The NASCAR Cup tour visits New Hampshire Motor Speedway this week for the first of two annual dates. It is a big racing weekend for the New England Region. Joining the action will be the Nationwide Series, the Northeast favorite Modified Tour and the Pro Series, which has deep New England roots from the NASCAR North Tour days.
Drivers from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have ventured into the Deep South to take a crack at the upper levels of NASCAR. Here is a group that left strong impressions in stock car’s major leagues.
1. Pete Hamilton. One of the most successful drivers to come from North to South, Hamilton was the Grand National rookie of the year in 1968. He scored the NASCAR Grand American championship in 1969. During the 1970 season Hamilton swept the races at Daytona and Talladega. The July race was in a car owned by Cotton Owens while the other three were in Petty Enterprises equipment. Including the 1970 Daytona 500. Just for good measure he also has a Snowball Derby win on his resume and was inducted in the New England Auto Racers hall of fame in 1998.
2. Ricky Craven. The Busch North Champion from Maine native is a multi-time Nationwide Series winner and has a pair of Cup Series trophies as well. He is remembered for being part of one of the most exciting Cup finishes ever. The 2003 Spring Darlington race is always on any list of the most exciting race finishes with his thrilling win over Kurt Busch.
3. Randy LaJoie. The Southern New York Racing Association was a club for modified stock car drivers that made their home on area speedways. The later years of the club’s regular race program existed at the Danbury, Connecticut Racearena. LaJoie’s father, Don was the all time feature event winner, while Randy began his driving career there. The Racearena eventually became a mall and LaJoie moved to regional racing action. He made his mark on the NASCAR North Tour before turning to the south. Now he can boast of Busch Series titles in 1996 and 1997. Currently LaJoie owns a seat building business and puts his efforts into helping his sons climb the racing ladder.
4. Ron Bouchard. The Modified star out of Fitchburg, MA stepped into the Race Hill Farm team owned by Jack Beebe partway into the 1981 season. The departing driver, Harry Gant, went on to his own respected career as the ‘Skoal Bandit.’ Bouchard came straight from Modifed short track racing to Cup. And won his first and only Series race in just his 11th start on the tour. Bouchard’s narrow triumph over Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte is part of Talladega’s lore for generating upset winners by close margins. He also won that season’s rookie of the year award
5. Jerry Nadeau. Another second-generation driver with ties to the Danbury Racearena is Nadeau. His father, Jerry, was a modified competitor and the racing heritage continued on. Nadeau had a road racing background with some dirt-modified experience mixed in before he made the right connections down south. Some spotty Busch Series and ARCA appearances were enough to get him a shot with Richard Jackson’s Cup team in June of 1997 at Michigan. That began Nadeau’s Cup career that continued with team owners Dan Marino, Harry Melling, Rick Hendrick, Petty Enterprises and MB2. Nadeau’s only Cup win came for Hendrick in the season ending Atlanta race in 2000. His driving career was cut short in 2003 with a head injury during practice for Richmond’s spring event.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who hosts “Motorweek Live” Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen it at www.racersreunion.com)
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