New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame Announces 20th Class

Contributed by Justin St. Louis

 

 

 

Diverse group of eight to be inducted in November

                                                                                                                                                             

SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. – The New England Auto Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame has announced that it will induct eight new members into its Class of 2017 – the 20th year for the region’s most prestigious honor roll.  A wide-ranging group of drivers, car owners and builders, one crew chief, and one multi-faceted contributor will join the NEAR Hall of Fame, raising the total to 225 members enshrined.

Steve Bird, Ben Dodge Jr., Tom Dunn, Russ Wood, Bobby Gahan, Gardiner Leavitt, and racing brothers Jeff and Rick Fuller will be formally inducted into the NEAR Hall of Fame on Sunday, November 12, at Maneely’s Banquet Hall in South Windsor, Connecticut.  For more information including placing a ticket order, visit the official NEAR website at www.NEAR1.org.

A native of Salem, N.H., Bird made a lasting impression on the national NASCAR trail as an elite crew chief.  After getting his start in the 1970s with barnstorming NEAR Hall of Fame driver Pete Fiandaca in the Modified ranks, Bird graduated to travel the coast-to-coast Winston Cup and Busch Series circuits for more than 20 years.

“Birdie” was a crew member for Ron Bouchard’s 1981 Cup win at Talladega, and then later as a crew chief he prepared winning cars for Busch drivers Steve Grissom, Kenny Wallace, and the late Robbie Moroso; Bird and Moroso won the championship together in 1989.  Bird dominated in 1995-97 when he won three consecutive Busch titles and 12 races with BACE Motorsports drivers Johnny Benson Jr. and NEAR Hall of Famer Randy LaJoie.

Ben Dodge Jr. enters the NEAR Hall of Fame for his work as an announcer, race promoter, track manager, and media personality.  Dodge got his start on the microphone at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass., in 1973 at age 19, and his voice quickly became well-known and respected.  Dodge became more deeply involved at ‘The Park’ when he became the promoter in 1982 and held that position for 15 seasons; during that time, Dodge helped transform the speedway from a flat 1/5-mile oval into a racy, banked 1/4-mile under NASCAR sanction.

The Vernon, Conn., native was later a key player at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway in 1997-98 and again from 2005 to 2012, where he was the announcer and part of the management team.  Dodge hit the television and radio airwaves, too, producing and anchoring 325 episodes of “Raceweek” on the New England Sports Network (NESN) starting in 1981, “NASCAR New England” in 2005-07, and hosting the syndicated “This Week In Racing” radio program from 1979-96.  Dodge also owned a Modified team and collected a handful of victories.

Wrentham, Mass., native Tom Dunn was a prolific winner both in straight lines and on short tracks.  He began drag racing in 1953 and at one point enjoyed an incredible five-year undefeated streak; his top victory came in an NHRA national event at Lebanon Valley (N.Y.) Dragway in 1964.  Dunn went oval racing as a car owner in 1971, briefly running Late Models before switching to Modifieds and Pro-4 Mini-Modifieds.

Fielding the famous No. T-5 Pinto wagon, a who’s-who of Modified stars drove for Dunn including Richie Evans, Bugsy Stevens, George Summers, Ollie Silva, Mike Ordway, Bentley Warren, and others.  Championships came with drivers Fred Schulz, Leo Cleary, and Jeff Fuller, and Cleary and Dave Lind won titles in Dunn’s Pro-4 cars.  Dunn was also revered as a master engine builder, working with Modified, Mini-Modified, and Midget teams.

Russ Wood of Pelham, N.H., is a legend in Supermodified racing.  During his time with the International Supermodified Association (ISMA), he collected 54 race victories – second on the series’ all-time list – and a record eight ISMA championships from 1991 through 2011.

