Bob Bahre rolled up his sleeves and built Loudon a world-class track 

  • Bahre AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 7/27/2020 4:56:15 PM

I always wondered what Bob Bahre’s closet looked like.

I’m assuming he was a clean man. With washed clothes. Yet there was Bahre, who died last week at the age of 93, race after race, year after year, roaming his speedway in Loudon, maybe picking up trash, wearing the same outfit each time.

Not a similar-looking outfit. The same outfit. Exactly. Tan khakis. White button-down. All I could picture was a closet the length of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway straightaway, filled with Khakis here, white button-downs there. 

Add the snow-white hair, and race fans who grew up watching NASCAR here beginning in the 1990s knew they had a quirky character whom they could call their own. A major-league race track owner who looked more blue collar, maybe a maintenance guy or a senior volunteer, not the collector of antique cars worth millions of dollars.

His style of dress never changed. His negotiations in boardrooms, clean and tough, never did, either. Nor did his demeanor, that folksy charm that created a chuckle inside each time Bahre began our interview sessions with, “How ya doin’, young fella?”

When approached, he never dodged an interview. And he was blunt.

Bahre will forever be linked with billionaire Bruton Smith, the founder and owner of Speedway Motorsports, which owns eight of the tracks on the NASCAR Cup circuit.

Bahre sold NHMS to Smith in 2007 for $340 million. The inevitable comparison between the management and negotiation styles of the two giants soon surfaced.

In the other Concord, the one in North Carolina, Smith once said he’d move his Cup race out of Lowe’s Motor Speedway if residents continued complaining about noise they expected from the drag strip Smith had proposed to build. The town caved. The strip was built.

Here, Smith pulled another squeeze play, complaining that lack of cooperation from the town as he sought logistical improvements to the track might force him to move one of the two Cup races out of Loudon.

That happened three years ago, after New Hampshire’s fall Cup race was moved to Las Vegas, angering race fans from the Mid-Atlantic states through New England.

Bahre’s reputation? Rarely had a select board in a tiny town shown this much respect for a multi-millionaire as it did back in the late 1980s, when Bahre was trying to change Loudon’s landscape and rhythm in earth-shattering ways. Forever.

Deb Kardaseki was the chairwoman of the Loudon board at the time. More than 20 years later, in 2010, while frustrated at what she perceived as Smith’s stubborn ways following his purchase of the speedway, Kardaseki mentioned Bahre.

“I know my dealings with Bob Bahre, and he was always a good guy to deal with,” Kardaseki said at the time. “He would dig his heels in sometimes, but he was more open to negotiations and compromise.

“There were times when he’d get really angry about something and he’d fly off the handle, but he’d always cool down and you could deal with him.”

Fans appreciated Bahre’s effort to introduce NASCAR racing to New England. His reputation as a leader in motorsports had already been secured through his ownership of Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine. His Oxford 250, the top short-track race in New England, planted the seeds for Bahre to grow his master plan: bring NASCAR to a new market. His market.

Your market.

He bought the old Bryar Motorsports Park in 1988, determined to bring NASCAR’s elite circuit here, in New England, for the first time.

Before that occurred, the town said the Loudon fire engine’s ladder was too short to hose fires high on the revamped facility. Bahre bought a new fire engine, with a taller ladder.

When demands were made to keep noise levels down and forgo night racing, Bahre complied. He was destined to crack the southern grip on big-time NASCAR sports. By any means possible.

Former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven, who lived in this Concord for a few years before moving to that Concord, formed a close alliance with Bahre. The two actually locked arms, fed off each other, raised the profile of competitive racing in the region.

Craven, of Newburgh, Maine, won the prestigious Oxford 250 in 1991. He finished second in overall points in consecutive seasons, 1993-94, on the Busch Grand National Series, which was just one level below the Cup Series.

His top season on the Cup tour came in 2002, after sponsorship deals had dried up through Craven’s injury-plagued career. With relatively little money backing his team, Craven shocked the tour, finishing 15th.

Bahre’s Loudon speedway became known as Craven’s home track.

“I am very sorry to hear this sad news about Bob,” Craven tweeted last week. “He loved racing and race fans and when he built the New Hampshire race track he wanted it to be the best.”

It had to be. Bahre’s speedway was unique, built in a region long ignored by the mighty race teams from down south, positioning itself as a symbol of expansion for NASCAR.

He sold the track in 2007, at age 80, retiring to his mansion on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro. The home is 38,000 square feet, which tells me Bahre probably had lots of closet space.

Marcus Smith, Bruton’s son and president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, noted in a press release that he “always enjoyed . . . genuine conversations,” with Bahre.

He also noted that, “Every time I saw him, he had on khakis and a white shirt.”

Every single time. Different shirt and pair of pants each day, I’m sure.

Bahre, though, never changed his stripes.

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