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NASCAR Nation Loses A Trio Of Giants

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 27 2020

Brothers Richard and Maurice Petty at their office. Engine-builder Maurice passes away last week.

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

In less than a month, NASCAR has lost three of its icons – Dr. Rose Mattioli, Bob Bahre and Maurice Petty. 

Their personalities made them unique, but their contributions to motorsports made them giants in the auto racing industry. Bahre, 93, and Mattioli, 92, were instrumental in bringing NASCAR to the Northeast and New England. 

The 81-year-old Petty, known as “Chief”, developed and produced the powerful engines that propelled his older brother, Richard Petty, to seven NASCAR championships and 198 of his 200 victories. All total, the younger Petty’s engines recorded 273 victories with drivers that included Lee Petty, Pete Hamilton, Buddy Baker and Jim Paschal as well as his brother. 

However, Maurice Petty was much more than an engine builder. The father of five was an inspiration in life as well as on the race track. To understand the magnitude of his accomplishments, one must first know the debilitating disease he faced as a child. At age 3 ½, he awoke one morning paralyzed from the waist down. He had contracted poliomyelitis, more commonly known as polio. No vaccine existed for the virus at that time and it was often fatal. At Duke University’s medical center in Durham, Petty fought the disease with the same tenacity that eventually became his trademark in racing. It left him with a limp, but it never slowed him until he reached his mid-40s.

Petty actually began working with his father at age 10 and even drove a race car from 1960-1964. During that time, he competed in 26 NASCAR Cup races, produced seven top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. 

In 1970, he not only built the engine that Hamilton drove to a Daytona 500 victory, he also served as the Massachusetts driver’s crew chief. A 1969 newspaper article that carried Petty’s byline sported the headline: “Maurice: The Forgotten Brother.” That headline couldn’t have been further from the truth. With Petty’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014, he became the fourth member of the Petty Enterprises dynasty to be selected for the honor. He built more than 300 winning engines that were used in NASCAR’s premier series, ARCA, USAC, NHRA, IHRA and road racing. He was a three-time UNOCAL/Rockingham pit crew competition winner and won Mechanic of the Year a dozen times.

Engine builder Maurice Petty prepares an engine to be run on the dynamometer at the Petty Enterprises shops in Randleman, N.C. (Photos by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

While Petty might have been tough in the shop and at the track, he was compassionate and helpful away from his “office”. He always had time to talk with me and even tried to help me acquire an interview with his father, Lee. He and his family always treated me as if I were a long-time friend. 

It was that compassion for people that also made Bahre and Mattioli special. 

Mattioli and her husband, Joseph, were both doctors. She was a podiatrist and he was a dentist. They opened their practices together in Northeast Philadelphia and then co-founded Pocono Raceway in 1968. On race weekends, they always visited with the competitors, media and sponsors, treating everyone as if they were family. Known affectionately as Dr. Rose, she created a lounge for the competitors’ wives with food and toys for the children before motor coaches became popular. She and her husband, “Doc”, always hosted a media picnic on race weekend, had a priest and a minister at the track, created the Bill France Award, and greeted every competitor during driver introductions. 

When I underwent major surgery in November 1997, Dr. Rose sent me a beautiful bouquet of white roses and let me know she was saying a novena for me. She always made me feel as if I was a part of her family. When she and Doc had a “This Is Your Life” program for Darrell Waltrip during his final season, they asked me to interview Waltrip’s wife, Stevie. However, she bestowed upon me one of my biggest honors in 2013 when she asked me to induct her late husband into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame. Dr. Rose’s energy and zest for life was infectious, but it was her sincere compassion for others that made her special.

In regards to Bahre, it was the fact that this self-made multimillionaire never lost touch with the hard working, common person that impressed me about him when I traveled to New Hampshire for the inaugural NASCAR Cup race in 1993. He treated everyone with respect and never asked anyone to do something that he wouldn’t roll up his sleeves and do himself. For a decade, every time I walked into the track cafeteria for breakfast on Sunday morning, Bahre was sitting there with NASCAR executives Bill France Jr. and/or Mike Helton.  

A farm boy from Suffield, Conn., Bahre never sought the headlines. He was more interested in producing a good product. He purchased Oxford (Maine) Plains Speedway in 1964 and ran it with his brother, Dick. They revitalized racing in the area, creating the Oxford 250.  It was after he sold Oxford Plains in 1987 that he built New Hampshire International Speedway, capitalizing on NASCAR’s boom that stretched through the 1990s. In 2008, he sold the track to Speedway Motorsports Inc. for $340 million, but remained a consultant for several years. 

Bahre’s passion for racing extended to collecting cars and he owned one of the finest collections. In 2013, he told the Robb Report, “Some guys chase broads. I chase cars.” But the business opportunities he chased didn’t stop with those two interests. He constructed housing throughout Maine, owned several shopping centers across the state and was a 40 percent shareholder in a Paris, Maine, heating company.

Even though the activities had declined in recent years for the three, they still epitomized those who built NASCAR into a popular sport. They never shied from hard work. Instead, they exhibited a passion for it while never losing site of their priorities and their compassion for others. They made everyone’s life they touched a little richer.  

( Editor’s note: Deb Williams is in her fourth decade of covering motorsports. The former editor of NASCAR Winston Cup Scene and managing editor of GT Motorsports has also covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. The 1990 and 1996 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year has authored five books and hosts the podcast “Racing Now and Then.”)

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 27 2020
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