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Former NASCAR Rookie of the Year Ron Bouchard, 1948-2015

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Ron Bouchard at Dover in 1985. Photo by Ted Van Pelt.

Outside of New England racing circles, the name Ron Bouchard may not be known to those without a passion for NASCAR trivia. Over the course of a seven-year career in NASCAR’s Winston Cup, the Massachusetts native earned a single victory (at Talladega in 1981) and NASCAR 1981 Rookie of the Year honors, regularly delivering top-10 finishes for under-funded teams. On December 10, at age 67, Ron lost his lengthy battle with cancer.

Ron’s start in racing came in 1963, when the then 15-year old sat in as a substitute driver for his father’s team. His move up through the ranks began in earnest after his high school graduation, and his first real success in stock car racing came in late models at Massachusetts’s Sekonk Speedway. There, Ron swept the track championship from 1967 to 1971, when he began racing modifieds for Bob Johnson.

The pairing delivered championships at Stafford Speedway in 1973 and 1979, though Ron also raced for other teams (and at other Northeast venues, such as Thompson Speedway and Waterford Speedway) in this period. In 1981, Ron made the jump to NASCAR’s Winston Cup series, joining the Race Hill Farm Team at Bristol, the sixth race of the season. In just his second race for the team, Ron delivered a top-10 finish, followed by another just two races later.

The second race of the 1981 season at Talladega, however, was perhaps the highlight of Ron’s career. In third place on the final lap, Ron watched a battle unfold between race leader Darrell Waltrip and second place Terry Labonte. Preoccupied with holding off Labonte, Waltrip didn’t take much notice of Bouchard’s inside pass on the final turn, believing the rookie to be a lap down. He wasn’t, and the photo-finish showed Bouchard first across the line, followed by Waltrip and Labonte.

Ron never won again in NASCAR’s Winston Cup, though he did deliver regular podium and top-10 finishes. After jumping to Curb Racing in 1986 and then Ellington Racing for five events in 1987, Ron ended his Winston Cup career with a DNF at the first Talladega race of the 1987 season. In 1998, Ron was voted into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame.

Those in central Massachusetts may know Ron’s name best for a string of car dealerships opened near Fitchburg, his home town, in 1986. More recently, his auto dealership holdings expanded to include a store in Gallatin, Tennessee, and in 2015 Ron and his wife Paula opened the RB Racing Museum in Fitchburg.