Shocked and saddened, Connecticut’s racing community is grieving one of its own again.
Just days after nine-time NASCAR Champion Mike Stefanik was killed in an aviation accident, Connecticut’s racing community lost another icon, Norwich’s Bob Potter.
“It takes your breath away,” said close friend and fellow racer Ed Flemke Jr. “It makes you wonder why.”
Norwich Police responded to a motor vehicle accident Tuesday, where they say Potter had a medical emergency and crashed his pickup into a school bus.
No children were on the bus. However, Potter was taken to Backus Hospital where he died Wednesday. His daughter Ginny Potter posted on her Facebook page that the 78-year-old had a heart attack.
Flemke, a racer himself, had been close friends with Potter for decades.
“He was somebody you would look up to. Somebody you would go to for advice. Somebody, if you were having a tough day, you could go to and say, ‘hey, how do I deal with this,’” recalls Flemke.
Potter began his racing career in the 1960s. His achievements earned induction into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. Accolades include multiple championships at Stafford Motor Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl.
"In his world and at different times, at Waterford Speedbowl, you weren’t anything unless you beat Bob Potter,” added Flemke.
Potter retired from full-time competition in 1999 but didn’t completely hang up his helmet. Potter was the driver of a two-seat promotional car at Stafford Motor Speedway. Fans could purchase an opportunity to ride with Potter, sometime in actual races. Among those he chauffeured was NBC Connecticut’s Bob Maxon.
“It was a great experience but it was pretty scary - but I knew I was in great hands. I was safe the whole time,” recalled Maxon, who rode with Potter in 2018.
“All of us at Stafford Speedway are saddened by the loss of a great friend and mentor, Bob Potter. For over 6 decades Bob has been a true representative of the sport. The Stafford Speedway racing community has lost a great hero. A 5-time SK Modified® Champion, with 24 overall wins at Stafford, his passion for racing is unsurpassed. In his retirement from competitive racing Bob gave back to the racing community as he continued as the driver of the two-seater modified at Stafford, always looking to give the fans a good ride. Bob was always looking at the big picture and enjoyed sharing ideas. It is without a doubt that we will miss Bob but his legacy as a champion and love for racing and life will serve as an inspiration. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Dale, son Bob, Jr., daughters Debbie and Ginny, and all his family and friends,” Stafford Speedway posted on its Facebook page.
Whether riding shotgun, or watching from the grandstands, people were apt to smile when they saw Potter. Which is exactly how Flemke says he’ll remember his close friend.
“I’m always gonna try to smile because that’s what he would do. When you saw him, he had that big smile,” said Flemke.