Bigelow, Whipple to Share
NEAR Mitchell-Ratta Media Award
September 20, 2016

The New England Auto Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame has named two St. Johnsbury, Vt., writers – Phil Whipple and Richard “Big” Bigelow – to share its annual Mitchell-Ratta Media Award for 2016.  The honor will be presented at the NEAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday, November 13.

Although the co-winners originally hail from the same town in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the paths that led them to document the local stock car racing scene were vastly different.

Bigelow was born into a racing family and cheered on his father, driver Jerry Bigelow, Northeastern Speedway’s final track champion in 1966.  Bigelow and his brother, Bob, began driving in the early 1980s; “Biggy” won a half-dozen races at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H., and in his final season, 1992, won the first feature ever run in the American-Canadian Tour’s present-day Late Model class at Thunder Road in Barre, Vermont.

Bigelow’s foray into media began with guest appearances on local racing radio programs in 1996.  He started writing his popular “Strap In!” column for his hometown daily Caledonian Record in April 1998, running 52 weeks a year.  Since his writing debut 18 years ago, Bigelow estimates that over some 900-plus weeks since his hire date he has only missed “maybe five or six” columns.

Whipple was introduced to the sport at age 18, sitting in the grandstands with his father for the 1979 Oxford 250 at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway.  From that day, he says, he was “totally hooked.”  He followed the sport locally for the next dozen years as a fan before he started penning the “Vermont Vibrations” column for Val LeSieur’s Speedway Scene trade paper in 1992.

Whipple spent several years as a public relations consultant for teams competing in the NASCAR Busch North Series in the early 1990s before getting back into journalism.  After relocating to Maine in 1995, his work began to appear in Trackside Magazine, New England Racing, and Busch North Scene.  He joined the staff of the daily Lewiston Sun Journal in 2000, where he continues to cover motorsports extensively in and around the Pine Tree State, most notable his beloved Oxford 250.

The Mitchell-Ratta Media Award is given each year by NEAR in memory of highly respected motorsports writers Charlie Mitchell of the Norwalk (Conn.) Hour and Jack Ratta of the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader.  Past recipients include auto racing media icons Chris Economaki, Mark “Bones” Bourcier, and Dave Moody.

NEAR will induct twelve new members into its Hall of Fame on November 13; drivers Ricky Craven, Randy LaJoie, Jerry Marquis, Ken Bouchard, Nokie Fornoro, George “Moose” Hewitt, Dwight Jarvis, and Fred Meeker are up for honors, along with broadcaster Jack Arute Jr., the multi-faceted John Burgess, and brothers Francis and Freelan Stanley, inventors of the “Stanley Steamer” automobile and former land speed record holders.

The NEAR Hall of Fame awards dinner will be held at Maneeley’s Banquet Hall, 65 Rye Street, South Windsor, CT, on Sunday, November 13. Click here for Ticket information and order form.