“The Champ”

Rene Charland, affectionately known to many racing fans simply as “The Champ” could use some well-wishes from his fans. The 79-year-old Agawam, MA native began his career at the old Riverside Park Speedway in 1949 and ended it in1984 at Fonda Speedway. Equally skilled on dirt and pavement, Charland recorded an estimated 700 victories during his esteemed career.

According to National Speed Sport News, Charland is now in a nursing home and experiencing dimentia. Anyone that would like to send well-wishes to the Hall of Famer can do so at the following address: 

Rene Charland – No. 24 Pineview Commons
201 S. Melcher St.
Johnstown, NY 12095

Pineview’s number is: (518) 762-5488. 

His success took him all the way to the high banks of Daytona, where he competed in the NASCAR Modifieds, Late Model Sportsman and ARCA classes. Of his nine appearances in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Charland captured his best finish in 1966 at the famed Fonda Speedway with a third place finish behind David Pearson and Richard Petty. 

Charland is best known for his exceptional career in Modified racing. Charland was a member of the Eastern Bandits, a legendary group of New England racers that included Ed Flemke, Sr., Red Foote and Denny Zimmerman. The “Bandits” barnstormed tracks along the eastern seaboard during the 1960s, often bringing most of the purse back to Yankee territory. Tracks that they frequented include Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Virginia and bygone tracks like Marlboro, Maryland and Old Bridge, New Jersey. Many of the tracks that the Eastern Bandits competed on were NASCAR-sanctioned, which helped Charland gain valuable points towards the national championship. His quest was achieved as he notched an unprecedented four consecutive NASCAR Sportsman national titles between 1962 and 1965. A fiery Memorial Day crash at Malta ended his bid for the 1966 championship, but he still have gained enough points to earn third place in the final standings. 

When Charland stopped running for the national title, he turned his focus towards a special dirt track, Fonda Speedway. It was there that he won the most races in 1967 and would go on to claim the track title in 1970. A victory in the prestigious 1974 Lebanon Valley 200 added to his laurels and his legend. 

Charland was synonymous with the #3 but he also drove for well-known car owners like the Czepiel Special #888, Russ Bentz #59 and the Platt Bros. #99.

Since his retirement, Charland has been honored by several auto racing Halls of Fame including the New York State Stock Car Association (1989), DIRT Motorsports (1996) and a charter membership in the New England Auto Racers in 1998. 

Below is a list of some of his wins and championships: 

  • 2-time Rhythm Inn Speedway champion (1954-55)
  • 5 Non-Ford wins at Waterford Speedbowl in 1959
  • 4 Modifed wins at Riverside Park
  • 1961 Norwood Arena Sportsman champion
  • 2-time Stafford Sportsman champion (1961-62)
  • 1963 Islip Sportsman champion
  • 3-time Utica-Rome Modified champion (1961-62, 1964)
  • 4-time NASCAR Sportsman National champion (1962-65)
  • 1965 Old Bridge Stadium Sportsman champion (Tied with Pat Moon)
  • 1965 New York State NASCAR Modified champion
  • 1966 Vermont Governors Cup winner (Modified at Catamount)
  • 1970 Fonda Speedway track champion
  • 1974 Lebanon Valley 200 winner
  • Track champion at Brattleboro, VT; Keene, NH; Old Dominion Speedway, Manassas, VA; and Fort Dix, NJ
  •  4-time Canadian National champion

Sources: VintageModifieds.com
New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame
Photo Credit: Russ Bergh Photo at CatamountStadium.com

January 2008
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