OXFORD — On “a perfect day for racing,” about 500 mourners gathered on the Oxford Plains Speedway track and grandstand that Bob Bahre built to remember the man who became synonymous with Maine and New England auto racing.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Bob Bahre from the hearse on the track at Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford on Wednesday afternoon. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The one-hour service at the Route 26 facility included prominent speakers from the racing world, including Ricky Craven and Ken Squier. It concluded with the hearse carrying Bahre’s casket for one last lap around the third-mile oval as mourners waved small checkered flags.

Bahre died Friday at his Paris Hill home at age 93.

The speakers and mourners remembered him not only as a racing visionary and entrepreneur who brought legendary racers to Oxford and started the renowned Oxford 250, but as a brilliant businessman, mentor and friend.

Standing on a stage flanked on each end by a stock car, Craven, a former NASCAR racer from Newburgh and current FOX Sports racing analyst, explained the personal and professional influence Bahre had on his life. He recalled how Bahre helped him get his racing career back in gear after Craven was seriously injured in a 1997 crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

In the midst of a 2001 practice at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, Craven remembered, Bahre drove him to the home of an ill New Hampshire woman.

“She started crying,” an emotional Craven said. “She gave me a hug and she said, ‘Bob Bahre, you’re a man of your word.’ She said, ‘And you Ricky Craven are my favorite driver. Bob said he would bring you here to meet me because I’m struggling and I’m too embarrassed to go to the racetrack, but my God, I wanted to meet you.'”

“She gave me a second hug and she said … ‘You got hurt real bad, and you lost your nerve. You need to find your nerve again. You’re going to win,'” said Craven, who was joined as a pallbearer by other well-known racers such as Mike Rowe of Turner and Morgan Shepherd of North Carolina.

The meeting had a profound effect on Craven and a few months later he won his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia “and my professional life was right, complete.”

Squier, a legendary racing announcer and historian, delved into his close friend’s childhood on a farm in Connecticut, Bahre’s move to Maine and realizing a dream Bahre and his late brother, Dick, realized their dream of building the tracks in Oxford and Loudon.

“He never seemed to lose faith in his belief that hard labor would in the end justify his effort,” Squier said. “So he gave it his very best.”

“He and Richard,” Squier said, “they went forward and symbolized, as far as I’m concerned, what stock car racing has to benefit people with — one man, one team can accomplish dreams as long as you stuck to it, and weren’t too concerned about getting turned over now and then.”

After noting the hot, sunny day was perfect for a stock car race, Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Catholic Diocese of Portland remembered Bahre being “gruff, direct and no-nonsense” at their first meeting before revealing himself to be a generous and caring man to his family and community.

“He spent his life doing well, and then using what he had earned, to do good for his community and the people who lived in it,” Deeley said. “He worked tirelessly to improve it as a home for others. He built houses. He built stores. He encouraged businesses. He wanted to better the lives with whom he shared the community.”

Bahre sold OPS in 1987 and focused his passion on building New Hampshire International Speedway. NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton recalled Bahre’s persistence with NASCAR to commit to racing at Loudon, and his generosity in 2001, when the annual race held at the track had to be postponed to the weekend after Thanksgiving due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

“Bob said we needed to start (the race) on Friday in hopes that we’d get at least half the race done by Sunday because of what the weather’s normally like that time of year up here. So we started it on Friday,” Helton said. “After the world knew what we were doing, he called back and he said he was going to organize a Thanksgiving dinner at the infield restaurant because all of the team members were going to have to travel on Thanksgiving Day to New Hampshire.”

Helton said his memories of Bahre are filled with lessons learned and lighthearted moments. Bahre, he said, reminded him of another racing legend, Bill France Jr., a longtime NASCAR executive and son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

“It seemed sometimes that he had the ability to see around corners and into the future,” Helton said.  “I knew another man like that; it was Bill France Jr. Bill was great at reading a person’s character, and from the start, he saw Bob as a man who had great passion for motorsports, but more importantly, was a straight shooter. Their relationship grew as Bill learned that he could trust Bob and look to Bob for great insight on things that we were discussing to do.”

Among the 150 family and friends seated on the track’s front stretch for the service, Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, former Oxford County sheriff and a regular breakfast companion of Bahre’s, recalled as a child racing go-carts on the track prior to Saturday night races and then selling popcorn in the grandstand when the big cars took to the track.

“Bob and (wife) Sandy were always there for me,” he said. “Bob was at times bigger than life but he was always Bob. What you see was what you get and that’s just the way he lived his life. He’s done so much for so many people in the community and all over the state, to say nothing about what he brought to New Hampshire. The man’s legacy is huge and keeps on living because of what he and his family have been able to do for this area.”

Kyle Kyllonen of Auburn was among the more than 300 mourners in the grandstand looking down on the track where his father, Mike, and uncle, Mike, raced for a number of years. A regular spectator at the track’s weekend races now, he took the day off from work to pay his respects to Bahre.

“It’s been a part of our family since the early 1980s,” Kyllonen said. “(OPS) gives me a place to spend my weekends and I’ve gained so many friends because of this place. If it wasn’t here,  I don’t know what I’d be doing on weekends. This is my summer.”

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