Fred Nichols, who helped save harness racing at Bass Park and in the process helped bring Hollywood Casino owner Penn National Gaming to Bangor, died Tuesday at the age of 78, after a brief battle with cancer.
Nichols at various points in his life owned minor league baseball teams and racehorses, sold model boats and ships, served as vice president of gun manufacturer Remington Corporation, was a member of the Mensa Society and a published author and operated a wild animal rescue out of his home in Winterport.
“He loved everything, from cars to animals to baseball. He liked everyone. He just had a real zest for life,” said his daughter, Marilyn Sinnett. “He made time for everything. He was opening baseball card packs with his grandson over Facetime even when he was in the hospital.”
Nichols was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in January 1943, according to his obituary, published Thursday in the Bangor Daily News. He attended New York University and later got his MBA at the University of California, Berkeley. He eventually served as vice president and treasurer of Remington Corporation before moving to Maine in 1986, where he moved his recently acquired company, Bluejacket Shipcrafters, a model ship and boat maker now located in Searsport.
One of his first loves as a child was baseball, a passion that followed him throughout his life and led him to purchase several minor league baseball teams, including the Asheville Tourists, Utica Blue Jays, Butte Copper Kings, Gastonia Rangers, and Daytona Beach Islanders, some of whose players made their way to the major leagues. In 1991, he wrote a book, “The Final Season,” about the 1953 season of the St. Louis Browns baseball team.
“He had this amazing knowledge of everything. He could tell you who won a baseball game in the 1940s. You wanted to have him on your Trivial Pursuit team. We called him Encyclopedia Bridaddica,” Sinnett said. “He used to call into the WZON sports trivia competition, and he won so often they told him he couldn’t play anymore.”
Nichols was also a longtime fan of horses and horse racing. After moving to Maine, he purchased his first race horse in 1992, and eventually purchased 12 more horses over the years. In 1994, after hearing that the city of Bangor decided to no longer operate Bangor Raceway due to declining attendance, Nichols and others submitted a proposal to operate the track, which the city accepted.
While they operated the track, Nichols sought out a partnership with Penn National Gaming, a casino and racetrack operator, to have it eventually take over operations, which it did in 2002. Penn National then opened a slot machine facility in Bangor, which eventually became Hollywood Casino, which opened its permanent facility on Main Street in 2007.
Nichols stayed on in various roles, including general manager, at the track until 2018, when he retired. The track’s new horse barn, built in 2010, was named for Nichols, and that same year he was inducted into the New England Harness Writers Hall of Fame.
During his retirement, he turned to other passions, including classic cars. He owned a 1970 Jaguar XKE, a 1989 red Jaguar coupe and a 1950 Chevy Fleetline Special, all of which he drove around town on sunny days. Nichols was also a lifelong lover of animals, both of the dogs and cats he adopted, and the wild animals he helped rehabilitate and reintroduce into the wild, including frogs, porcupines and many different kinds of birds.
Though many creatures made their way through his doors, Nichols had a particular fondness for raccoons. He took daily pictures of his “Winterport ‘Coons,” and eventually began posting photos and short stories about their lives on social media, even starting a Facebook page for them. While his stories were always funny and often played on the stereotypes of raccoons eating garbage, they also had a touch of the absurd and philosophical, giving each critter their own personality and outlook on life.
“He had several generations of raccoon families that would come every morning and evening for breakfast and dinner,” Sinnett said. “He’d get up at 4 a.m. and put food out for them, and they’d come right up to the porch but never come in. That was the agreement. He knew some of them by name. He just had this amazing relationship with them.”
Nichols is survived by four children, Janice, Juliet, Frederick and Marilyn, two stepchildren, Tiffany and James, three grandchildren and five step-grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held at noon on Friday, Nov. 26 at the Fred Nichols Barn at the Bangor Raceway at Bass Park.