SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. – NASCAR champions Ricky Craven and Randy LaJoie were among the honorees during the annual New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet Sunday at Maneeley’s Banquet Hall.
Broadcaster Jack Arute and drivers Ken Bouchard, Nick Fornoro Jr., the late George “Moose” Hewitt, Dwight Jarvis and Jerry Marquis were also part of the Class of 2016.
Explaining his “overwhelming desire” to win on NASCAR’s then Winston Cup series, Maine’s Craven called the final 20 circuits at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in the fall of 2001 “the greatest laps of my life.”
Craven, who won that race, then credited it to lessons learned as a competitor in New England. LaJoie, a product of the famous Danbury Racearena, had a similar response in his remarks.
“I had to learn those lessons somewhere,” said LaJoie who, like Arute and Fornoro, followed their fathers into the Hall.
Bouchard was the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. Fornoro was the winner of 110 midget features and 11 championships. Jarvis scored 110 feature wins and 18 titles. Marquis claims the 2000 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship among almost two-dozen crowns. Each one cited car owners as keys in their success.
Arute paid tribute to his late father Jack. Daughter Kim Gero accepted for Hewitt.
Veteran Committee Inductees were the Maine natives Edgar and Freelan Stanely, who, in addition to building the Stanley Steamer, also set early speed records. Bay Stater John Burgess, who brought the midget to New England in the 1930s and Fred Meeker, a post World War II midget ace, also entered the Hall courtesy of the Veteran Committee. Sarah Stanley, a great-great-great granddaughter of Freelan, was part of the presentation.
The inaugural Ron Bouchard Award, honoring lifetime service to the sport of auto racing, went to Vermont’s Ken Squier. NEAR President Paul Masse and Bouchard’s widow Paula Flemke Bouchard presented the award. Justin St. Louis accepted for Squire.
The Danny Pardi Memorial Award, acknowledging service to the Hall of Fame, went to former NEAR President Al Fini. Presenter Fred Ciavola pointed out Fini’s long-time dedication to the club.
Phil Whipple of Maine’s Lewiston Sun Journal and Richard Bigelow shared the Mitchell/Ratta Media Award and Russ Dowd, a track announcer at Thompson for 35 years, was the recipient of the Frank Maratta Award which recognized “outstanding contribution and support of auto racing.”
Matt Buckler, who has been Master of Ceremonies for all but three of the induction affairs, kept the festivities moving. Buckler pointed out that the crowd of 360 plus included Bugs Stevens and Eddie West, members of the Hall’s first (1998) and second classes respectively. There were two – Donnie LaJoie and Ron Narducci – from the third class. Fred Rosner, Don Rounds and Denny Zimmerman represented the fourth class.
Among the highlights was Olivia Bouchard’s emotional induction of her father Ken. Other presenters were Gary and Brian Danko (Marquis), Peter VanderVeer (LaJoie), John Spence (Jarvis), Dave Dykes (Hewitt), Mike Scrivani Jr. (Fornoro), Whipple (Craven) and Pete Zanardi (Arute).