Former Modified Driver Was 1981 Cup Rookie of the Year
Ron Bouchard, winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 and the premier series’ rookie of the year that same season, passed away Thursday. He was 67.
A native of Fitchburg, Mass., Bouchard pulled off one of NASCAR’s most stunning victories when he shot from third to first on the final lap at Talladega (then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway), passing Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his lone premier series victory. The win came in his 11th career start.
He was driving the Jack Beebe-owned Race Hill Farm No. 47 Buick, with crew chief Bob Johnson. Bouchard had taken over the ride earlier in the season following the departure of driver Harry Gant.
Bouchard became the 13th different winner in the 13-year history of the summer race at the 2.66-mile track.
“Coming off the fourth turn … I was behind Waltrip and Terry when Terry decided to pass Darrell on the outside,” Bouchard told reporters following his Talladega victory. “When he moved up, Darrell moved up to get in front of him. When I saw that, I just shot down to the inside … and moved up fast.”
NASCAR, in a statement, said: “Ron Bouchard’s passion for racing was evident from his very early years in NASCAR. Competition fueled Ron, whether racing modifieds at short tracks across the Northeast or winning rookie of the year honors in NASCAR’s premier series. He loved this sport, and made an indelible mark on it, one that won’t soon be forgotten.
“NASCAR extends its condolences to the friends and family of Ron Bouchard, a true racer.”
A standout Modified driver, Bouchard won track championships at Stafford Springs, Thompson and Seekonk speedways before moving up to what was then known as NASCAR’s Grand National division.
Donald J. Hoenig, a long-time friend of Bouchard, spoke for the track when he said that everyone at the Thompson Speedway was deeply saddened by his passing. “He was not only a wonderful personal friend, but was a marvelous driver and a great golfing companion”, said Hoenig.
Bouchard won a total of 37 races at Thompson and was the Modified track champion in 1978. He also won the prestigious Thompson 300 in 1980.
He made 160 starts at NASCAR’s top level, finishing a career-best eighth in points in ’82. In addition to his one win, Bouchard scored 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes.
He won the series’ rookie title in a class that included Morgan Shepherd, Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman. Seven years later, his brother Ken Bouchard captured the series rookie of the year award as well.
Ron Bouchard won the 1981 Talladega 500 in a photo finish. NASCAR Archives