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Hall Of Fame 2012 - Richie Evans


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Richie Evans "King Of The Modifieds". This one driver holds special meaning to me. I watched him race locally growing up. He is the only hall of famer so far that hasn't raced at the Cup level.

I grew up on Long Island and went to our local track "World Famous" Islip Speedway up until it closed in 1984. I only lived about 2 miles from the track. Modifieds and figure 8 racing were the main features. Modifieds especially. The Northeast and Long Island back in the 70s and 80s was "Modified Country". I watched so many soon to be famous drivers beat and get beat by our local boys. Geoff Bodine, Greg Sacks, Steve Park, Jimmy Spencer and local legends Charlie Jarzombek, Jim Hendrickson, Fred Harbach, Tom Baldwin ( Tommy Baldwin Racing - his father), Tom McCann Al D'Angelo. These guys are legends to me.

Plus I think modifieds are the most beautiful race cars out there.



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Evans long ruled the Modified realm

By Scott Fowler - sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012

The first three classes of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame mostly have been reserved for the giants of the sport’s top series – men with names like Earnhardt, Petty, Pearson and France.

In this year’s third induction class, though, is a man named Richie Evans. And if you only follow stock-car racing’s Sprint Cup series, right now you’re wondering: “Richie Who?â€

But Evans’ posthumous induction this week in Charlotte is a victory for all the men who race on half-mile or smaller tracks and work on them at small garages for the joy of it. He is the only one of the 15 men so far elected into the sport’s hall with no ties to NASCAR’s top series.

“This induction just screams volumes about the importance of local level, short-track racing,†said Dick Berggren, who covered Evans for years, does NASCAR pit reporting for Fox Sports and serves as executive editor for Speedway Illustrated magazine.

Nicknamed the “Rapid Roman†because of his roots in Rome, N.Y., Evans never raced a single time in what is now the Cup series. He never got rich by racing, either. But he became the king of the NASCAR Modified division, where he won nine national championships during a 13-year period and established a reputation for both working and playing hard.

“Personality-wise, he was a lot like (the late NASCAR driver) Tim Richmond,†Berggren said. “Tim had people who wanted to be with him, be around him. Richie was like that, too. Tim could drive anything and win, and Richie could as well.â€

Jimmy Spencer drove against Evans for several years in the Modified division before making his move to the Cup series. “He was one of the best drivers I’ve ever driven against, including (Dale) Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and guys like that,†Spencer said. “Just an incredible competitor.â€

Although Evans became a larger-than-life character in the world of low-slung, open-wheel NASCAR Modified stock cars, he never wavered from those small-town roots. He grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Rome was his home base for decades until he died in a practice crash in Martinsville, Va., in 1985.

Evans’ cars always were orange, dating from early in his career when someone with a connection to his shop happened to “find†some extra paint the city of Rome used to paint its snowplows. That paint found its way onto Evans’ No. 61 car and eventually became his signature color.

A gifted mechanic, Evans worked on his own cars alongside his crew and frequently raced four times a week and up to 80-110 times a year. In those days, every NASCAR-sanctioned race was an opportunity to gain points. In some years – particularly during his streak of eight straight Modified championships in 1978-85 – a floppy-haired Evans won more than half the races he entered.

NASCAR credits Evans with an estimated 1,300 starts and 475 wins, but no one really knows for sure. A winner’s check for a typical Modified race back then was $2,500. Evans made enough to race full-time and live a comfortable lifestyle – moving South and trying out the Cup series never became a serious consideration.

Much like Earnhardt, Evans could be gracious or intense, depending upon his mood.

“He almost had a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hung on his face before a big race,†said journalist Bones Bourcier, who wrote “Richie!†– a 2005 biography of Evans. “But when he was in the other mood, mostly after a race, there was no one more fun to talk to. He not only enjoyed a good party, often he was the party. And not the guy who was stumbling around. Richie was always in control. He liked to instigate.â€

Evans was kind to other racers, giving them advice on how to set up their car or drive on a certain track even though they might beat him doing so.

