John Peters grew up racing, like so many other racers, with the guiding hand of his father. But Greg Peters’ guidance and enthusiasm for the sport were never reserved for family alone.
And when Greg’s battle with cancer came to a close last summer, John and his family organized an enduring and enriching tribute to his father’s legacy.
GNG’s Gift, the Greg Peters Memorial Sponsorship, will reward drivers over the next three years with a $5,000.09 sponsorship check to assist with their racing expenses for the season. And as they approach the second year of the program, the Peters family is focused on keeping the sponsorship going for years to come.
For John, GNG’s Gift is a way for him to continue in his father’s spirit.
“The support we’ve received has been absolutely incredible, “ he says. “It has made all of this possible.”
Known as “Grand National Greg” or simply “GNG” for his unfettered passion for motorsports, Greg Peters grew up outside the southern Maine city of Portland. Most of his driving career was shared between Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough and Oxford Plains Speedway about an hour north. And as a driver, he enjoyed his share of success.
But Greg Peters was not only a driver. Over the years, and especially as he stepped out of the seat, he was a crew chief, a mentor, and a supporter for other racers, lending a hand wherever he could.
Greg’s enthusiasm for racing captivated his young son John while he was still behind the wheel. “My first memory of racing is in the grandstands at Beech Ridge watching my Dad race in the Sport Series 100 in either 2000 or 2001,” says John. “I was surrounded by a family of racers including my brother, cousin and several friends, but no one matched his passion for the sport. It was infectious, and I caught on immediately.”
As Greg’s driving career wound down in 2011, John was rising through the ranks, making progress from go-karts to Legends cars to full-bodied stock cars along with a circle of peers on a similar path. John was fortunate to have his father to help him along the way.
But John was also acutely aware that Greg Peters’ help was not merely reserved for John Peters.
“I can’t remember a time where he was only helping me,” John says. “Throughout go-karts, [Beech Ridge] Thursday Thunder, Legends cars and Super Late Models, he was the crew chief of my race team while simultaneously helping take someone else’s program to the next level.”
Greg was teaching John lessons far greater than setting stagger and tweaking springs and shocks. “I never questioned it,” John says. “In fact, it’s how I came to expand my own network in racing later on, building on the connections he made. It taught me that this sport is bigger than any one of us, and we all have a responsibility to help each other.”
Greg’s tutelage, and John’s off-track diligence in finding sponsorship, helped the family team move to Super Late Models. John raced weekly in Beech Ridge Motor Speedway’s Pro Series, winning a feature race in 2016, while making sporadic touring starts with the Pro All Stars Series and Granite State Pro Stock Series.
College graduation and a career opportunity, though, soon shifted John’s racing priorities. John and his partner Brooke relocated to North Carolina, with John making occasional trips home to race. Despite the travel and the obvious challenges, the on-track results were encouraging in their limited schedule.
“It was difficult,” John reflects. “I knew moving to North Carolina that racing would no longer be a top priority in my day-to-day life, and that was a conscious decision. But we had a strong year together in 2019 and were ready to repeat with a 5-6 race campaign in 2020.”
Then came a global pandemic. Travel restrictions kept John from his father and his race car for most of 2020, the gravity of which would only become apparent later in the year.
“When COVID hit, little did we know it at the time, we lost what would have been our final full season together,” John says.
John and Greg were able to reunite that August, fielding their car in the PASS-sanctioned Oxford 250. John qualified for the race in 26th, then drove to an 18th-place finish, ahead of drivers like Mike Rowe, Bubba Pollard, and Derek Griffith.
Not long after the Oxford 250, Greg was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“There couldn’t have been a better way for us to end our journey,” John said of their Oxford 250 weekend. “Our performance all weekend at the 2020 Oxford 250 was the culmination of everything we had been building for several years, and I will never forget those memories.”
John and Greg fit in one more race before the season’s end. But with Greg undergoing treatments, and with the departure of a longtime sponsor, any plans for 2021 were uncertain at best. Over the offseason, Greg met with Maine Vintage Race Car Association president and Beech Ridge track announcer Andy Austin, recording an interview for an episode of Austin’s “Open Trailer Podcast.” Greg shared stories from his own driving career, as well as reflections on his experiences as John’s crew chief and mentor.
“Hearing my dad elaborate on his feelings on the weekend on the Open Trailer Podcast … is still emotional for me today,” John admits.
