Sometimes up here in the Northeast we can get a little
defensive about our racing.
Sure, we have not achieved the
notoriety of some other areas – the ‘shine’-soaked hills of the
Southeast and their down-home roster of early NASCAR “runners,”
those spongy dirt ovals in the Midwest that bounced the best of
their broad-sliders onto the bricks of Indy, the road courses and
dry lakes where the more glamorous Southern Californians played.
But, in actuality, New England has had its full measure of
extraordinarily talented hot shoes.
It has been the charge of
the Connecticut-based NEAR Hall of Fame to recognize these
history-makers, and the group has done so impressively, with nearly
120 inductees to date. One of the most pleasing – and unusual –
aspects of NEAR is that its aim is to cover all forms of motor
racing – large track and small, ovals, drag, and road racing. The
annual HoF banquet was held Sunday, November 10. My charge was to
introduce Bob Sharp, the perfect prototype of a self-made racer and
entrepreneur par excellence, as presented in the induction remarks
|The Sharp brand in a hurry.
There is no question that over time we have
enrolled a glorious list of racers into the NEAR Hall of Fame, but
there is also no question that we are three laps down in the area of
road racing. We have honored Phil Walters and John Fitch, but there
are many more extremely successful competitors in New England’s
annals. What a pleasure to be here today to introduce the next of
them, Bob Sharp, clearly an exceptional talent.
storyline begins in the 1960s in a leased Gulf station in
Ridgefield, Connecticut. Bob Sharp was fresh out of a middling
college career. Little interested him except the marketing classes.
Now he was pumping gas and pumping out used cars, but he was
obsessionally focused on his $1700 bugeye Sprite and the Corvette
that towed it.
Just 16 years later, he had won countless
races, six national SCCA championships and the IMSA GTU crown.
This meteoric success was self-made in every way. He landed what
was likely one of the very first factory sponsorships in the sport.
He built a robust racing enterprise nationally recognized for both
technology and driver development.
Weekdays he leveraged his
car lot to a case study in dealership and real-estate development,
on its way to peddling over 2000 units a year, Datsuns, Ferraris and
Maseratis among their number.
Beyond just plain passion and
hard work, three attributes seemed to interweave to make it all
First, that interest in marketing. Bob was a
lateral thinker, who could think
creatively but with focus and purpose. How he talked a group of
Japanese guys into factory-backing a team based in a gas station is
But that accomplished, he turned his focus
to precision in engineering and
preparation. It paid off on the track and in the showroom. He lured
enthusiasts to his facilities with race-proven performance upgrades.
His red, white, and blue #33s became a nationally recognized brand.
It’s curious to consider how popular they became – so similar to the
red, white, and black #33 modifieds wheeled to national
championships by Bill Wimble. What a treat to look over at that
table and see them sitting together.
And, it was
precision on the track as well. Bob
was calm, cool – there at the end of the race. He was like Eddie
Flemke. Bob told me that in 17 years behind the wheel, he only got
off the track four times. He said, “Even if you just drop one wheel
off the track, that’s time out. It’s time to go out to the barn and
thrash yourself.” It was that discipline that brought him wins in
two-thirds of his races in his last ten years.
however, was laced with that nagging orneriness of racing. In April
at Road Atlanta, Bob’s GTU car stumbled and he went end for end.
Then at Lime Rock in August, a freakish brush with another car left
him to compete for the rest of the day with a sore arm. On the way
home, he stopped by the hospital. His wrist was savagely broken and
his mobility would be permanently threatened if he did not ease up.
So that was it behind the wheel, but hardly the end of race
|Scott Sharp and Paul Newman,
team drivers in the 1980s
There is another way that Bob Sharp was like
Eddie Flemke, whom Bones Bourcier labeled as modified racing’s
professor. Bob was professorial, too, frequently working with
aspiring drivers. He’d often take riders for instructionally
aggressive rides around Lime Rock.
Three of them are of
The first showed up in the early seventies. Bob
describes him as “a pleasant guy with sunglasses I didn’t know. I
was taken by how interested and unfazed he was. Later he showed up
at my shop and said he wanted to become a winning race car driver.
He was 48. He was Paul Newman.”
They became close friends and
team partners, and Newman became a truly great racer over a 20-year
Newman and others drove to over 15 additional national
championships for Sharp. Among them were Jim Fitzgerald, Elliott
Forbes-Robinson, New Englander Sam Posey, footballer Walter Peyton,
and actor Tom Cruise.
The second lucky passenger riding with
Bob at brisk Lime Rock pace was an extraordinarily successful
go-kart racer, still with peach fuzz. He was Bob’s son, Scott. Bob
already had recognized that Scott had the goods and he now sought to
teach him “the heart of racing.” In the 1980s, when Scott won his
first national championship, he was in a car Bob himself had driven
for six years. It was the most emotional racing moment ever for the
family Sharp. Bob smiles and says, “Scott even listened to some of
the stuff I told him.” Scott, of course, went on to IRL racing, has
sat on the pole at Indy, won at New Hampshire, and is still very
The third fortunate tourist was a media guy –
and a wonderful one. Our own Charlie Mitchell. Good people always
seem to connect, and so did Bob and the late Charlie.
Charlie, of course, was a mainstay of the NEAR Hall of Fame
Selection Committee. I guess that ride at Lime Rock really impressed
him, as it was Charlie who originally brought Bob’s name into our
So, how about a big ol’ welcome for Bob Sharp as we
induct him into the New England Racing Hall of Fame.
|Bob Sharp in his hilltop
hacienda, Sherman, CT.
Lew Boyd and
Bob Sharp at the 11-10-13 NEAR HOF Induction
© 2013 Lew Boyd
- Coastal 181