NEAR Hall of Fame Ticket Deadline

The deadline for ordering tickets for the New England Auto Racers Hall of Banquet being held on Jan. 25, 2009 is this Thursday Jan. 15th.

Three drivers, two owner/builders and three from the promotional side make up the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Class of 2009.

Drivers John Fitch, Bobby Dragon and Paul Richardson, promoters Bob Bahre, Jim McConnell and Tom Curley and car owner/ builders Rollie Lindblad and Art Barry will be inducted on Jan. 25, 2009 at LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT.

Tickets, $42 apiece, are on sale on the New England Antique Racers website www.NEAR1.com or by clicking on the link above.

Currently the president of the American Canadian Tour and the co-owner/promoter at Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedway, Curley, 65, has been RPM’s Northeast Promoter of the Year three times. A one-time competitor, he’s been on the promotional side since the late 1979s. Guiding the fortunes of NASCAR North, ACT and a number of individual tracks, his resume includes the ’04 RPM North American Promoter of the Year, 1992 Trackside Magazine Promoter of the Year and 2003 Lowe’s Motor Speedway Short Track Promoter of the Year.

The still active Dragon, 62, joins brother Harmon “Beaver,” on the Hall of Fame roster. The Vermonter has almost 140 victories in Late Models and Modifieds, including the 1972 Milk Bowl, two New England 300s at Catamount Stadium and Busch North wins at Watkins Glenn and Nazareth. In addition to four Catamount championships, the ’78 NASCAR North champ, he has two Thunder Road and one Devil’s Bowl crowns.

Few drivers surpass Richardson, 61, when it comes to versatility. Starting at Pines Speedway in a bomber in 1965, the Groveland, MA resident is fifth on the all-time New England Super Modified Racing Association win list. He scored back-to-back Star Classic wins in 1985-86. He won a Modified crown at Star in 1973 and posted Late Model wins at Catamount, Thunder Road (the Milk Bowl) and Hudson. Injured at Star in 1996, he endured months of therapy to win the series opener at Star in 1997 in one of New England’s great comeback stories.

Rollie Lindblad, 61, has touched a multitude of auto racing disciplines often with revolutionary results. Coming from drag racing, he turned to Midget racing with the Badger in the early 1970s. He did the same in Supermodifieds (winning an ISMA owner title with Denny Wheeler), in Modifieds (notably the #7 Ron-Bouchard-driven Vega) and in Pro Stocks, winning three titles in the latter class at Seekonk. He just may be New England’s most prolific builder of winning racecars.

Generally acknowledged as the man who brought “major league’ auto racing to New England, Bahre, a Northeastern Midget Association owner, “saved” Maine’s Oxford Plains Motor Speedway. He made the track and the Oxford 250 one of the top facilities and short track events in the nation. He changed the face of the sport with the mile-long New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Although it has hosted Sprint Cup racing since 1993, Bahre made sure “local series,” notably the Modifieds and Late Models, were part of the program.

Back-to-back NASCAR Whelen National Modified championships (2001-02 with driver Mike Stefanik) top the resume of Barry, 73. In 56 years of competition, the Glasgo, CT native, who started racing at nearby Waterford Speedbowl, has won on 26 tracks from Maine to the Carolinas. His major wins include two Thompson 300 wins, two Spring Sizzler wins, two wins at Martinsville and two at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Barry’s SPAFCO brand is the top of chassis in Modified racing.

Fitch, 91, has incredible credentials including impressive performances on the grandest courses in the world (Italy’s Mille Miglia, Watkins Glen, Sebring, LeMans) over an 18-year span. A competitive sailor before becoming a driver, he drove for, among others, Mercedes-Benz and Connecticut’s Briggs Cunningham. A World War II hero, he was the Sports Car Club of America’s first champion and Lime Rock Park’s first general manager. He continues to be one of the world’s top crusaders for safety on both the track and highway.

Jim McConnell, 96, is regarded as the founder and grandfather of racing in the State of Maine. He was an innovator as builder, promoter, organizer and championship car owner. A life-long Mainer, he built Beech Ridge Speedway in 1948-49, setting in motion the excitement the state now enjoys. His Maine State Stock Car Association, started in 1949, lasted 35 years. McConnell had a direct hand in the establishment of many tracks including Oxford Plains, Unity, and Arundel. He played a leading hand in the establishment of Star Speedway.

Open cockpit sensation Burt Brooks, stock car ace Harold ‘Hardluck’ Hannaford and car owner Bertha Small are the Veteran Committee selections for induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

New Britain, CT-based Brooks won four straight (1950-53) ARDC Ford championships and four URC Sprint Car crowns in five years (1954-1958) in a 23-year career that ended with his untimely death at Hershey, PA in 1968. With well over 100 wins, he ranks as one of New England’s premier open cockpit drivers.

The first female in the NEAR Hall of Fame, the late Small fielded cars for Jack Foley, Joe McNulty, Cy Yates, Red Bolduc and Hop Harrington over a 12-year (1950-61) run. The cars ran at Seekonk, Norwood, Kingstown, Waterford, Lonsdale. Denied entrance because of her sex, Small often directed things from outside the pit fence.

A New Hampshire native, Hannaford made a definite mark throughout Northern New England. An outstanding competitor through the 1950s and into the 1960s, his resume includes two of the first three (1962, ’64) Milk Bowls and multiple championships at Thunder Road. A competitor at Daytona in the 60s, he won his last race at Bryar Motor Sports Park in 1966.

In addition Chris Economaki, “The Dean of American Motorsports” will receive the Jack Ratta Memorial Media Award.

“Hooked” on the sport since age nine, the 88-year-old National Speed Sport News and television stalwart, has spent a lifetime in auto racing. He played a leading role in New England’s auto racing history as both a writer and track announcer in the 1940s and early 1950s. He announced at, among other places, Thompson, West Haven and West Springfield speedways.

Brooklyn-born, Economaki is truly an American icon. His involvement with the sport on every level makes his contributions unparalleled. The “editor” of NSSN since 1950, he became one of the sport’s pioneer television announcers in the early 1960s. His autobiography “Let ‘Em All Go” is considered one of auto racing’s premier books.

Sources: NEAR PR