Wood was the track champion at Star Speedway in 1988, 1989, and 2000, and at Lee USA in 1996; he missed the title at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway in 1994 by just 12 points.  His best season was in 1997 when he won 14 of his 28 total starts and never finished worse than fourth place, and among his total 111 career wins are a record eight Star Classics and four wins in Ohio’s Sandusky Classic.

Lee, N.H., native Bobby Gahan piled up incredible records as a weekly “Saturday night” racer on a tight budget.  Following in the footsteps of his legendary father, Ernie, Bobby started racing in 1968 at age 19.  Gahan is celebrated for his efficiency, longevity, and versatility, winning for nearly 40 years in open-wheel Modifieds and full-fender Late Models and Pro Stocks.

Gahan won a total of 13 track championships at Lee USA, Star Speedway, and Hudson International in his home state, as well as Maine’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway; his three consecutive Modified titles at Beech Ridge came on dirt in 1985 and on asphalt in 1986 and ’87.  Gahan was the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series New England Region champion in 1998 and won nearly 200 feature races during his career.

Gardiner Leavitt is perhaps the sentimental favorite in the Class of 2017.  While not a frequent winner, “The Geezer From Kezar” – as in, Kezar Falls, Maine – has been a significant contributor and a favorite among fans and drivers alike since his 1951 debut behind the wheel.  The expert chassis builder and parts dealer called Beech Ridge home and did manage to win several races including a 200-lapper.

Leavitt and his wife, June, hit the road in the 1970s and ran with NASCAR North and later the American-Canadian Tour until his retirement in 1988; his stat line includes a fourth-place finish in the 1979 point standings.  After taking on the role of car owner, his familiar No. 1X cars carried Brad Leighton, Glenn Cusack, and Steve Knowlton, and won an ACT race at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway with Kelly Moore aboard in 1989.

For the first time in NEAR history, two brothers will be included in the same Hall of Fame class, as Auburn, Mass., products Jeff and Rick Fuller will join the club.  Jeff Fuller won the 1992 championship on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and his 31 career wins rank him fifth on the all-time list, with victories at 10 tracks including Martinsville Speedway, Nazareth Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Oxford Plains.

Jeff Fuller scored two major wins in full-size stock cars in 1996, earning a NASCAR Busch Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway in August and a Busch North Series win in the Thompson Speedway 300 the next month.  Jeff drove Tom Dunn’s No. T-5 to the Westboro (Mass.) Speedway Modified championship in 1979 and 1981, and also won the 1982 Westboro Late Model title.

Rick Fuller owns 20 NASCAR Modified Tour victories (eighth all-time) and succeeded his older brother as the champion in 1993.  Rick finished 17 of his 18 full-time seasons running the Tour inside the Top 10 and ranked third or better six times.  He was voted the series’ Most Popular Driver in 2000.

Before his Tour years, Rick Fuller was a big winner in weekly competition, taking countless feature wins and Late Model titles at Westboro in 1980 and Thompson in 1982, as well as Modified titles at Thompson in 1984 and the New London-Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl in 1985.  Rick later won a NASCAR Busch North Series race at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway in 1998.

The NEAR Hall of Fame awards dinner will be held at Maneeley’s Banquet Hall in South Windsor, Conn., on Sunday, November 12.  Still to be announced are Hall of Fame selections from the Veterans’ Committee and the winner of NEAR’s annual Mitchell-Ratta Media Award.  For more information, visit www.NEAR1.org.

HOF TICKET FORM 2017

September NEAR upcoming Events!!

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Thanks to Bill Henry for the article and picture selections.

 

First on the calendar is the yearly trip to Claremont Speedway ,  282 Thrasher Rd, Claremont, New Hampshire. The New England Antique Racers are due to sign into the pits starting at  3 P.M. this Friday, Sept. 1st .  This is a running show, please be prepared to show the spectators that we have many  excellent running vintage race cars. Come out and enjoy the show!  Remember, given the cool week we have just had,  to bring a sweater or sweat shirt as it does get cool in the evening in the White Mountains.

