Editor’s note: The Globe is reaching into its archives to bring you “Replay,” articles from the past that highlight something interesting, timely, or revealing. This “On Auto Racing” column by Michael Vega on late track owner Bob Bahre and the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup race at his Loudon, N.H., speedway appeared Monday, July 12, 1993, under the headline, “Going the extra mile.” Bahre died July 24 at age 93.
LOUDON, N.H. — Bob Bahre wanted everything to go perfectly. He wanted everything to be just right. He wanted his “guests” — as he prefers to call his ticket-buying customers — to have a comfortable experience when they arrived yesterday at New Hampshire International Speedway for the inaugural Slick 50 300 Winston Cup race.
That's why Bahre, the unpretentious 66-year-old owner of NHIS, went to great lengths to make his company from far and nigh feel at home in New Hampshire.
How far did he go?
He went the extra mile.
When the track closed its gates after Friday’s pole qualifications, Bahre and his son, track president Gary Bahre, walked up and down the pits with Hefty bags in hand, policing the area for litter. Then, when several Winston Cup drivers noticed fissures in the asphalt between Turns 3 and 4 after Saturday’s practice, Bahre skipped the grand marshal’s dinner that night and stayed at NHIS until 11:30 to help his brother Dick patch up the track.
“I’ll tell you something about the man,” said Rusty Wallace, who won yesterday’s race and collected $77,500 of the generous $1,003,090 purse Bahre posted. “When I came here to the track at 7 o’clock yesterday morning, I saw him out there in Turn 3, with a big can of sealer, working on the track.”
How unusual is that?
Well, would Harry Sinden drive the Zamboni between periods? Would Red Auerbach sweep the parquet between timeouts? Would Haywood Sullivan and John Harrington help roll out the tarp for rain delays at Fenway? Would James Busch Orthwein chalk the 50-yard line at Foxboro?
They might not, but Bahre would. He is a man who holds no pretenses about getting a little dirt underneath his fingernails. The man, after all, once dug ditches for a living.
“He’s just the classic case of a guy whose all-American dream came true,” Wallace said.
That was why, four hours before the 1:15 p.m. start of yesterday’s race, Bahre was pacing the race control booth like an expectant father. He was concerned about whether his traffic workers and parking attendants would be able to deliver his guests from the anticipated snarl on Route 106 and onto his property. With a radio in one hand and a small pocket calculator in another, Bahre barked instructions to his staff and attempted to figure out the number of cars already parked on the lots around the track.
His attention was riveted on a 2,000-car lot at the south end of the track and he was annoyed that traffic wasn’t flowing smoothly into it. Gary tried to placate his father, but the more he stared at the lot, the more it made Bahre seethe.
“We spent nearly $29,000 in wages last week, training these people,” he barked. “And look what it’s got us.”
Gary could only nod.
“I know, Dad, I know.”
When parking supervisor Dave Sheldon was unable to satisfactorily answer why there weren’t more cars moving into the south lot, Bahre finally snapped, ‘‘Goddammit, well why don’t you try and do something about it?”
It was a frightening glimpse of the demanding side (“The side we don’t like to see,” said Gary) of a man whose only concern yesterday was that his dream of bringing a Winston Cup event to New England would not be ruined. Not for himself, but for his guests.
“We just want everything to go right for them,” he said.
Bahre had no sooner blown his stack when he was pacified by Country-Western artist Janie Fricke, who softly crooned her hit “She’s Single Again” down below on the track in a prerace concert.
“It’s his favorite song,” Gary said.
With the parking lots quickly filling up, Bahre and his son left the booth to meet his wife, Sandy, at the scoring stand to attend the drivers meeting, where they were treated to a rousing standing ovation.
They cheered Bahre for building his field of dreams when he took the dilapidated Bryar Motorsports Park, razed it in a $25 million reclamation project and constructed a gleaming state-of-the-art mile oval in Loudon.
Neither of the influential sanctioning bodies — IndyCar and NASCAR — had even so much as promised him an event to stage, but it was Bahre’s gambit that if he built it, they would come.
Up here in New Hampshire, they look toward Massachusetts and chuckle about the political dickering over the proposed Megaplex. While they live free or die in New Hampshire, Bay State residents would die to live free of the Commonwealth’s tax burden. Megaplex? Yesterday Bahre hosted 66,000 guests at his own motorsports megaplex in what had to be the biggest sporting event of the day in the country.
“In New Hampshire,” said Governor Stephen Merrill, “we have tried to encourage and not stifle that type of entrepreneurial individuality. And, as you know, Bob’s a rare individual.”
So much so, he was content to remain in the background, pacing the pits and occasionally stopping to pick up a piece of litter. When the drivers boarded a flatbed trailer for a theatrical introduction, in which all 40 stood behind a veil of bunting that was removed by a crane in a shower of sparklers and fireworks, Bahre was moved to tears by the crowd's wild reaction. He raised his right arm across his brow, as if to shield it from the sun, and softly wept.
He quickly wiped away the tears.
“I’m OK, I just got some smoke in my eye,” he said.
He quickly moved to pit wall, and propped himself on it to watch each driver introduced to the crowd. He cackled when Geoff Bodine was booed, and reared back and arched his eyebrows and said, “How ‘bout that?” when Harry Gant was given the biggest ovation.
Again he raised his arm across his brow, presumably to keep the smoke from getting in his eyes. But his emotions were difficult to mask. Who could blame him?
“It just makes you feel good to see everybody so enthused,” he said, wiping away a tear. “But,” he added as he burst into a cackle, “it makes me feel a whole lot better knowing that they all parked someplace.”
He wanted everything to be perfect.
And, by all accounts, everything was.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.