At 70 years young, Pete Silva is finally breaking free from the nest.

Silva, a Waterville native who won more than 120 short track races across the eastern United States during his driving career, is being inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on Sunday in a ceremony in South Windsor, Connecticut.

The induction comes two years after Silva was inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame alongside his father, George.

“I guess now I’ve been kicked out of the house and have to go it on my own,” Silva said.

Silva’s career, which began at Unity Raceway in 1970, may not be well known to even ardent fans of stock car racing in central Maine. Only a decade after winning his first race at Unity, Silva moved south to compete in NASCAR-sanctioned Late Model races in the Carolinas.

His 1981 win at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway in the Bobby Isaac Memorial 500 may have done more to put New England racing on the map than anything that happened before.

Silva became the first New Englander to win a NASCAR Late Model race with that victory. When he posted consecutive Top-7 finishes in final NASCAR Busch Series in 1982-83, Silva was the first New England driver to accomplish that feat, too.

Ditto for becoming the first New England driver to compete in both the NASCAR Busch North Series and NASCAR Busch Series — now the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“I’m lucky enough for this to be happening,” said Silva of his HOF nod. “In the 70s, I drove for the Budweiser people, and we did well at Unity. We ended up in North Carolina to get a car repaired, and then I ended up staying there by accident — because of that (Unity) accident.”

In 1998, Silva won his first of two track championships at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. David Pearson, Ralph Earnhardt (Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s father), Robert Pressley and Mardy Lindley — some of the best stock car talent ever produced nationally or otherwise — are among the champions at the historic half-mile dating back to 1957. In 2002, he added a Hickory title to his resume, joining the likes of Earnhardt, Junior Johnson and Harry Gant.

“Racing has changed a lot,” said Silva, who made the bold move to move south before it became fashionable in racing circles. “It’s moved around a lot. Meserve, Nason, Craven — names like that stayed around forever before they moved down south. Now, they don’t really stay around to build that foundation. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just how much it’s changed.”

Silva is as proud of his accomplishments behind the scenes as he is of any of his on-track success.

After returning to Maine to race for good friend David Prescott in the old NASCAR North Tour, Silva returned to North Carolina in the mid-1980s. He was hired by Banjo’s Performance Center in Arden.

“If you were going to win races, you went through there,” Silva said. “Being a Yankee, it was terrible at first. They were still fighting the Civil War. The hatred that came my way, I didn’t understand. Up here, we worked during the day and worked on race cars at night. There, racing was their job.”

Silva worked exclusively on the race cars owned by Junior Johnson and driven by Darrell Waltrip which won NASCAR Cup Series championships in 1981, 1982 and 1985, as well as the cars of 1982 and 1985 NASCAR Busch Series champion Jack Ingram.

Silva’s cars won races at Talladega, Atlanta, Bristol, Martinsville and Dover, among others, during those seasons.

“These highlights are all important, but I was fortunate to have a really good friend in David Prescott who wanted to own a team,” said Silva, who is also a member of Unity Raceway’s Hall of Fame. “Winning was always fun, but it was seeing other people’s emotions because of that that did as much for me. Things like that are the highlights that last forever. Nobody can change that stuff.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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