The Pro All Stars Series might be known as the home of the Rowes and the Clarks after drivers with those surnames have won all but one of the PASS North championships in series history, but it has been because of men like Gary Bellefleur that the series has survived and prospered.
That is why it was so shocking to find out today that Bellefleur is gone at the age of 49. The driver lost his life after an accident in his race shop on Monday night - where he was preparing for the season-opener at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) this coming Saturday.
The Bangor Daily News reports that Bellefleur was working on his car when it fell from some type of ramp device. He was found this morning by his wife and son. But those details don't really matter.
Bellefleur was a low-buck racer who didn't have a fraction of what the top teams in the series had to work with. Yet he would still find a way to show up to events even after damaging equipment the week before. Sometimes, the body panels on his white and lavender #40 Super Late Models wouldn't matter. Sometimes, I can remember, he didn't even have a number on one side of the car. But race after race, he would be there to support the tour. He became so reliable that you would take him for granted actually.
I know that I took him for granted and right now, I'm kicking myself for that. I always found Bellefleur to be a very pleasant man, maybe a little bit quiet and shy, but always polite and always willing to carry on a conversation with you.
I remember talking to him about a general store that he was opening up in the rural town of Stetson, Maine. Gary was very much looking forward to that venture and our conversation took place over the off-season of 2008-2009. Sadly, I never asked him how things were going with that store. I always figured that sometime, I'd get the chance to and I always thought of it when I was up in that part of the state visiting family. I took it for granted that there would always been another race where I could do that.
Before going on tour with PASS, Bellefleur was a regular in the Pro Stock (Super Late Model) classes at Speedway 95 and Unity Raceway in Maine. He would especially like it when the tour returned to those venues.
Bellefleur also stayed close to his roots, by serving as the track announcer at Unity Raceway in his free time.
It was hard for Bellefleur to make it to all of the PASS North races. He ended up with just shy of two dozen career starts in the series. But he would surprise everyone by showing up for events far from his home, and sometimes even over the Canadian border, despite having limited resources.
In 2007, Bellefleur used perseverance and consistency to break into the top 10 of the PASS North point standings. In 2009, he didn't start a single PASS North event, but it appears that he was planning to be at least a semi-regular on the tour this coming season. Bellefleur also showed plenty of support for PASS off the track. He was one of the drivers who you would often see during trade shows and fan events meeting fans and signing autographs in whatever booth or display the series had.
Bellefleur's final racing weekend occurred when he entered the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway last month. Despite his low budget, Bellefleur towed to North Carolina to race against the big boys. With 49 entries vying for far fewer spots the field though, Bellefleur ended up going home early from that event.
Just recently, Bellefleur told veteran racing writer Mike Lange in a SVWeekly story run in the newspapers around Newport, Maine, that he enjoyed his trip to Hickory.
"The unfortunate part is that we were 19th on the speed charts on race day - the fastest car among the North drivers," said Bellefleur in Lange's story.
I can image that Bellefleur felt a certain sense of pride when he spoke those words to Lange. In a race where well-known Northern champions Ben Rowe, Johnny Clark and Brad Leighton were all entered in, Bellefleur got to score one small victory for the little guy.
Bellefleur also told Lange that he was looking forward to the season-opening race at his home track at Speedway 95. Unfortunately, that event got rained out and Bellefleur planned to start his season at Beech Ridge instead.
Away from the track, Bellefleur was active in town politics. He was a selectman in the town of Stetson.
Speed51.com offers our thoughts and prayers to Bellefleur's family, friends, crew and fans. We will share any information on services for him as it becomes available.