Bob Bahre, shown in 2004, was the founder of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and created the first Oxford 250. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Maine native and former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven on Friday remembered entrepreneur Bob Bahre as a major figure in New England motorsports who “had a love affair with auto racing.”

Bahre, who died at age 93, was the former owner of Oxford Plains Speedway and the founder of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Bahre brought NASCAR Cup races to New England during the sport’s heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. He was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.

“He was a remarkable man,” Craven said. “He had the ambition and the vision and the commitment to go along with it to make anything happen that he set his mind to. He was remarkably pragmatic. He could figure anything out, and put things in perspective as well as anybody I know.”

Bahre grew up in Connecticut, but lived in Oxford County for most of his life. He purchased Oxford Plains Speedway in 1964 and ran it with his brother, Dick, until 1987. It was under Bob’s tenure that the Oxford 250 – Maine’s most prestigious stock car race each summer – was launched. It began in 1974 as a 200-lap event and was expanded to 250 laps the following year.

Craven first raced at Oxford Plains Speedway in 1986 and won the Oxford 250 in 1991. He said Bahre was a warm person, but frank and honest when dealing with people.

“Bob taught me a valuable lesson. Don’t (try to baloney) people, ever,” said Craven, who first met Bahre at OPS between 1983 and ’84. “He always dealt with me frankly. There was very little left for interpretation. Even though it was uncomfortable at times, I loved it. It was exactly what I needed and wanted.”

Craven said Bahre was driven by his passion for the sport as much as he was by financial purposes. He built a new track in Loudon, New Hampshire – then called New Hampshire International Speedway – without having secured a NASCAR race. The track opened in 1990.

“He had a love affair with auto racing,” he said. “At the core, he did all of this because he loved racing, as much as you could love it. And he was rewarded for it the same way other people are rewarded for dedicating themselves to their business.”

New Hampshire got its first Cup race in July 1993, and up until when he sold the track in 2007, Bahre kept his focus on the customer experience.

“Bob would ask somebody like (Dale) Earnhardt, ‘You’ve got the weekend off, would you come race my Busch Grand National race?’” Craven said. “Bob was always thinking of the fans, always thinking of the paying customer. Always.”

Bahre took pride in his speedway’s status in the racing scene, and was devastated in 2000 when Loudon was the site of the on-track deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr. eight weeks apart.

Bahre would eventually lead NASCAR’s push for safety, becoming the first owner to put in padded SAFER barriers on the walls in 2003, but the experience of 2000 haunted him.

“He carried that scar tissue the rest of his life,” Craven said. “Everybody that raced at his track was a member of his extended family.”

Few more than Craven. The Newburgh native also spoke about Bahre from a personal standpoint, calling him a “friend” and a “mentor,” and saying he had a “profound impact” on his career.

“Bob was the first person I called anytime I needed advice,” Craven said. “Bob would call, literally, every other week, sometimes every week, during my driving career. He almost always closed the conversation by saying ‘Keep in touch. I like you. I don’t know why I like you, but I like you.’

“There was a loyalty with Bob I’ve never seen surpassed. … My life has been considerably better because I met Bob, and I built a friendship with Bob.”

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