Not that John and Greg still couldn’t race together. Unsure of when tracks would reopen for real racing in the early months of the pandemic, a handful of racers from New England and Pennsylvania started the NEP iRacing league to fill the void. “I’ve been active on iRacing since I was a kid, so I’ve always enjoyed sim racing,” John says. In the NEP’s first season, John won three times and clinched the series championship.
NEP’s second season kicked off that fall. With every virtual race streamed live, Greg and his wife Gail were able to follow along with John’s racing once again. Greg shared his son’s iRacing success on Facebook, and NEP embraced its new superfan.
“Last year [sim racing] took on an entirely new meaning,” John says. “Once my dad started his cancer treatments, everyday life became difficult. Since we couldn’t race for real, I wanted to give him something to look forward to watching that would keep him motivated and willing to fight. He’d FaceTime me after every race and give his take on what went down, critique my mistakes, and tell me how proud he was.
“I miss those calls a lot.”
Greg continued to fight, and John began putting plans into place to run a PASS race in early July, changing his car number from #51 to the #09 Greg and other family members had run for years. But when the weekend came, John announced he would not compete at Oxford. Instead, he would spend time with his father.
Understanding the situation, many teams unloaded their cars at races across New England adorned with tributes and messages of support for Greg. A few days later, Greg’s battle came to an end.
And as the Peters family prepared to celebrate Greg’s life, an idea for a long-lasting tribute was born.
“[GNG’s Gift] was born in the true spirit of my father,” John explains. “After he passed, my mom, sister and I were brainstorming a cause we could donate to in lieu of flowers. My sister suggested that we help more racers through a sponsorship program. From there, it took off. Soon we had a name, a process, and donations.”
Drawing on Greg’s best-known nickname, GNG’s Gift is an annual sponsorship program awarding $5000.09 to an up-and-coming New England racer who exemplifies Greg’s family focus, his work ethic, and his passion for the sport.
And thanks to an early rush of contributions toward the fund, the Peters family has been able to commit to three years of the sponsorship. Even the NEP iRacing league raised money for the Peters family to apply toward the program.
“The support was incredible,” John says. “We were blown away, and still are to this day.”
The support was met with equal interest from applicants for the first-ever GNG’s Gift sponsorship. “We received just under thirty applications in year one,” says John, “which may not sound like a big number, but would make a stellar starting field in any division across New England. We didn’t just have thirty applicants, we had thirty qualified, worthy recipients. This made the selection incredibly difficult but so satisfying, knowing that whoever we picked, we would select an incredible team and family.”
At January’s NorthEast Motorsports Expo in Augusta, Me., John and Gail presented the inaugural GNG’s Gift award to Garrett Lamb, a Beech Ridge graduate who finished second in points in his rookie season with the PASS Modified touring series.
“Garrett embodies everything my dad resembled,” John says. “He’s smart, hardworking, humble, passionate, thankful, and is backed by a strong family including his unbreakable relationship with his father, Scott. His application was outstanding from start to finish, and after observing Garrett closely for several years, we knew he’d be an outstanding ambassador for the program. We’re incredibly proud of him and all of our applicants.”
Three races into his sophomore year in PASS Modifieds, Lamb again sits second in points, having finished in the top five in every race.
John Peters, meanwhile, continues to carry his father’s legacy on two fronts. After weathering two rough-and-tumble races closer to home in March, John and fiancée Brooke towed the blue-and-white #09 back to Maine in May, stopping along the way for a Granite State Pro Stock Series show at Star Speedway. Racing at a track where he owned back-to-back second-place finishes, John drove to a third-place finish in his first GSPSS race in three years.
And while plotting out his racing schedule for the rest of the summer, John continues to plan the future of GNG’s Gift.
“For as long as we have support, we will continue to keep this program alive, which for us is a way to keep my father’s memory alive,” he says. “Hopefully, the candle will burn for years to come. We are committed to providing GNG’s Gift through 2024, and will soon work on fundraising efforts to stretch that into the future.”
John only wishes he could share with his father how, even after his passing, “Grand National Greg” Peters will be able to lend a helping hand to young short trackers rising through the ranks.
“I wish I could have one more 15-minute conversation with him to catch up on everything we’ve done in his honor,” John says.
“I can only imagine his reaction.”