He helped build three new speedways with his own hands and refurbished three more. Some of the greatest drivers in auto racing history thrilled hundreds of thousands of fans on those race tracks, leaving decades of lasting memories.
New England Auto Racing Hall-of-Famer “Charlie” Elliott, 96, passed away in his sleep this week, at his home in Hernando, Fla.
Self-educated, his common-sense approach, quiet vice-gripe handshake and humor matched by a determined work ethic were his calling card while helping build a legendary career from New England to Florida.
Elliott began racing open-wheel open-cockpit cars in 1936 on the old dirt Newmarket (N.H.) Speedway and later became involved in midget car racing. Rather than drive, he preferred working on cars becoming a mechanic and expert welder.
After working as a submarine welder through World War II at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, he began operating race tracks and building race cars. He built the first rear-engine race car ever to compete on an oval track.
Elliott’s operation of race tracks began in the late 1940s, first in Sanford, Maine and then the former Dover (N.H.) Speedway between 1953 and 1965. He was the originator of the first “Canadian-American” challenge race in 1958, matching top New England “cut down” car drivers against “invaders” – drivers he personally recruited from Montreal and Toronto.
His vision for new racing facilities coincided with the formation of the New England Super-Modified Racing Association (NESMRA) in 1965. Teaming with Ken Smith and myself, we opened Elliott’s newly-built Star Speedway, a quarter mile oval in Epping, N.H., in early August of 1967, just hours after the track paving had been completed.
Elliott didn’t stop there, as Star Speedway became a nationally-known short track, home of the annual September “Classic” race drawing drivers from coast to coast as well as Canada.
Another Elliott project developed in 1978 when he purchased the dilapidated Hudson (N.H.) Speedway. He personally helped refurbish the track, returning it to life. Along with help from Smith, myself and his family, Hudson flourished with successful events throughout the 1980’s.
Elliott purchased the old Lee Raceway triangle track in 1982. He completely redesigned and built a new oval track on the site, Lee USA Speedway, which opened July 4, 1984.
In 1988, he again got the itch to build. His company purchased the dirt Canaan Fairgrounds Speedway in Canaan, N.H. and he operated a bulldozer, grader and water truck to help restore the track.
To make it a multi-track facility, he built a new paved quarter mile oval speedway at Canaan, only 800-feet from his dirt oval track. Legendary Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr., “Daytona 500” champions Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, and Geoff Bodine, to Hall-of-Fame super-modified icons Ollie Silva, Bentley Warren, Don MacLaren, Nolan Swift, Jim Shampine, to Chris Perley, Russ Wood and many more, all raced at his tracks.
Editor’s note: Russ Conway was a long-time sports editor at The Eagle-Tribune and has spent four decades in the auto racing business.
Editor's note: Russ Conway was a long-time sports editor at The Eagle-Tribune and has spent four decades in the auto racing business. While at the newpaper, he was a runnerup for Pulitzer Prize for his work and expose on former National Hockey League Players Association executive director Alan Eagleson. He has also co-owned race tracks in New Hampshire for more than three decades and promoted races up and down the east coast. In 2006 was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame.