NEAR Inducts 16th Hall Of Fame Class
The pride of Chelmsford, Mass., pioneering open wheel star Bill Eldridge was the Northeastern Midget Ass’n’s first champion in 1953. He won four NEMA driving titles, all with car owner Gibby Parmenter, and 32 features, still ranking sixth on the club’s all time win list. A World War II Navy veteran, he became interested in racing in 1949. He attended a driving school at Medford Bowl and had a brief stint with stock cars before he and Parmenter became a dominant team in NEMA’s formative years. He won at 17 different tracks in a 25-year career for owners Parmenter, Bob Bahre, Mike Scrivani, Yacovone and Rollie Lindblad. Dick Monahan, long an important figure within NEMA welcomed Eldridge into the Hall of Fame.
Racer, writer, and publisher, it was Lew Boyd manning the podium to induct Connecticut’s celebrated Bob Sharp. His being one of the most successful stories in American Sports Car Racing, Sharp and his team totaled dozens of victories and 20 national championships. Having begun as a college student, he was running a gas station when his association with Datsun started in 1964.
Within a decade he had six national SCCA titles and the 1975 IMSA GTU championship, dominating the latter. Moving to owner status, initially with actor Paul Newman, the successes continued to accumulate. Drivers Elliott Forbes-Robinson, the late Jim Fitzgerald and his son Scott were successful in equipment prepared by what eventually became Newman Sharp Racing.
Racing out of North End Auto Parts in Meriden, Conn., Ron Berndt’s cars have won in six different decades including the present one. He has won a number of championships including the 1964 Plainville Stadium title with Sparky Belmont, the 1992 Waterford Speedway crown with Teddy Christopher and a Thompson trophy with grandson Eric Berndt. Shying from the spotlight, his cars, usually numbered 54 or 64, have been driven to victory at Plainville, Waterford, Thompson and Riverside Park by a number of top drivers including Jap Membrino, Stan Gregor, Danny Galullo, Ron Wyckoff, Dave Alkas and sons Timmy and Tommy. Formally of Connecticut where his lifelong interest in the sport began at the former Plainville Stadium, it was award-winning auto racing journalist Mark “Bones” Bourcier introducing Berndt into the Hall of Fame.
Handling induction duties for his brother Bobby was Mike Stefanik, a nine-time champion on the NASCAR Modified Tour. Truly a family-affair, it was Bobby’s son Rob accepting for his late father. A three-time Riverside Park champion (1970-71, 1973), Bobby still ranks among the top winners there with a combined 31 checkers in the Novice, Sportsman and Modified divisions.
Starting in 1961 at Riverside and Stafford, he was a three-time Sportsman champ (1966-68) at “The Park” before moving to the Modifieds, quickly establishing himself in the Czarnecki #20. Three Riverside 500s (one with Billy Greco, two with Geoff Bodine) and several extra-distance events are included among his 21 Riverside Modified wins. Also a strong competitor at Stafford, Thompson and Westboro Speedways, he passed-away in October of 1984.
Motorsports Peter VanderVeer made opening comments for the induction of veteran modified star Brian Ross. The 1984 Race of Champions and the 1986 Spring Sizzler, one of seven NASCAR Modified Tour wins, head up the list of individual victories for Ross, a Ballston Spa, N.Y., driver. Starting in 1961, he played a key role on the NASCAR Modified scene in the 1970s and 80s before a five year run with the Busch North Series. He won with owners Bob Garbarino, Ed Cloce, Wayne Miller and Jerry Rose as well as in his own equipment. He followed up the 1984 Stafford Speedway championship with four crowns at Oswego. Later he headed up son Chris’ racing efforts.
In addition to his introduction of Ross to the Hall of Fame, VanderVeer was the recipient of this year’s Jack Ratta Memorial Media Award which honors an individual displaying excellence within auto racing journalism. Presented by Hall of Fame member & fellow journalist Pete Zanardi, VanderVeer traces his auto racing experience back to the former West Haven Speedway.
He has written for a number of daily newspapers over the past four decades including the Bridgeport Post, New Haven Register and the Norwich Bulletin as well as Trackside Magazine. A Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance McGinley Award winner, Zanardi is quoted as stating that “VanderVeer brings pure journalistic skills to his auto racing coverage.”
Recipient of the Danny Pardi Memorial Award was Dave Dykes. Pardi was an avid supporter of NEAR working tirelessly in support of the origination and was one of the prime-movers in making the formation of the Hall of Fame a reality. Opening comments were made by Hall of Famer Pete Zanardi (himself a past Pardi Award recipient).
Presenting the award in honor of her late husband was Marie Pardi. A life-long fan, Dykes has served the sport in several capacities over the years, including residency as a Speedway Scene columnist. His interest in the sport began at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, where he later became the tracks PR Director under Zanardi’s tutelage. Currently serving on the NEAR Board of Directors and HOF Selection Committee, his photo-oriented “Racing Through Time” website remains a favorite with New England auto racing history buffs.