Former NASCAR champion and Maine native Ricky Craven will be inducted into the New England Auto Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame as part of its eight-member Class of 2016.

Craven, originally from Newburgh, joins drivers Ken Bouchard, Jerry Marquis, Randy Lajoie, Dwight Jarvis, Nokie Fornoro Jr., George Hewitt and announcer Jack Arute in this year’s class. Craven and his classmates will be inducted at a ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 13, in South Windsor, Connecticut.

Craven’s career took off after an amazing 1991 season, during which he won 10 races (including the Oxford 250 and New England Chevy Dealers 250 at New Hampshire International Speedway) and the NASCAR Busch North Series championship.

“This is a very special honor,” Craven said via telephone from North Carolina. “To be recognized in the place where I started means so much to me. My years of racing in New England were very special, and I was fortunate to have the level of success I enjoyed in 1991. I had great teams and some strong support behind me throughout my driving career that made it all possible. 

“There are some pretty big names in this year’s class, including drivers I’ve respected for many years. I’m truly honored to be included and look forward to showing my appreciation at the induction ceremony.”

After he moved south, Craven earned Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Busch Series (1992) and again in the Winston Cup Series (1995). He recorded wins at the famed Darlington Raceway (South Carolina) and Martinsville Speedway (Virginia) in an impressive career. Craven now works as an auto racing analyst for ESPN. 

Bouchard, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, earned NASCAR Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors in 1988. His stellar resume includes over 100 wins at a dozen different New England tracks in both Modifieds and Late Models. Notable wins came at Oxford, Stafford, Thompson, Westboro and at Plainville Stadium.

Marquis, the 2000 National NASCAR Modified champion, had an amazing driving career with over 150 feature wins and 23 track championships. Seven of those wins came on the NASCAR Busch North Series, five while driving for Augusta-based O’Connor Racing. The resident of Broadbrook, Connecticut, was a NASCAR Northeast Regional champion on two occasions.

Second-generation racer LaJoie won back-to-back championships (1996-97) in NASCAR’s Busch Series when competition was fierce. His career began driving Karts in his hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut. Lajoie won a Sportsman title at the Danbury Racearena, had success in SK Modifieds and won the NASCAR North Tour championship in 1985. Lajoie recorded 15 Busch Series victories.

Jarvis, of Ascutney, Vermont, collected 18 championships and 110 wins in a career that includes dominating performances at Claremont (63 wins, 13 titles) and Monadnock (47 wins, five titles) Speedways. His resume also includes the 2006 Valenti Modified Racing Series crown and success on the Tri-Track Series. 

Fornoro, of Danbury, Connecticut, won 11 Midget championships and 110 victories in a stellar career that stretched from 1974 through 2009. He was also a winner in Supermodifieds, Quarter Midgets and Sprint cars. He joins his father Nick and brother Drew in the NEAR Hall of Fame.

A former motorcycle racer, Hewitt, of Uncasville, Connecticut, starting driving Modifieds in 1966 at Waterford Speedbowl. He became a major force at Waterford, where he won five championships before moving on to the New England NASCAR Modified circuit. The 1975 Winston 100 at Stafford Speedway tops the list of triumphs for the “no-holds barred” racer who passed away in 1997.

Arute, of New Britain, Connecticut, went from the family-owned Stafford Motor Speedway to a position as one of America’s premier broadcast journalists. He spent nine years with the Motor Racing Network and over 20 years as part of the Indianapolis 500 broadcast team. The University of Vermont graduate won acclaim for a “pull no punches” style of reporting throughout his career.

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