Charland, whose career began and ended on dirt, with an amazing
stint on asphalt in between, is a 1996 inductee into the DIRT
Motorsports Hall of Fame and and an initial inductee into the NEAR Hall
The cigar chewing New
Englander of French decent began his career in 1950 at age 21.
Charland's no. 3 was a consistent winner on the dusty bullrings of
Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, during the 1950's.
It wasn't until
about 1960 that Charland began to gain national prominence as a member
of the "Eastern Bandits."
The Bandits, as they
called themselves, were a group of New England drivers that found the
pickings were a little easier in the mid-southern states then back home
in the Northeast. Members of this loose knit bunch included Charland,
Denny Zimmerman, Ed Flemke, and Red Foote. They traveled together and
spent much of the week at small blacktop tracks in the Virginia-Maryland
area, as well as New York.
Racing as much as five
times a week, the Bandits devastated the locals, often sweeping the top
five and carrying the lions share of the prize money home to New
As an Eastern Bandit, Charland entered about 80 to 100 shows a year from
1961 through 1966. Because most of the tracks which he and the
Eastern-Bandits invaded were NASCAR-sanctioned, Charland began
accumulating valuable NASCAR sportsman-modified points.
In 1961 Charland
finished fifth in the NASCAR national standings and announced that
winning NASCAR's National Sportsman title in 1962 was his goal. Indeed,
1962 became his breakthrough season. He won 21 features that season and
handily won the NASCAR title.
He repeated as NASCAR Sportsman National Champion in 1963, 1964 and 1965
and probably would have won the 1966 title too, but for being sidelined
by injuries and burns sustained in a near fatal mid-season crash at
Albany-Saratoga Speedway. Rene Credits Ed Flemke for saving him that
day. Flemke, reached through the flames and pulled the 3-times bigger
Charland from the burning car. That mishap is what Rene and racing
history called the "French Barbecue." That René could joke about his own
near-death experience only helped to build his legend.
In the early 1960's Charland's pursuit of NASCAR points took him to
Fonda Speedway twice a year for double point races. He fell in love with
the place. And when he stopped running for NASCAR points, Rene decided
to make Fonda his adopted home. The results: Charland was Fonda's
winningest driver in 1967 and the track champion in 1970. Rene is also a
3 -time Utica-Rome Speedway Champion, winning the title in 1961, 62 and
Rene also won 4 races at the Riverside Park Speedway in his native
Agawam, Mass. between 1954 and 1958, plus 2 races on the Stafford Motor
Speedway dirt in 1962.
Charland's rebirth as
a dirt tracker continued throughout the early 1970's. His upset victory
in the 1974 Lebanon Valley 200 capped his illustrious career.
In all Charland won an
estimated 250 career features. He drove a variety of cars numbered 3,
but he is also remembered for successful stints in the Cziepel no. 888,
Russ Betz no. 59 and Platt brothers no. 99.
Over the years Charland acquired a number of nicknames, but is best
known as "The Champ", due to his string of NASCAR titles.