Ron Bouchard, winner of NASCAR’s 1981 Talladega 500 in a furious three-abreast finish, died Thursday of cancer in his native Fitchburg, Mass. He was 67.
Rookie Bouchard overtook and edged runner-up Darrell Waltrip and third-place Terry Labonte by 2 feet at what is now the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
The triumph led to Bouchard becoming that season’s Cup Series rookie of the year.
After the wild win Bouchard seemed a bit stunned, even during the victor’s press box interview.
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“I was lucky in a lot of ways,” he said. “The biggest one being that my race car was parked next to Buddy Baker’s in the garage area. Buddy gave me advice on the aerodynamic draft, which is so important at this track. I believe Buddy could find good air off a paper bag.”
Bouchard, who someone nicknamed “A Yankee in King Richard’s Court,” referring to NASCAR legend Richard Petty, was asked, “Is there anything you don’t like about the South?”
He elicited laughter with this reply: “I don’t like Brits, that stuff you have for breakfast.”
He meant grits.
Bouchard began racing in 1963 in Massachusetts, subbing in his dad’s car for the regular driver, who was ill. He became a major star in New England, winning championships in late model and modified divisions.
Team owner Jack Beebe and crew chief Bob Johnson brought him to the NASCAR big time in ’81 as driver for a Kings Mountain-based team.
Bouchard started 160 times through 1987 at stock-car racing’s major level, posting 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He was eighth in the 1982 points standings.
After leaving NASCAR, Bouchard returned to New England, owning and operating auto dealerships.
He is the third former Cup Series driver with Charlotte-area connections to pass away this year, following Baker of the Denver area of Lake Norman and Jim Vandiver of Huntersville.