The walls of Tim Rooney's office at Yonkers Raceway in New York are covered with pictures of his father. Tim, 76, has run the horse track since Art Sr. purchased it in 1972, and it is not an exaggeration to say Tim's entire existence is a creation of his father's love -- and luck.
The Chief may have bought a football team in 1933 for $2,500, but his passions remained boxing, baseball and racing.
In the summer of 1937, the Chief made a stop at Yonkers and got hot. He made enough money to bankroll an ensuing trip to Saratoga, where his legend as one of the best handicappers in the world was born. Art Sr. won a small fortune that day with friend and New York Giants owner Tim Mara as his bookmaker, and Art Sr., riding the wave of gratitude, promised Mara that he would name his newborn third son after him.
The story doesn't stop there. Tim Rooney's daughter, Kathleen Rooney, married one of Tim Mara's grandsons, Chris Mara. Kathleen and Chris produced two movie-star granddaughters, Patricia "Rooney" Mara and Kate Mara, making Tim's the glamorous branch of the Rooney tree.
That Tim still runs the race track where it all started makes sense. In 2009, the NFL forced the Rooneys to choose between the Steelers and their gambling interests. Tim and Pat, who run the Palm Beach Kennel Club in Florida, sold their 16 percent interest in the team.
Tim has always been more interested in racing anyway.
He remembers the way the Chief would take in a race, cigar in hand, with little reaction no matter the result.
Possibly the most treasured part of those race days was getting there. It meant you and the old man were in the car for hours, with nothing to do but talk or listen to a baseball game. The Chief always owned a Buick, but it was the boys who drove it.
On draft day, when Art Jr.'s second pick came around, he selected their father's last Buick, a 1984 Electra. But, within a few years, Art Jr. and Tim agreed that Tim could take the big black tank of a vehicle back to New York with him.
Today, it rests in a garage at Yonkers Raceway, smelling strongly of cigar smoke. Every couple of years or so, Tim will take it for a ride.
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Tim Rooney was 16 years old the first time his father let him drive. He nearly wrecked the car, scraping the side of a tunnel while attempting to change lanes. Art Sr. yelled at him for a bit, and then it was over.
Yonkers Raceway, the last Buick (Click image for larger version)
In the summer of 1937, the Chief made a stop at Yonkers and got hot. He eventually bought the place. Getting to the race was always part of the fun for the Rooney boys. And getting there always meant taking the old man's Buick -- he always owned a Buick.
Art Jr. originally picked the car, a 1984 Electra, but he and Tim later agreed that the car could go to New York to a garage in Yonkers. It still smells like cigar smoke.
Because of the racetrack and its ties to gambling, Tim sold his share of the Steelers in 2009.
The Chief put all of his sons through this rite of passage. Tim became Art Sr.'s go-to guy for road trips because they'd always shared an interest in racing. While his brothers would gladly go to the beach on the family's trips to New Jersey, Tim would tag along with his father and spend time at the stables because he wasn't old enough to enter the track clubhouse.
Yet, in the 1960s, when the Chief became interested in entering the racing business, he didn't appoint Tim. He had a good job in a Pittsburgh investment firm, while Pat and John were working at a copper mill in sales and as a schoolteacher, respectively.
The Chief offered Pat, who was making $4,500 a year, and John, who was making $3,800, a chance to run Liberty Bell, a horse track near Philadelphia, for $8,000 apiece.
"I jumped in my car and drove home and told my wife, 'We're moving,' " Pat says. "In 1960, 8,000 bucks, I just couldn't believe you could make that much money."
In 1970, the Chief purchased the Palm Beach Kennel Club, a South Florida greyhound track. At that point, Tim was ready. He ran the track for a few years until Art Sr. bought Yonkers, handing the reins in New York over to Tim for good. Pat eventually would move to Florida to take over the operation there. The family would sell its share of Liberty Bell, and John would transition into running their oil and gas interests out of Louisiana.
"The Chief gave us the opportunity to have our own identity," Pat says.
Every night, as a matter of routine, the Chief would pick up the phone and call Tim, Pat and John to check in. With Dan and Art Jr., who was in charge of the Steelers' player scouting, all he had to do was walk down the hall of the team's bunker at Three Rivers Stadium.