Looking back: Bruce Haley made a mark in his prime

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MINOT — He may not have raced full-time since 1999, but in his heyday, drivers and fans alike knew he was one of the contenders.

Dubbed the “Hurricane from Minot, Maine” in the 1980s by longtime Oxford public address announcer Bob Walker, second-generation driver Bruce Haley has been a fixture in New England’s short-track racing community for decades.

He’s driven a variety of cars, always in the premier division. From ACT-style Late Models and high-powered Pro Stocks, to the more modern Super Late Models and even open-wheel Modifieds, he’s enjoyed success in all throughout an impressive 412 career starts.

These days, Haley can be found offering guidance to aspiring young driver Alex Lacognata as he competes on NASCAR Night at the Beech Ridge Motor Speedway.

When he’s not occupied at the historic Scarborough oval built by J.B. McConnell in 1949, you’ll find him roaming the pit area at Oxford, taking it all in.

“I’m hanging around Alex’s team to offer moral support,” Haley said. “I’ve still got my own Super Late Model, and we’re doing some work on it now. I’m hoping to take it to Oxford a few times this year and have a little fun. I won’t interfere with the guys who run weekly for points, I just still enjoy driving at speed a great deal.”

He ran a few races in 2017, but only runs occasionally these days for fun and thrills. He still loves the sport that has been so kind to him since a humble beginning back in 1980.

Haley’s career path could easily gone in a different direction. Former Edward Little High School physical education instructor Don White tried to lure him into the field of gymnastics.

White was impressed with Haley’s athletic prowess, yet an incident in the gym that caused some internal bleeding put an end to White’s idea. And after all, it was auto racing that captured Haley’s interest from the start.

Haley bought his first race car from Buster Downing, a familiar name to longtime Maine race fans. His second car was one of the old “Quick 5” cars driven by Mike Rowe, and his career was on its way.

In 1982, he went on a hot streak that put him on radar screens across Maine. He earned the Most Popular Driver Award that year along with the Triple Crown title, and did the same in 1987. In 1990, he earned the Most Improved Driver Award from NASCAR.

“I’d say 1982 was when my luck started to turn and things began to gel,” Haley said. “Scott Ames improved my performance a lot when he started building my engines. You always strive to be competitive, and when you start running good it builds both confidence and momentum. Both are critical to longterm success in racing.”

Haley won 25 features at Oxford in a variety of cars. One of his biggest wins came on May 25, 1987, in the Miller American 100. That was the year NASCAR came back to New England with the Oxford-based Busch Grand National North tour.

There were a ton of talented drivers and top-level teams in that series, yet Haley was undaunted.

“That was a very rewarding victory,” Haley said as he reflected on the glory days. “That year, you could run whatever you had for a car. I won that race with an Oxford Late Model. We had a little advantage, but they added weight to our cars to level the playing field.

“Those Busch series guys had more power than we did, but we got through the corners faster. I think the top three was me, Jeff Stevens and Billy Clark. I took the win, and am still very proud of it today.”

When he watches the racers of today, Haley sees a clean show. Back in his prime, there was frequent use of the “chrome horn” or front bumper. With all that goes into it today, wrecking cars isn’t cool.

“I don’t see a lot of dirty driving these days,” Haley said. “With the cost of today’s equipment, you can’t afford to wreck a car over something trivial. I think if something happens out there today, it’s because somebody feels they’ve been mistreated and need to return the favor. It happens, it’s just human nature.”

Haley was always one of the cleanest, most respected drivers of his era. His philosophy was if you can’t pass a guy without roughing him up, you shouldn’t be passing him at all.

“There are so many different driving styles out there,” Haley said. “Everybody has their own way of looking at it. I just always felt that if I treated them all with respect, they’d do the same for me.”

Hall of Fame driver Mike Rowe (he’s in the Maine and New England Halls), of Turner, ran side-by-side against Haley at Oxford for many years.

“I always enjoyed racing against Bruce and never had a problem with him at all,” Rowe said. “He always raced you clean, with respect, which is nice. He’s also a great guy in general. He’s quiet, he doesn’t bother anybody. He has my respect.”

While he may be more of a “gentle breeze” these days than a full-fledged Hurricane, Haley still has that burning desire to go fast. It’s in his genes, his chemical makeup. His father, Ed Haley, raced at Oxford in the 1960s.

“If I had the money and the time, I’d still be out there ever weekend,” Haley added. “It gets in your blood, especially after a big win. I’m just happy to still be around the sport and be able to compete part-time. It’s a sport filled with great people I really enjoy being around. It’s been a way of life for me.”

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