50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Ernie Gahan 1926-2009
“A True Dirt Tracker”
Ernie Gahan never won a track Championship at Stafford Motor Speedway, but he was one of the chosen few that ran and won on both dirt and asphalt. Gahan, who began his racing career in 1948, began racing at Stafford in 1959 and was the track’s most winning driver with 21 victories to his credit. Many of these wins came in the John Koszela Sr. Woodchopper Special. At one time, Ernie won eight in a row against the likes of hometown favorites George Janowski, Pete Corey, Ron Narducci, Rene Charland, and Bill Wimble. Gahan ran at tracks that awarded the most points and in 1966 became the first New England driver to win the NASCAR National Modified title.
One of the most famous Gahan stories had nothing to do with his driving. Ernie was in the pit area at Daytona in 1963 during the running of the Daytona Continental, the forerunner of the Rolex 24 Hours. Marvin Panch, who was the Wood Brothers driver, flipped a Ferrari sports car and it burst into flames. Gahan, along with Tiny Lund and Bill Wimble pulled Panch from the flames and saved his life. For their efforts, the trio was presented with Carnegie Medals for Heroism.
Following his 1966 Championship, Gahan attempted to repeat. Between running four to five nights a week and doing it alone, the stress finally got to the defending Champion and at 41 years of age, Gahan suffered a severe heart attack.
After taking a year off, Gahan came back and was content to run a limited schedule. He still had his winning drive and determination and won three events on the asphalt, the last one coming at Stafford on July 3, 1971.
Gahan raced for 28 years. In addition to his exploits at Stafford, he was a standout at Fonda. Also he was one of the original members of the All-Star League, traveled with Eddie Flemke and the Eastern Bandits, and started in eleven Grand National (today’s Winston Cup) events. Gahan had two top ten finishes including a ninth in the 1962 Daytona 500.
Ernie Gahan was inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame in 1998.
By: Phil Smith