Bob Bahre, grand marshal of the 2019 Oxford 250, is greeted by driver Shawn Martin before the race at Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford. Brewster Burns photo

PARIS – Developer, self-made multimillionaire and racing enthusiast Bob Bahre died early Friday at his home in Paris. He was 93.

Bahre grew up a farm boy in Suffield, Connecticut, where he made extra money by welding trailers and building victory gardens, though it wasn’t long until he set his sights on bigger things – mainly building houses, buying cars and racing.

Bahre purchased Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford in 1964, running it with his brother Dick Bahre and completely revitalizing racing in the area. It was under Bob’s leadership that the first Oxford 250 came to be. It began in 1974 as a 200-lap event, being expanded to 250 laps the following year.

Bob Bahre organized the first Oxford 250. Portland Press Herald file photo 2004

“Bob made Oxford Plains Speedway and the Oxford 250 what they are today,” former Sun Journal sportswriter Kalle Oakes said. “His vision made racing a big deal there and turned it into a local and national destination. He was successful because he treated everybody with respect and was never too big to do the dirty work, even though he was the owner. He became a tough act to follow for everyone who has owned and managed the place.”

In racing circles, word began circulating early Friday that Bahre had died.

“Deeply saddened by the loss of my friend & mentor Bob Bahre,” racing legend Ricky Craven wrote on Twitter. “Bob had a tremendous positive influence on auto racing in New England & its trajectory into NASCAR. He built for the fans & worked for the sport! He had a Profound Impact on my Life… I will miss him.”

Turner native Mike Rowe, who won the Oxford 250 three times, described Bahre as a man who embraced the sport of racing and who changed the face of it forever in Maine.

“He was great,” Rowe said Thursday. “He loved the sport, and he made the Oxford 250 what it is today. I mean, it’s a great race and he just loved the sport.”

When Rowe won the 250 in 1984, it was the first time for a Mainer. Bahre was particularly thrilled about the victory.

Bob Bahre Sun Journal file photo 2004

“He was glad to see a Maine driver finally win,” Rowe said, “and we was too. I mean, I started my career there about 50 years ago and we still race there today.”

Bahre sold OPS in 1987 but remained an icon in the racing community. After leaving OPS, he built New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.

Oakes said Bahre’s timing couldn’t have been better — he capitalized on the NASCAR boom of the late ’80s and packed the track twice a year with 100,000 fans who came to see some of the biggest names in the sport.

Under his leadership, the track became the NASCAR circuit’s lone annual stop in New England and attracted many of the sport’s top drivers. 

Bahre sold NHIS in 2008 for $340 million. He remained a consultant for the speedway long after it was sold. 

“Bob left an incredible mark on auto racing through the New England region, and his love of motorsports was legendary, said David McGrath, general manager of the track, now known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “He had a passionate commitment to both drivers and race fans, and that commitment was evident when he built our facility in 1990.”

Racing enthusiast Bob Rowe, originally from Raymond and now living in Conway, New Hampshire, declared Bahre “one of the greatest innovators and businessmen the East Coast has ever known.

“He brought so much to a table, that at the end of the day you couldn’t help but to want more,” Rowe said. “I will always consider him to be an icon — a mover and a shaker.”

Bob and Sandy Bahre stand in their automobile museum on Paris Hill. Bahre has one of the most significant collections of “Big C” classic cars in the nation, collection curator Jeff Orwig said. They were displayed annually at Paris Hill Founder’s Day to benefit the Paris Hill Library. Sun Journal file photo 2014

A hugely successful businessman, Bahre was said to have owned one of the finest car collections in the world, and had a yearly tradition of opening his garages on Paris Hill to the public. He was not shy about his collection, consenting to many interviews about his love of cars. He also didn’t mind telling the story about each car in his collection and how it came into his possession.

“Some guys chase broads,” Bahre told the Robb Report in 2013. “I chase cars.”

He also hosted a community Christmas celebration, although last year’s was canceled due to his declining health. 

Bahre built housing all over Maine, as far north as Presque Isle. He also owned several shopping centers across the state and was a 40% shareholder in the heating company C.N. Brown in Paris. 

In 2006, Bahre negotiated with national hardware company Lowe’s in an attempt to bring a home improvement store to Route 26 in Oxford, on land owned by Bahre and his family. The plan called for the creation of as many as 180 new jobs, but it was ultimately scuttled and Bahre blamed the Department of Environmental Protection for dragging their heels on the plan. 

 “There’s no question in my opinion,” Bahre said at the time. “They took so damn long. Six months. They took the whole time. In my opinion, the state does not care about jobs. Lowe’s wanted to get going now… It’s very disgusting. It’s not just our project they don’t care about.” 

In 2010, Bahre and his son, Gary, became investment partners in Black Bear Entertainment, the company responsible for bringing a resort casino to Oxford. 

Bahre lived part of the time at his home on Paris Hill, although he also had homes in other areas, including a palatial house on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Alton, N.H. that recently sold for more than $5 million. 

In 2019, Bahre was named Grand Marshal of the Oxford 250, 55 years after he bought and transformed the speedway and racing in Maine as a whole.

“I consider him one of the most significant figures in Maine and northern New England sports history,” Oakes said.

“The guy’s going to be missed,” Mike Rowe said. “He did a great job for our sport.”  


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