Gardiner Leavitt
Kezar Falls native and Maine racing legend Gardiner Leavitt wheels through the pits in his familiar No. 1X machine in the prime of his driving career. Leavitt will be inducted into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame in November. 

Legendary driver, car owner and Maine native Gardiner Leavitt received another well-deserved honor on Tuesday, as directors of the New England Auto Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame announced its eight-member Class of 2017.

A diverse group of drivers, car owners, a crew chief and a world-class announcer comprise the new class, raising the total to 225 members enshrined since 1998.

Leavitt will join New Hampshire natives Steve Bird, Bobby Gahan and Russ Wood, Ben Dodge Jr., Tom Dunn and brothers Jeff and Rick Fuller in this year’s class. They will be formally inducted Sunday, November 12, at Maneely’s Banquet Hall in South Windsor, Connecticut. 

While not a frequent winner, Leavitt, of Kezar Falls, has been a major contributor and fan favorite since his career began in 1951. The expert chassis builder and parts dealer called Beech Ridge home and won several races at the Scarborough oval during a lengthy career.

Leavitt and his wife of 67 years, June, hit the road in the 1970s and ran with the NASCAR North tour. Among his many career highlights is a fourth-place finish in the 1979 point standings. He also raced on the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) and did so until his retirement in 1988.

Now 86, Leavitt is confined to a wheelchair and suffered another mild stroke a few weeks ago. June has been right by his side now, as always, to ensure the racing icon is as comfortable as possible. 

“We kind of take each day as it comes, now,” she said. “The only reason he ever stopped going to the races was his health. I’m so happy for him and proud of all he’s done. He gave so much of his life to the sport; he loved it when he drove and loved being a car owner, as well. This comes as great news.”

Leavitt’s son, Steve, is a highly-skilled chassis builder and fabricator who moved to North Carolina years ago. Not long ago, he built a world-class replica of his father’s first No. 35 Coupe, a sharp car.

“It’s nice to see his career recognized at this level, and I know he’ll be pleased,” the younger Leavitt said from his shop in the Tarheel State. “My Dad had a long and successful career in many ways, so this news really means a lot to me.

“I was happy when he was inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame, but this is a regional honor he truly deserves. I’m very proud of my father and value all the things he taught me.”

After taking on the role of car owner, Leavitt’s familiar No. 1X cars carried drivers Brad Leighton, Glenn Cusack and Steve Knowlton. He also won an ACT race in 1989 (Seekonk) with Kelly Moore at the wheel.

Other honorees

A native of Salem, Bird made a lasting impression on the national NASCAR trail as an elite crew chief. After getting his start in the 1970s with barnstorming NEAR Hall of Fame driver Pete Fiandaca in the Modified ranks, Bird graduated to travel the coast-to-coast Winston Cup and Busch Series circuits for more than 20 years.

Following in the footsteps of his legendary father, Ernie, Bobby Gahan started racing in 1968 at age 19. He won a total of 13 track championships at Lee USA, Star Speedway and Hudson International, in his home state, as well as at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway here in Maine.

Gahan’s three consecutive Modified titles at Beech Ridge came first on the dirt in 1985, and again on asphalt in 1986 and 1987. 

Wood is a legend in Supermodified racing. During his time with the International Supermodified Association (ISMA), he collected 54 race victories (second on the series’ all-time list) and a record eight ISMA championships from 1991 through 2011.

Dodge enters the NEAR Hall of Fame for his work as an announcer, race promoter, track manager and media personality. He got his start on the microphone at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachussets, in 1973 at age 19, and his voice quickly became well-known and respected. 

Wrentham, Massachusetts, native Dunn was a prolific winner both in straight lines and on short tracks. He began drag racing in 1953 and at one point enjoyed an incredible five-year undefeated streak; his top victory came in an NHRA national event at Lebanon Valley (New York) Dragway in 1964. 

Jeff Fuller won the 1992 championship on NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour. His 31 career wins rank him fifth on the all-time list, with victories at 10 tracks, including Oxford Plains Speedway.

Rick Fuller owns 20 NASCAR Modified Tour victories (eighth all-time) and succeeded his older brother as the champion in 1993. Rick finished 17 of his 18 full-time seasons running the Tour inside the Top 10 and ranked third or better six times. He was voted the series’ Most Popular Driver in 2000.

Still to be announced are Hall of Fame selections from the Veterans’ Committee and the winner of NEAR’s annual Mitchell-Ratta Media Award. 

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