BOB BAHRE HAS DIED
A good man has left us. The passing of Bob Bahre is a sad time for New England motorsports. Bob’s contributions to New England racing were huge.
Along his magical trip to bring top level racing to New England, he bought Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway in 1964. He soon invented the Oxford 250 (originally the Oxford 200) along with weekly racing that drew so many fans that he added seats until his track had more capacity than any other in New England. And on many days and nights, he sold every one of those seats. He sold Oxford in 1987 when he saw his future in big league NASCAR which was growing rapidly. He ultimately acquired the Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, NH along with other adjacent properties with which he created New Hampshire International Speedway.
It was the first big track built in New England since the Rockingham Board track was constructed in 1925. NHIS opened in 1990. Bob first brought the Busch cars to us in 1990 and finally, after a long struggle to get it, NASCAR awarded him the track’s first Cup race in 1993. Then, he pulled a brilliant maneuver to bring a second Cup date to his track. New England was seeing the biggest motorsports series in the country twice each year and we bought every ticket for every seat Bob Bahre ever had at his new track to see it. He achieved sold-out attendance for every Cup race he ran at NHIS.
Not everything Bob did worked. He booked Indy cars but fans didn’t support it and Indy cars went away.
His first Cup races were booked when he owned Oxford Plaines Speedway, a third-mile track near where he lived in Maine. Bobby Allison won his first Cup (then Grand National) event there in 1966. Bob promoted two more Cup races at Oxford before the series became too big for small tracks like Oxford.
Bob started in business when his mother bought a Sears welder on time so he could learn a trade. With it, Bob built trailers. But, as a young man he moved on to ultimately earn a fortune developing real estate, first single family houses, then strip malls and rental housing. He started by building and selling one house and grew the business from there until he became a multi millionaire.
He bought and sold a local bank located near his office several times. He always bought for less and sold for more. He often told Speedway employee Cheryl LaPrade, “I just got lucky, kid.”
He was a generous man in many ways, sending annual donations to local churches, buying a fire truck and giving it to the town of Loudon where he had built NHIS. He made sure everyone who came to his track to race went home with money in their pocket, even if they failed to qualify. He was a mentor to many but especially to Cup winner turned TV personality, Ricky Craven.
A self-made man of enormous means, he built the largest collection of high-end vintage cars in New England. With a special affection for lumbering old Packards, he bought cars he liked including an original Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and an Alfa for which he turned down an offer of $40 million. “I like the car and I don’t need the money” he said. Each year he opened the collection to all who wanted to see it and donated the money that came from the event to the local library.
Most multi-millionaires learned business at Wharton or Harvard Business School. Bob never finished high school. His edge was an extraordinary level of common sense. And courage. He built NHIS, after all, without a NASCAR promise of Cup series races. From the first shovel that moved dirt on the property, he believed the track in which he was so heavily invested would fail without at least on top level NASCAR date. He built NHIS almost entirely using his own money so the risk was high.
He loved auto racing and old cars but his first love was his family, his wife Sandra and his son Gary (pictured). Both played active roles in Bob’s business life. They built a mansion on Lake Winnipesaukee for he and Sandy and another right next door for Gary. Bob never truly liked the big house and spent his final days in South Paris, Maine in the former home of Governor Hannibal Hamlin, a home built in 1848, where he lived before building the lake property. Bob was more comfortable in that old house with his car collection just steps away than in the shiny newness of Longview on the lake.
The man in the kaki pants with the white shirt and yellow sweater was a certified New England treasure. We’ll never see another like him again.