Beech Ridge Speedway builder/founder Jim “J.B.” McConnell passed away peacefully after a short illness near his winter home in Sarasota, Florida on December 4th. He enjoyed a healthy and active 96 years and maintained contact and interest in his speedway, keeping tabs on the sport through friends and family and with annual visits to the Ridge.
As a late-teen, McConnell got involved in racing with a Boston racing club while working near the city at an area airport. He developed a dream at that time of someday bringing auto racing to Maine.
Eventually returning to Maine and operating a sawmill in Scarborough, McConnell began a series of lumber-for-land swaps that led to a parcel of land along Holmes and Two Rod Roads that was big enough to hold his dream. He began construction on the speedway in 1948 and opened the pit gates on Sunday, May 30, 1949, to a field of about a dozen rookie race drivers. In doing so, J.B. McConnell ushered in the age of auto racing in the state of Maine.
Jim McConnell nurtured the growth of his fledgling speedway, and the growth of the sport in Maine, helping to form the race courses at Oxford Plains and Unity. With his field of drivers expanding, McConnell oversaw the introduction of the state’s first “touring series”, taking his drivers to race at an assortment of fairground horse tracks as well as new auto racing tracks that were popping up around the state – some of which survived, most of which did not.
The Father of Racing in Maine, Jim remained at the helm of Beech Ridge through the 1973 season before selling the track to one of his former drivers and colorful flagman, Cal Reynolds. The sale brought J.B.’s retirement at the age of 61, after successfully fulfilling his dream and guiding his speedway and the sport for 25 straight years.
McConnell was one of twelve inaugural inductees into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2004, and will be posthumously inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame in Connecticut next month.
One of Jim McConnell’s final Beech Ridge appearances came this past July, where he rode in the Speedway’s pace car during Scarborough’s 350th Anniversary Parade. Followed by a string of Ridge race cars, Jim answered the cheers and well wishes that were shouted to him from the parade route along U.S. Route 1, still serving as one of his town’s popular figures and ambassador to the sport and speedway that he loved.
As was his wish, a memorial service for Jim will be held at Beech Ridge Speedway later this Spring. Announcements of the date will be posted as details are finalized.
The Maine Vintage Race Car Association hosts its “Summerfest” reunion at Beech Ridge each August, and J.B. was always a popular visitor, enjoying his time with former drivers and associates of the Speedway. Recently, the M.V.R.C.A. purchased an enclosed trailer to transport some of Maine’s rich racing history and memorabilia to public events. The McConnell family requests that donations in Jim’s memory be made to the Maine Motorsports Mobile Museum Fund, 51 Heath Lane, Auburn, ME 04210, in support of keeping Jim’s dream alive.
Additional memorial wishes, cards, notes, thoughts or memorabilia will be accepted at the Speedway General Office, or by mail, and forwarded to the McConnell family:
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway
70 Holmes Road
Scarborough, ME 04074