PORT RICHEY, Fla.—Tire dealer Tom McCormick was the kind of guy who would put aside his distaste for shopping to go buy Christmas gifts for needy children.
If Mr. McCormick, founder of George's Wholesale Tires in Port Richey, knew someone financially distressed and in need of groceries, he would go buy some necessary staples for that person or family and personally drop them off at their home.
Because Mr. McCormick touched so many lives in the Port Richey/Tampa, Fla., area before his untimely death in 2009 from a motorcycle accident, his tire industry peers are holding a memorial “poker run” May 1 in his honor.
The event is open to anyone with any vehicle and features five stops where participants receive a card, with the best poker hand winning $500, the second-best wins $250 and the third-best $125.
Pre-registration for the poker run—which lasts through April 29—costs $15 per driver and $5 for each passenger. Registration on the day of the event begins at 8:30 a.m. at George's Wholesale Tires in Port Richey and costs $25 per driver and $10 per passenger.
Proceeds from registration fees will be donated in Mr. McCormick's honor to Hope Children's Home, a nonprofit organization in Tampa that rescues children from troubled, unwanted, abused and neglected situations.
Of the five stops on the poker run, Hope Children's Home is one of the locations, as well as three George's Wholesale Tires stores and a Harley-Davidson dealership in New Port Richey where Mr. McCormick bought many motorcycles over the years.
A heart for kids
Scott Morin, branch manager of Carroll Tire Co. in Tampa, is one of the event's organizers and was a friend of Mr. McCormick. He said the late tire dealer had a heart for underprivileged kids, so a poker run on behalf of Hope Children's Home seemed the best way to remember him.
“He had donated for years to (Hope Children's Home) and didn't want a whole lot of light shined on that,” Mr. Morin told Tire Business. “He wanted it to be anonymous…. It's an incredible place for disadvantaged kids that were either ditched by their parents or their parents wound up in jail. There's all kinds of different reasons these kids wind up there. It's a shelter for them and a good upbringing and a second chance at life.”
George's Wholesale Tires, Carroll Tire, Barron's Wholesale Tire Inc. and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. are all sponsoring the Tom McCormick Memorial Poker Run, and Mr. Morin said he's hoping more tire dealers and distributors will join in to show solidarity behind the cause.
Mr. Morin said he hopes to make the poker run an annual event to memorialize his friend. He described Mr. McCormick as a customer who became like a brother to him and convinced him to buy a motorcycle so they could ride together—but Mr. Morin said he never got the opportunity to take that ride with Mr. McCormick.
“He was a good customer of mine and we just got to be good friends,” Mr. Morin said. “Even on that level, he was always there to lend a shoulder to cry on or somebody to listen and give that brotherly advice.”
A go-to guy
Although he didn't personally volunteer with any organization, Mr. McCormick did participate behind the scenes in supporting his wife Carol's volunteer activities, particularly with fundraising. Ms. McCormick told Tire Business that for years she directed her church's affiliated ministry with Kids Hope USA, an international organization that partners adult mentors with at-risk school children—children with either behavior problems or issues with self-confidence and fitting in with their peers.
The mentoring program centered on a local elementary school in the Pasco County School District. Mr. McCormick would organize an annual golf tournament that would raise 90 percent of the funds she needed for Kids Hope, she said, and a lot of times that money was used to give families a decent Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“During the year, if we knew that the families needed something or were in trouble, we tried to be more than just the one hour a week mentor relationships,” Ms. McCormick said. “We really tried to reach out to the whole family and see what we could do to help.”
When Mr. Morin approached Ms. McCormick with the idea for the poker run, she told Tire Business she picked Hope Children's Home as the beneficiary because it's a reputable Christian ministry that serves the whole Tampa Bay area.
All in the family
Mr. McCormick had worked in the tire industry since 1974, when he left the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division to work for a former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. retail store, she said. He had also worked for tire dealerships Don Olson Firestone Inc. and Mike Gatto Inc. in Florida before founding George's Wholesale Tires with partner George Horianopoulos in 1995.
Mr. Horianopoulos died only months after the company's start, and Mr. McCormick continued to expand the business until George's Wholesale Tires was a wholesale and retail tire dealership operating eight locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, Ms. McCormick said.
Today, she and daughter Shawna operate two George's Wholesale Tire locations in Port Richey and New Port Richey. “Tom trained a couple people he knew to take over the other stores. Two of them are still operating as George's. One of them the gentleman renamed it to his name, and I closed two of them after (Tom's) death because logistically it was hard for me.”
Although there are two George's Wholesale Tires—one in Beverly Hills and one in Spring Hill, Fla.—that aren't owned by Ms. McCormick, she said they honor each other's prices and help each other out, much like franchises.
Ms. McCormick, who has a business management background in the insurance industry, handles the business side of her two stores while Shawna McCormick had worked with her father and learned the tire industry. She now oversees store operations and all contracting and purchasing.
Since her husband's death two years ago at age 55, Ms. McCormick admitted it has been a struggle to keep a dealership with 18 employees going. But she said she believes what her husband told her prior to his accident—that if George's company could survive this economy, it could make it through anything.
“I'll be honest with you, the advice I got was walk away,” she said, referring to the immediate aftermath of Mr. McCormick's death. “But because it is family, it's very hard to do that. There were 18 people depending on the business keeping up, and with the economy the way it was, they just knew that they couldn't just hop to some other place at this point. So we had to give it a try.”
The McCormicks were married 33 years and together for almost 40, and motorcycle riding was their hobby from the time they met, she said.
“I don't ride since he died and I don't know that I ever will again, but we'll see,” she said, adding that she will be on hand at the Port Richey store May 1 to register poker run participants and then oversee the entertainment activities.
Thus far, the poker run is attracting participants from the county sheriff's department, bike clubs and a Harley H.O.G. chapter from Tampa, Ms. McCormick said, adding that she won't know what turnout will look like until April 22, but she's getting many calls from groups interested in participating.
She attributed the interest to the fact that so many people knew Mr. McCormick and liked him.“Everybody loved him. He could have a really gruff exterior, but everybody was his friend…. It's kind of how he made everyone feel, like they were his best friend or one of his best friends.”