When we asked Thomson, who helped Devine for many years before fielding his own cars bearing Bob’s traditional No. 42, about losing his mentor, the words came slowly.
“He taught me everything, from the time I was 12 or 13,” Thomson explained. “He was patient and always showed me the right way to do things, not the quick way or the easy way. The only time he wasn’t teaching me something about racing was when he didn’t have cars for a few seasons in the late ’60s, early ’70s. Then I found out that his other love was photography. He had his own dark room and won all sorts of prizes for his work. He and my dad used to carpool to the Danbury Camera Club meetings and he was always shooting pictures. And he was also a great railroad historian and gave speeches all over on railroad history.
“Bob had stories for everything but one he told a lot was about Lime Rock Park. He’d whip everybody down the long straightaway but he’d get killed in the road course’s turns because he couldn’t afford a road racing transmission. That was Bob’s whole career. He had untold driving and mechanical ability but no money.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’d have trouble on Saturday night and on the way home he’d say he was all done,” Thomson continud. “But by the next day he’d remember some old parts he had or have a way figured out to rebuild something without spending any money and the next week we’d be back, like always.”
Bob’s son, Steve, drove the No. 42 at Lebanon Valley for many seasons and when he retired, many thought Bob was done as well. Then Guy Sheldon’s phone rang one night.
“I was at the end, tired of running my own car,” recalled Sheldon. “We talked and it was a great fit. I ran third our first night out and we had a top five in the points that year against cars with way more sponsorship. He and Alex were always working to make it a little bit better.
“Bob was a great mentor and a better friend. And I loved his stories and sense of humor. He was telling us one night about going home to New Fairfield from a race in Rochester when he got a flat in an S-curve and flipped the car over. An old farmer came out and asked if he’d been going too fast and got himself in trouble. Bob very calmly told him, ‘No, we had a flat and didn’t have a jack.’I just loved those stories.”
Most people don’t get quoted in their own obits, but with a storyteller like Bob Devine, we can’t pass up the opportunity. After all, who knew him better?
“We bought a new 1955 Chevrolet from a dealer, put a single hoop roll bar in the car and went racing with United,” Devine told us once. “We had another ’55 with some miles on it, so we swapped engines, figuring the older one was broken in already. I put it on the pole at the old Eastern States Exposition Grounds in Springfield, Mass., the first time out. The only thing we changed was that we installed a Chevy truck rear end because they offered all kinds of gear ratios. We ran the car through ’56 and ’57, then we bought a new ’57 and ran that for two years.
“We’d taken the seats and interior out of the first car and stored them away” related Devine with a twinkle in his eye. “After we’d raced it for two years, we put the interior back in and sold it as a used road car.”
The scheme worked so well that they continued it, selling the ’57 before running a new 1961 Chevy through the ’61 and ’62 seasons, when they won the final race on the Big ‘E’ half mile to claim the 1962 point title.
“The cars were a bit shaky then,” summed up Devine. “But that’s why I raced, for the excitement.”
Those who saw Bob Devine race appreciated the excitement he provided. The rest of us had to get our appreciation through the priceless stories, but we all were better for him being here.
Thanks, Bob, for trusting us!