Ernie Gahan, the 1966 NASCAR Modified national champion, passed away Thursday night at his home in Cranberry Isles, Maine at the age of 83.
Gahan, originally from Dover, N.H., got his start in auto racing at his hometown track – Dover Speedway – in 1948 after serving more than two years as an Army military policeman in Germany following Word War II. After getting his start at Dover, Gahan competed in the NASCAR Sportsman division until 1965, when he moved over to Modifieds.
Gahan compiled 6,560 points during his 1966 run to the title to distance himself from runner-up Bugs Stevens and third place Ray Hendrick. Driving a 1936 Chevrolet coupe, Gahan won 15 of the 71 races he entered that season, but led Hendrick by just 48 points heading into the season finale in Atlanta, Ga. Hendrick was caught up in an early race accident and Gahan crossed the line 10th to earn the crown.
Gahan made 11 starts in what is now known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from 1960-66. He was bestowed the Buddy Shuman Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR following an incident in which he helped Tiny Lund rescue Marvin Panch from a fiery crash prior to the 1963 Daytona 500.
Winner of an estimated 300-plus races during his nearly three decades as a racer, Gahan was a member of the inaugural New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame in 1998 and was a 1990 New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame inductee. Additionally, he is a member of the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame and Beach Ridge Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.
Gahan was in attendance at the 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Awards Banquet as many of the NASCAR Modified champions gathered to kick-off the celebration of 60 Years of Modified Champions. He was honored for his 1966 title at the 2008 Spring Sizzler at Stafford.
"Ernie was part of the Modified legacy that has helped make NASCAR what it is today. He was a great racer and true New England legend," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president for corporate communications. "On behalf of NASCAR and the France family, our thoughts and prayers go out to Gahan's family and friends."
Services for Gahan will be held Wednesday at Purdy Memorial Chapel, 2 Concord Rd., Durham, N.H. The wake will be from 12-2 p.m., followed by the funeral service.