

It was “the rule” and the Brussels sprouts were always delicious – as were the desserts!

As news of his passing began, the tributes poured in from media members, those who worked with him, like Saal, and the drivers with whom he worked. “There are very few relationships in this world I cherished as much as the one I had with T.E.,” said Graham Rahal. “Very few races in my career have gone by without him coming to see me before the start, saying ‘Godspeed’. Now it’s my turn: Godspeed, T.E. You’ll be missed, my friend.”

Dario Franchitti, who drove Honda-powered cars almost exclusively during his stellar INDYCAR career (he was in a Mercedes-Benz-powered car his first year in the US), had a tradition with McHale during his professional driving career. Before he climbed into a car – no matter the race – Franchitti and McHale would be locked in a hug. It acknowledged their respect, even love for one another and the fact that they both knew there might not be a hug later. “It might have made others uncomfortable,” Franchitti acknowledged, “but not me.”

Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta and Tony Kanaan at a Honda Hospitality media gathering

McHale lost his beloved wife Brenda in 2016, but continued to work through his grieving. When offered a retirement package in 2020, he decided to take it, as COVID ravaged the world. He might have known the motorsports world he loved would be turned on its head. He was that smart and savvy.

I’d known T.E. McHale from his time at the Mansfield newspaper – his mom introduced us! – and through every successive climb up the racing ladder. Although he never turned a lap in a racing car, T.E. McHale embodied passion for the sport and its populace that will far, far, outlive his time on earth.

Words and Photos By Anne Proffit 

Tags: NTT IndyCar Series, Honda, Honda Performance Development, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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One Comment
  1. Fabulous article and photos, Kirby is ageing well, and i never met McHale but i did hear about him and that sign is hysterical. i once had toast with and then eat a LIMA BEAN. This is real sad but your article is a fitting tribute. you know who

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