November 18, 2013

ARCHIVES                                         

By Brian Danko                           
 

Brian Ross Inducted into New England Auto Racers' Hall of Fame

 

When one thinks of Brian Ross, they think of a smart racer. Smart in both the sense that he could drive but that he also had the talent to build race cars. Ross of Ballston Spa, N.Y. was a thinking man’s racer.

Ross is now a New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer as the soft spoken driver was inducted into the NEAR annual banquet Sunday, November 10 at the Manelley’s Banquet Hall in South Windsor, CT.

Ross was one of eight inductees in the prestigious Hall of Fame and when Ross was clearly humbled when asked about being in the Class of 2013.

“I really don’t know what I am doing here.” Brian told me as we renewed a longtime friendship.


Brian Ross accepts his induction into the Hall of Fame from Racing Journalist Pete Vander Veer.
Steve Kennedy Photo

“This is hard for me to think about. I look at the names in this HOF and I wonder why I am here.”

Ross, who had seven modified tour wins in his career and also won the 1984 Race of Champions and the 1986 Spring Sizzler at the Stafford Motor Speedway, Ross began to follow the tour when it started in 1985 and left the tour after the 1990 season.

Brian did run some Busch north events and won a Busch race at the Holland Speedway in upstate New York and ran his last race in 2000.

It was then that he was able to help his son, Chris, who was so instrumental in Brian’s career get his racing career going.

Brian was one of the drivers that the media would seek out when a problem would arise or unfortunately deaths that occurred in modified racing in the dark period of 1988 to 1990. It was Ross, the thinker and the builder that drivers would seek out as well as NASCAR. Brian Ross was the Jeff Burton of the Sprint Cup series, a good driver who was thoughtful in his evaluation of what is wrong.

When asked about his time in racing, Brian said it was the evolution of racing that amazed him. “I saw so much of the evolution of racing to what it has become today. I saw cars that could run both asphalt and dirt together to where now each has their own built cars. It is amazing to see were racing has gone.”

But Ross, like many, is concerned to where racing is headed.

“I talked with Julie (Stefanik) and asked if NASCAR did a lot to promote what Mike has done and she said no. That is so sad. I was lucky that I got to race both Mike and Richie Evans and its real sad when today people don’t know who Richie Evans was.”

Brian said when he was racing that he didn’t just want to be on the same track as Evans but race him and he did and many times came out on top against his friend and rival.

“You know it’s like a kick in my gut  when people don’t know who Richie was.”  Brian said shaking his head.

When asked about the state of the racing today, Brian isn’t too optimistic. “All the fans seem to be TV fans. Tracks are struggling to get people to go to their local short track.”

I asked Brian if he still follows the modified tour and Brian said he doesn’t.

“No, I really don’t. I do hear bits and pieces of people who will come in and talk but I don’t follow it anymore.”

That is a shame but for one afternoon, Brian Ross was back in modified racing, meeting with old friends and rivals as they welcomed him into the 2013 Class of the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. A place that he rightfully belongs.

Eight Inducted into the New England Auto Racers' Hall of Fame

2013 Inductees
(top row left to right) Mike Stefanik for brother Bob, Brian Ross, Bill Eldridge, Bob Sharp.
(sitting) Ron Berndt, Drew Fornoro, Stan Meserve and Ralph Nason.
Steve Kennedy Photo

The New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame added eight new members into the elite Hall when Ron Berndt, Bill Eldridge, Drew Fornoro, Stan Meserve, Ralph Nason, Brian Ross, road racer Bob Sharp and Bob Stefanik.

The gala was held on Sunday, November 10th at the Manelley’s Banquet hall in South Windsor, CT.

New England racing personality and track announcer, Matt Buckler served as the MC for the event and kept everything moving along quickly.

Peter Vander Veer, a longtime writer for several newspapers and magazines was the winner of the Jack Ratta/ Charlie Mitchell Media Award for someone who has done a lot to promote auto racing, especially in an era when if it didn’t involve a ball, it wasn’t a sport. Pete is a deserving winner and continues to cover the sport today, some 42 years later.

Two Maine legends were inducted into the NEAR HOF as Racin Ralph Nason and Stan Meserve were inducted and had many friends and fans with them in the crowd of more than 250 who attended the dinner and banquet.

Nason was a three time winner of the Oxford 250 and at one time owned and promoted three race tracks. He still runs one speedway today.

Stan Meserve was another favorite and ran as an independent on the Grand National circuit. He would later serve as an official for the NASCAR North and ACT series, a chassis Builder and team manager and crew chief for Ricky Craven and Andy Santerre.

Both Santerre and Craven were on hand to see their friend inducted.

Car owner, Ronnie Berndt of Meriden, Ct was another inductee as he was presented by longtime motorsports journalist and writer of several auto racing books, Mark ‘Bones’ Bourcier.

Ronnie started building cars at the Plainville Stadium and today, some six decades later still is winning as his grandson, Eric Berndt is a top runner on the modified tour and weekly SK racing.

But Berndt said his days are done as the escalating costs have put him out of business. When he was building and winning with drivers such as Tony ‘Jap’ Membrino, Sparky Belmont to Teddy Christopher he built it from parts in his North End Auto parts junkyard.

Midget racer Bill Eldridge and roadracer,Bob Sharp were also included in the all encompassing group of racing personalities.

Eldridge won for NEMA (New England Midget Association) titles including the first one in 1953. He won at 17 different tracks in his 25 year career.

Bob Sharp is one of the most successful road racers in American Sports Car racing. He later become car owner and helped turn actor Paul Newman into a great road racer and worked with Tom Cruise as he tried his hand in racing.

Another midget racer and legend, Drew Fornoro, who with 85 wins and nine championships later was an emotional inductee. He joins his dad, Nick into the HOF. Drew won at least one race in 21 different seasons.

Bob Stefanik was a three time Riverside Park Speedway champion and still ranks among the top winners at the now defunct speedway with 31 wins in the novice, sportsman and modified divisions.

He was a three time winner of the Riverside 500 teaming with Billy Greco to win one and Geoff Bodine to win another two. Sadly Bob passed away in 1984 and was presented by his son and accepted by future NEAR Hall of Famer as well as NASCAR Hall of Famer, Mike Stefanik.

Brian Ross was the eighth member of the class and he said how grateful he was to his many car owners including NEAR HOF member Bob Garbarino, who was in the crowd. Brian and Bob raced together for seven years winning many events.

Many past inductees were present for the annual dinner/induction ceremony including car owner, Mario Fiore as well as his driver, Reggie Ruggiero.  Dave Dion, Denny Zimmerman, Val LeSieur,  Dan Meservey, Garbarino, Dick Berggren, Pete Zanardi, Bob Potter and Sonny Koszela.

The annual banquet is set for next November 16th when another class will join the legends of New England Auto Racing.