In a nondescript commercial building not far from downtown Concord sits a racing gold mine. Inside the warehouse there are several perfectly polished and finely tuned cars which span more than 75 years of racing.
They are the product of race enthusiast Ray Boissoneau, who has turned this garage into an informal racing museum for friends, family and race fans who meet him and get invited to check out his collection of cars and memorabilia. They might check out AJ Foyt’s first full time sprint car from the early ‘70s. Or they can inspect a car driven by race great Johnny Thompson, a national champion in midgets and sprint cars.
But don’t be fooled by Boissoneau’s display of yesterday’s racers. They aren’t just stationary models for you to study in silence. These cars are beasts and they continue to come to life on tracks around the country. This particular collection of cars offers a unique high octane history lesson, because their classroom includes New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Each of the more than two dozen racing machines has run on the speedway in the last few years during the Vintage Racing Celebration.
Boissoneau’s cars represent every major era of motorsports: midgets from the ‘40s through the ‘80s. He has sprinters, Indy cars and Indy Lights, European road course cars and dirt track specials. These cars have been driven by some of the greatest drivers in history, who have piloted these machines through championship seasons. But these cars aren’t just a part of racing history; these particular cars are a part of Boissoneau’s race history.
“My passion began when I could put together orange crates, two by fours and wagon wheels,” explains Boissoneau, whose father regularly took him to races over the years. He caught race fever well before he could afford to buy a car. Now a successful business owner, Boissoneau is constantly adjusting the cars in his collection, buying and selling based on opportunity. By circumstance, he’s bought several cars he saw on the track when he was a young boy.
Boissoneau has the trained eye of a collector, but inside beats the heart of a driver. He’s turned laps in some of the most prestigious races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Lemans, and the road course in Monaco. He’s competed in nearly every class of racing and won a fair share of trophies. Those days are in the rearview, but Boissoneau doesn’t miss any chance to hit the track with his cars.
“Old drivers don’t retire; they go to vintage racing events.” At 72, Boissoneau doesn’t race competitively anymore, but every year he and his family take some of his cars to Loudon to participate in Vintage weekend. It’s familiar turf. Boissoneau has raced in Loudon since the name on the masthead said Bryar Motorsports Park. Each year he arrives on familiar ground and aims to go a little faster than the year before. “Your competition isn’t the guys you are racing, it’s the track. If you race the track, you’ll go fast. If you race the guys, you’ll fail every time,” explains Boissoneau.
The lap times mark the technical success of drivers like Ray Boissoneau. But it’s the personal relationships developed in the pits and in the garage that create the best memories. Boissoneau’s collection of cars acts as a kind of magnet, drawing fans and even former drivers to come check out his racers. “What drives you is the participants; they are what truly make the event. Spectators can talk to the old-time original drivers who drove these cars to championships. They’re walking around at events like the Vintage Racing Celebration. You can sometimes get into the car and you can share the passion of the people who bring these cars to these events.”
Not all of his cars arrived at his doorstep in what you’d call race condition. Sometimes, they’re just a pile of bits. Although the cars Boissoneau drives on the track have a few extra modern day safety upgrades or basic improvements, he saves every original piece from every car he buys. Those parts may never see a track again, but in racing, there’s nothing better than the original part from an historic machine.
For example, Boissoneau still has the back fender from a car once driven by AJ Foyt. The part is dented, dinged and rusting, but it’s never headed to the scrap heap. “It’s got history, it’s got life. AJ Foyt put his hand on this car, he sat in this car. Somebody who won Indy four times, who turned fastest laps, who spent time in a hospital after crashing, sat in this car.”
Now it’s your turn. You can sit back and watch these relics of racing’s past take on “The Magic Mile.” Or you can stroll through the garage and get an unprecedented look at what it takes to get these machines ready for racing. It’s history’s return to the track. It is your chance to see how it all got started.
“Witness the sounds that you don’t get to hear anymore,” says Boissoneau. “The old ones you get the Caster oil, you get that smell in your nostrils, and you get a chance to see, hear and smell cars you’d never have a chance to see.”