The Flying Frenchman Last Lap

Episode 154

March 26, 2017

Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque with his 1956 Chevy at the Jade East Madawaska facility. Levesque raced at Spud Speedway in Caribou from 1964 to 1975. Photo courtesy Erny Levesque Collection

St. John Valley Mourns Lose of “The Flying Frenchman”

The checkered flag flew for the last time for St. David’s Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Thursday evening when the popular driver changed his earthly residence for a more eternal home. The 89-year-old was selected to the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2017 in October 2016.

Last year when Levesque learned that he was being placed in nomination to the Hall of Fame he shared that the doctors were sure that he would not survive the summer. He had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that is formed by malignant plasma cells generally found in the bones.

Sometimes a goal in life can greatly influence not only one’s mental state but also the physical condition. Levesque recognized that should he be selected he not only would need to prove the doctors wrong and survive the summer, he would need to make it to the induction April 15, 2017. In his mind the date looked like a long shot, yet he would give it his best effort.

The stride to the Hall of Fame would be full of obstacles that Levesque could not imagine that spring when he glimpsed at the future. Not only would Levesque need to deal with the cancer, he had a crash on his lawn tractor in June which nearly killed him.

The crash knocked him unconscious, breaking his arm, and leaving a large gash in his head. After being flown to Bangor and spending a few days there, he was transferred to Cary Medical Center in Caribou for five days. From there he was sent to Borderview Rehab/Nursing Home in Van Buren.

Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque entertains the Hale Brothers with his stories at the Borderview Nursing Home. Bill, Erny Levesque, Bob and I. HTF Motorsports photo

The medical professionals were unsure if he would make it out of rehab, yet he not only made it out but went home where he was cared for by his wife, Edwina.

When I visited with him there in the fall he knew he needed to make some decisions about living at home. He was concerned that his wife might be working too hard caring for him. He wondered about snow removal, grocery shopping, and daily tasks that a younger, healthier Erny would have under control.

Then on October 8, 2016, Erny attempted to wake his wife, only to discover that she had passed away in her sleep that night. The love of his life was no longer there after 62 years of marriage. He was glad that she had suffered no pain, yet her death took a toll on Levesque. His family rallied around him offering encouragement and solace during this time of mourning.

When faced with the onset of winter and with the advice of those close to him, Levesque moved into Forest Hills Manor in Fort Kent. The move seemed to rejuvenate him. Surrounded by people who needed encouragement or a friendly smile Levesque took to his motorized wheelchair and became a cheerleader, money collector for Bingo, and “helper” for the staff.

The back of Levesque’s motorized scooter which was autographed by Theriault. Many more autographs were added when Levesque hosted visitors. HTF Motorsports photo

The winter brought many visitors including Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault, Hall of Fame’s Chink Maynard, and Mary Thibeau, the widow of Barry Thibeau, the former owner of Spud Speedway when Erny was racing at the Caribou track. Family and friends were frequently at the extended care facility sharing memories and good times.

 Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque meets Austin Theriault at Forest Hill Manor, Fort Kent, Maine HTF Motorsports photo

My selfish desire was that Erny would be healed or well enough to make the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction on April 15 at the Augusta Civic Center. We talked about how we would wheel him onto the stage in his “high performance” wheel chair.

He was concerned about what he would say on stage. We wrote some scripts he could practice so that when he did get up there he would feel comfortable. When Maynard, Thibeau, Joe Chamberlain and I visited in February, we had Erny videotaped for practice and in our minds, it would be available in case Erny was unable to make it to the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Soon after that visit Erny health seemed to deteriorate and medication was needed in doses that would relieve the pain. At a point six weeks ago his son, Chet, decided he needed to make what would probably be his last trip home while his Dad was still alive.

About two weeks ago, I went to visit “The Flying Frenchman”. Erny broke out in tears and told me, “Tom, I don’t think I am going to make the Hall of Fame Induction. I have tried my best but it doesn’t look like I am going to do it.”

I had a chance to read some scripture to Erny and reassured him it was okay to let go, that he had fought the good fight and I certainly was not at all disappointed in his efforts.

When I left that day I knew that very well could be the last time I saw Erny on this side of heaven. When I got the notice early Friday morning, I knew that Erny had traded his earthly broken body for his heavenly one.

Erny’s funeral will be March 29, 2017 at the St. David Church. Condolences may be offered from 9 – 9:45 am. A Mass of Christian Burial will take place at 10:00 am. Interment will be at the Caribou Veteran’s Ceremony.

If interested in attending the Hall of Fame Ceremony on April 15 at the Augusta Civic Center, you need to go to www.mainevintageracecars.com as soon as possible because the ticket deadline is Saturday April 1.

The event will begin with a social hour at 4 pm followed by dinner at 5pm and awards at 6 pm. Fellow inductees include Tom Curley, Bill Bailey, Butch Craig, Mike Marietta, Dave Wilcox, and Levesque. Driver of the Year Awards will also be announced.

With Erny Levesque at his St. David home in the fall of 2016. HTF Motorsports photo

I will see you someday my friend.

Oxford Hills Community Schools Aspire Race Team Celebrates

The students in the unique Aspire Higher race team at Oxford Hills Middle/High School took the time out of their bust school schedule Friday to honor those businesses and community members who have helped them with their endeavors.

Austin Theriault from Fort Kent, now living in Mooresville, North Carolina made the trip to address the students. He congratulated them on their success but urged them to not sit on their laurels rather keep looking forward to reach their goals.

He mentioned several members in his speech such as Aspire Vice President Rachel Newcomb when he said, “That before joining the Aspire Higher Race car program she was shy and would have a hard time speaking in front of people, and now that she has been voted into being Vice President, she isn’t as nervous anymore. Also she has learned how communication and team work really go hand in hand.”

Rachel is an example how students step up to the plate when asked to do something outside their comfort zone. Because of her interest in this project, she is the team leader who makes the “sales pitch” when talking to potential sponsors.

Austin Theriault addresses the Aspire Higher Race team at Oxford Hills Community High School Friday. Photo courtesy Trisha Ann Newcomb

Theriault was fresh off the testing trail having tested his Ken Schrader #52 Ford at Nashville Speedway before the next ARCA race April 8 at that track. After addressing the team members, he was headed to Toledo, Ohio, the headquarters of ARCA as part of an ARCA promotional tour.

Giving a shop tour and view of their new super late-model racecar left to right Sully Polland, Austin Theriault, Luke Mowatt, William Perrault, and Mr. Kyle Morey. Jamie & Rob Mowatt photo

As a former educator, I am impressed with the strides made by all the folks at Oxford Hills Middle/High School. From an idea hatched only a couple of years ago these folks have now a prominent place in the curriculum within the schools.

Not every young person attends a four-year school. Some will gain technical skills that will keep the gears of America turning. This program provides a place for those who may choose careers in graphics, finance, public relations, journalism, and public speaking. Most folks do not associate those choices with motorsports. Ask these students and they will tell you how they are an integral part of the team.

More Eagles on Display

One of my favorite Eagles built by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers (AAR) in Santa Ana, California. This was a car built for the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) Series. The Eagle featured Toyota power, Photo courtesy Richard Dobson family

I thought you might be impressed as I was by the Toyota AAR Eagle transporter. Photo courtesy Richard Dobson family

Clint Fast Makes Things Happen at Yaris World Rally Championship (WRC)

I met Clint Fast several years ago when touring the Vermont Sports Car race shop in Colchester , Vermont. He was very polite to me and I appreciated the tour he set up. It is nice to see he is now working for Yazoo Racing, the racing division of Toyota.

Only 21 days before Resurrection Day

Let’s Go Racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.