RACING NORTH OF THE BRIDGE – BOB BUSHLEY AND
Folks refer to Maine, that Northeastern protrusion from New England,
as “Down East.” It’s different. You sense it instantly motoring over
the border, the huge Route
95 bridge above the Piscataqua River.
The land in Maine is flatter, awash with scrubby pine trees in sandy
soil, never far, it seems, from that jagged coastline and the
thousands of storybook little islands just beyond it.
have their own way of doing things. Even their dialect is quite
famously different from the rest of the country. The same could be
said about its racing.
Maybe it’s the geography, or maybe
just that bridge. But back in the day, few racers would cross the
state line to compete. Down East racing developed with its
brand of cars and its own stars.
Way back in the later
1940s, a hard-jawed, no-nonsense heavy equipment operator from
Windham caught that vapor-trail fever. Over the next four decades he
and his grainy-looking race cars came to symbolize the funky but
ferocious competition of his
area and era.
Sr. first buckled into open-wheelers, most notably Tommy Phelps’
wire-wheeled big car that allegedly ran the Brickyard pre-War.
|Bob Bushley –
mustache and wire wheels. (Bushley Family
As stock cars flowed into pit areas across the nation – even
Maine, Bushley manhandled coupes such as businessman Andrew Glance’s
P-38 over the rutty dirt
of Beech Ridge, Oxford Plains, Unity,
and the like. He began to win prodigiously, soon in his own P-38
square-top coupes, even with warriors such as Ernie Gahan, Ralph
Cusack, and Dick Garrett there in full combat. Both he and his cars
were well known for their speed and their industrial strength.
That’s Bushley in the P38 square top on July 4,
1952. Folks down Maine
were into their racing.
(Bushley Family Collection)
But by 1962, Bushley’s focus had changed. He’d become fascinated by
a rough and tumble young truck driver who, largely unnoticed, was
running bombers at
Beech Ridge. To everyone’s amazement, Bushley
hired him. His name was Homer Drew.
Bob glued together a
“round top” cut down for his new shoe, fashioned after Andy Smith’s
infamous #99, an early A-framed super from Beverly, Mass. The little
P-38 was no beauty, even when freshly built, but it was the
talk of the pits. Given the crater-like holes at Maine tracks in
those years, the clever Bushley replaced the
A-frames with a
hearty twin I-beam front end, suspended on two coils with inflatable
air bags inside to set the wedge.
It was one sturdy piece and
a rocket ship from the start, the start of one of the most
successful owner-driver combos in racing history. Bob’s young sons,
Bob Jr. and David, became the enthusiastic crew.
|Bob Bushley saw the spark in a
young Homer Drew and trained him with
“round top.” (Bushley Family Collection)
It took Homer Drew, super-aggressive and extraordinarily fast, about
ten laps to develop into a world-class chauffeur, as natural at
twisting a wheel as his owner was at twisting a wrench. At Beech
Ridge, Homer seemed to play to a rhythm and groove all his own,
high, wide and handsome. Though he was completely in control, the
crowd would regularly back away from the backstretch fence as he
motored out of
turn two. It looked like there was no way he
wouldn’t slam into it full throttle.
David Bushley remembers
Homer telling him, “I don’t drive the car, I let it float.” Veteran
Maine racer Bruce Elder says something quite similar. “He didn’t
the car. That would mean they were two different
things. He wore the car.”
Bob cobbled together a new
round-top P-38 in 1964, no more expensive, no prettier, no lighter,
but even faster. They won the Ridge championship in 1967 and 1968.
Tales abound about how they broke every normal technical procedure
in our sport. Once the steering wheel came apart, so Bob sent Homer
back out to finish the feature with vice grips in its stead. And
that night a push rod broke in qualifying. Bob simply
plug out, and off went Homer, hissing and squeaking. David recalls
Homer saying, “Yup, that motor was numb, but we got ’em,” after
Maybe the most memorable performances, though,
came farther up Route 95 in Sunday-night open competitions after Bob
Bahre had purchased, rehabilitated, and paved Oxford Plains
Speedway. Homer took that unsightly dirt car, weighing in at 2900
-3000 pounds, right to the podium, whupping some of the best
equipped, shiniest asphalt modifieds in the East.
Homer, a lot of the magic came from Bushley’s hand-built motors.
Friend Mike Sargent commented, “Bob sure could put together some
horsepower. All the right parts in all the right places. But all the
rest of the show – that was just negative
eyewash to him.”
Over the course of the seventies, Bushley did begin buying
chassis from the outside world. In ’73 it was an offset super Clyde
Booth had built for Star (N.H.) Speedway. Eddie Skofield had taken a
sky ride in it, so Bob clipped it and added a few hundred pounds of
beef. They won the Beech Ridge championship that year.
|1973 and another championship
at the Ridge. (Bushley Family Collection)
By now little could apparently stop the Bushley-Drew momentum,
not even the devastatingly sad death of Bob Bushley Jr. in a sprint
car at the Ridge in 1974.
Drew was soon lightning fast in a P-38
ex-USAC sprinter that Bob Sr. bought in Ohio and adapted to the
|The sprinter was no special
challenge for Drew. (Bushley Family Collection)
By 1980 the open competition cars were gone from Beech Ridge, so
Bushley went to Massachusetts and purchased a torsion-front,
spring-rear Pinto modified from the equally creative and
tight-fisted Lenny Boehler.
It was only fitting that later
that summer Homer romped to the win of the Bob Bushley Jr. memorial
race in Scarborough. David recalls that during qualifying a rear
main sprint leaf broke. His dad took it out and over to a local
shop, and carefully welded it back together. Telling the
disbelieving tech guys that he “would take full responsibility,” Bob
stuck it back in for the win. David claims that in actuality they
ran it for a couple of weeks before they could locate a new one.
|Bob Bushley and Homer
Drew celebrate their win in the ex-Boehler Pinto
in the 1980 memorial race for Bob’s son.
eighties, Homer and Bob backed down the pace, and Bob began
traveling with David, with supers, a Busch North episode,
and modifieds. It had bothered
Dave that when he started
racing, his father never came around. He was always at the
other end of the pits with Homer. Finally, Bob did start
showing some interest. In the later years on the road
together, David was still upset and he asked his dad about
it. Bob Sr. responded that he never wanted anyone to think
that David had been given any silver spoon in racing. “No
one helped me, so I’m not going to help you.” Once David had
shown his stuff and did some winning, Senior lightened up.
Reflecting on that today, David comments – still pensively,
“You know, I guess my Dad WAS pretty crafty.”
2000, as if breaking down that bridge separating Maine and
New Hampshire, Homer Drew was the first Maine driver to be
inducted into the New England Auto
Racing Hall of Fame.
Bob Sr. was there at the induction, but by then in very poor
health. He leaned over to his long-chosen shoe and said,
“Homer, this will
be our last great win.”
2004, both Homer and Bob Sr. were inducted into the Maine
Motorsports Hall of Fame. With a tearful speech, David
accepted on behalf of his family. By that
time his dad
© 2013 Lew Boyd
- Coastal 181
If you were
interested in this Tearoff, you might enjoy the book below:
Vintage Race Car Association: Tenth Anniversary 2002-2011
Ten Years of Preserving and Reliving Motorsports History