Father Time: Bob Potter An Entertainer For The Ages In Connecticut Short Track Racing

Bob Potter (Photo: Fran Lawlor)

They are the men and women that pilot vehicles built from the first piece in the hopes of finding speed and domination of the competition. 

They strap themselves into rides that they know could very well cost them their lives.  And yet, they jam the accelerator and put on a show. 

They are the performers that have for decades made short track racing a staple of local entertainment in nearly every corner of the country. 

And they are the people that often prove to be lifelong heroes for many of the devotees that so loyally cheer them on. 

Bob Potter was one of those people. A winner on the track, an entertainer behind the wheel and an individual that cultivated a fan base with a foundation built on enamored devotion. 

In most instances for the heroes of short track racing at every level, time catches up on competitive ability. So many of the heroes of the track have to come to grips with the fact that it’s time to walk away. 

Those drivers transition in many different directions. Some walk away from the sport entirely. Many became fixtures in the pits or the grandstands, continuing to revel in their local fame and admiration away from competition. 

Few though get to transition from competitor to entertainer in quite the unique and timeless way Bob Potter had the opportunity to do at Stafford Speedway.

The Connecticut short track racing scene lost a great of Modified racing and an immense ambassador for the sport with the passing of Potter on Wednesday

And local racing lost a man who also reveled in his opportunity to give local fans an inside look at the sport the likes of which would be hard to find or experience anywhere else across the grassroots of the industry. 

Potter spent decades as an ultra-successful competitor at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl and Stafford Motor Speedway. He gathered up a total of 11 championship titles in the premier divisions of the two tracks over his reign. He walked away from full-time competition in 1999 to care for his cancer stricken brother Wayne. 

In 2012 though he got back behind the wheel of a Modified, but it wasn’t to compete, but rather to truly entertain. After years of being the show on the track, Potter jumped at the opportunity to be the one to put fans in the show with the introduction of Stafford Speedway’s two-seat Modified. 

The new concept gave fans at the track the opportunity to buy laps riding shotgun in a Modified with a Modified racing great – Potter – behind the wheel. 

And from the 2012 season up until this past June Potter delighted in his role at Stafford with the two-seat Modified. 

And the beauty of Potter in that role wasn’t just that fans got the chance to say they rode in a Modified at speed on track at Stafford with him, but that he made them feel like they were the most important person at the track when they did it. 

Anyone who has been around racing knows that the ranks of drivers run the gamut of personalities, from the gregarious and playful to the ever-grumpy and everything else in between. 

Potter was the man who was a talker. He talked about the racing today, he spun tales of racing of the past, he talked about the racing at the uppermost levels of the sport right down to the lowest levels at the short track. And he knew everyone. If there was a tale to be told he was the one to tell it. And he gave fans who signed up for rides the same treatment he gave his racer friends.

A welcoming and gracious storyteller who made them feel a part of the show even before they got on the track with him. 

And ultimately he gave them a ride they likely would never forget. 

Talk to drivers at any level of racing for long enough and you’ll hear them say how it’s hard to put into words exactly how it feels to be running at speed on a race track. 

That speed and desire to find it and turn it into victories on the track was a passion that drove Potter for decades in competition. 

And while that immense success in competition is so much of what defines the racer he was, a large part of his lasting legacy to Connecticut short track racing is that in retirement he was the lucky soul who got to take his passion and let regular people truly understand what that appetite for speed felt like when the wheels were in motion and the gas pedal was jammed.  

Connecticut short track racing is better today for all that Potter brought to it, in both phases of his career. 

On Aug. 19, 2016 I got the chance to ride along with Bob Potter in the two-seater Modified at Stafford Speedway thanks to Mark and Lisa Arute

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  1. Great summation of two fantastic careers.

  2. He was often right there. Right in the walk way between the stands in his fire suit. An actual local racing legend watching the action. accessible to fans. No big deal. He was truly unique.
    Great, great perspective in this story. What might be something to share in a couple lines would be the writers visceral sensation of actually being in the car. Sights, sounds, smells, fears etc.

  3. By far, this is one of the best written perspectives I’ve ever read. It was personal and came from your heart, which clearly shows how well you knew Bob. Thank you Shawn. I’m sure it’s been just as hard a week for you as it’s been for the rest of the racing community. My thoughts & prayers for you & the Potter’s.

  4. Enfield Mod Fan says

    Shawn, I’m glad that you got the opportunity to ride with Bob Potter in that two seater. That memory will last you a lifetime. How I wish I had done that with Bob. He is and was a very unique champion. He will be greatly missed for so many reasons.

  5. Agreed this is well done! My regret is that I did not make it up to Stafford for my own ride with Bob in the two-seater. He truly was my idol as a young race fan. It is kind of ironic, but last Saturday I was a race meet held at the defunct Arundel Speedway in Arundel, Maine. The track closed in the early ’70s, but has been preserved by the property owner opening up once a year for a meet. One of the first cars I was when I arrived was the 110 coupe. That was a few years before I arrived at the Speedbowl as a youngster, but immediately recognized the car. Mark LaJuenesse’s coupe was also there. And I guess in follow-up to my response last night, I really only wrote to Bob’s accomplishments as the “Master of the Modifieds” at the Speedbowl, but failed to acknowledge his accomplishments at Stafford and Thompson.

  6. Have to say that was a great read. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Very well written Shawn. Bob was one of the best competitors on track, but will be remembered as the guy who got to scare the crap out of people driving the 2 seater modified. There were times when he’d go out with the lites, and actually ended up passing cars. And although he took it easy there were times when he’d drive that thing in deep. Bob was a great guy both on and off track, who always took the time to chat with the fans. He definitely will be missed

  8. He was part of some great years at Stafford. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t see him walking the pits in more recent years. He will be missed.

  9. Bob- thanks for the ride i’ll never forget!

  10. Sorry to be repetitive but Shawn thanks for the well written article about one of Connecticut racing’s all time greats.

  11. Excellent piece, Shawn. This one’s a keeper…..

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