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On Sunday September 17th,  there is the traditional Danbury Reunion show. Again this year,  sign in is from 8 am  to 10 am and the show runs from 10 am  to 3 pm. This is an inside venue so it will be held rain or shine  at  the Danbury P .A.L. Building located at 35 Haynestown Road in Danbury, CT.  This is always a well attended show with race fans from the day with their children and near 1Danbury 2016 006grandchildren in tow. Food will be available for purchase along with numerous souvenirs.  There is an autograph session with many drivers and legends  present to satisfy the desires of the fans. There is live music that just replicates the feel of the Danbury of old.  Come and support NEAR and the HOF truck. Tickets will be on sale for the HOF banquet to be held on November  12th,  2017,  as well as forms to renew your membership for 2018.  Follow the signs from route 84 to this most pleasurable event.

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On Saturday September 23 the Plainville Reunion Committee will be holding the annual Plainville Speedway reunion.  The event is held on the grounds  of the Berlin Fair on Beckley Road.  This year’s event is the first to be held previous to the weekend of the Fair . The members do an excellent job with Plainville 2013 004signs to direct you in from Rte 9  or tthe Berlin Turnpike.  This event draws many of the former drivers who will be on hand to sign autographs and talk about the tight ¼ mile track that challenged many a driver. It is a great day for car owners and fans. The show runs from 10 to 3.  There will be food and gift items for sale.  

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Waterford Event on 7/29/17 A Big Hit!

The  recent  Waterford  Event  in  July  was  well  attended and  a  big  hit  with  the  crowd.  The  Mobile  Museum  was on  hand  along  with  a  nice  group  of  antique  cars  on display  and  running.  NEAR  also  had  an  event  on  the same  day  up  north  at  Speedway  51, N.H.  The  sharing  and  preservation  of  New  England’s  Racing  History  is alive  and  well  at  each  track  we  visit!

All photos courtesy of Bill Henry

 

 

 

Seekonk Speedway next up for NEAR racers on Saturday, August 12th, 2017

  SEEKONK  SPEEDWAY   RUNNING  EVENT   8/12/17

Racers can sign in starting at 1 p.m. for this running show.

The NEAR Mobile Museum will also be on display on the midway during the evening’s event.  Always well attended, Seekonk is a favorite destination during the hot dog days of August. Bring the family down to see some great antique car  and regular track series racing!

Summer Knights Car Show-1st NEAR Event of 2017

SUNDAY, APRIL 30TH, 2017  SAW  THE  MEMBERS  OF  NEAR  PARTICIPATE  IN  THE SUMMER  KNIGHTS  CAR  SHOW  AT  THE   BERLIN  FAIR  FACILITY  IN  CT.  A  BANNER  CROWD  WAS  ON  HAND,  ALONG WITH  A  FINE  SELECTION  OF  HOT  RODS, DRAG  CARS, STREET  SLEEPERS,  AND  RACE  CARS.  ANGIE  BULLOCK  AND  BILL  KEMP  HAD THE BEAUTIFUL  88  COUPE  AND THEIR  NEW  DESPERADO  RACING  “LAMBORGHINI” GOLF CART ON HAND.  THE  COUPE  LATER  WON A TROPHY,  AS  DID  THE #19  PINTO  OF  TOM  MACIAG.  ALSO  IN  ATTENDANCE  WERE  THE 7NY  OF  JIM  WILLIAMS,  THE  #5   OF  GEORGE  CLEVELAND,  AND  THE  #53  VEGA  OF  STEVE   ZUKOWSKI.  PLENTY  OF  NEAR  MEMBERS  WERE  ALSO  THERE  HELPING  DISPLAY  THE  HALL  OF  FAME  TRUCK  AND  RECALLING  GOOD  TIMES  FROM  LONG  AGO.  THANKS  TO  ALL  WHO  CAME  OUT, AND  CONGRATULATIONS  TO  THE  TROPHY  WINNERS!