“I would go and ask him for help sometimes,†Spencer said. “And he wouldn’t ever tell you ‘No.’ â€

In 1985, at age 44, Evans still was the king of Modified stock-car racing. He clinched his eighth consecutive national title in the next-to-last race of the year, then headed to Martinsville for what should have been a no-pressure season finale.

But during a practice run, Evans hit the wall head-on in a one-car accident. The prevailing theory has long been that his throttle stuck, but the evidence was inconclusive.

“The enduring mystery of the crash added to everybody’s grief,†Bourcier said. “As in Earnhardt’s case, when a guy reaches a certain level you don’t expect him to be killed in a relatively simple-looking crash.â€

Twice married, Evans left behind six children. If he were alive today, he would be 70. And he undoubtedly would have been the life of the party once more at his Hall of induction in Charlotte this week.

Instead, those with a bent toward NASCAR history are left to educate the younger generation about how good Evans really was.

Said NASCAR driver Tony Stewart in a recent SPEED documentary on Evans: “He was what Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty are to the Cup Series. That’s what Richie Evans was to Modified.â€

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'Rapid Roman' Evans rode orange chariot to Hall

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Richard Ernest "Richie" Evans certainly was the face of NASCAR -- and modified racing -- in the Northeast, winning an estimated 475 times in approximately 1,300 starts. It equates to a win in every three starts (a 36.5 percent clip), something unheard of in modern racing at any level.

Evans will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday, one of five members of the Hall's third class comprised of the New York native, legendary crew chief Dale Inman, team owner Glen Wood, and Cup Series champions Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. Evans is the first of 15 inductees without a connection to NASCAR's premier series.

All roads lead to Rome The 2012 enshrinement ceremony kicks off the NASCAR Acceleration 2012 weekend, which includes NASCAR Preview 2012, where fans can interact with the sport's legends and current stars in person, get autographs and catch a sneak peek at the upcoming season. Fans can go to NASCARacceleration2012.com for more information.

Nicknamed the "Rapid Roman" by virtue of racing out of Rome, N.Y., Evans found a home in modifieds -- a car fashioned from pre-World War II coupes and sedans powered by high horsepower engines.

Evans won nine NASCAR national modified championships during a 13-year span, including eight consecutive titles from 1978-85. His signature No. 61 orange race car was a magnet for fans and a terror to his fellow competitors.

He worked on his own cars -- up to 100 hours a week -- and raced virtually every night of the week.

"Working with the car and working on it in the garage every week is an advantage," Evans once said. "While I'm working on the car, I'm thinking about every lap I rode in that thing. It's not like the mechanic who stood and watched it during the feature and then has to make some decisions."

Evans lost his life at age 44 while practicing at Martinsville Speedway for the 1985 season finale of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He'd earlier locked up the series' first championship along with a fourth consecutive Whelen All-American Northeast Region title.

He was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

On Jan. 10, the New York State Senate adopted a resolution honoring Evans' NASCAR Hall of Fame induction "remembering his extraordinary accomplishments in the racing area that were a direct result of his skill, dedication and commitment."

"We are just so thrilled and excited. He has received a lot of rewards but this is the ultimate," said his widow, Lynn, commenting on her husband's election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "I know he is looking down and smiling ear to ear."

Evans, one of six brothers and sisters, left his family's Westernville, N.Y., home at age 16 to work as a gas-station mechanic. In 1964, Evans began racing hobby stocks at Utica-Rome Speedway.

Evans' first NASCAR championship came in 1973 -- after a number of seasons winning race after race regardless of sanctioning body. The title snapped a two-year reign by fellow Rome resident Jerry Cook, who won four more championships before Evans reclaimed a crown in 1978 that he relinquished only after his passing.

The Evans-Cook rivalry was legendary -- although they weren't the only prominent figures in NASCAR modified racing, which included Maynard Troyer, Ron Bouchard, Bugs Stevens, George Kent, Tom Baldwin Sr. and future Cup star Geoffrey Bodine.

But they lived in the same town and each had a separate set of fans. Evans and Cook got along fine; the fans, however, were a different story. And they won every NASCAR modified championship between 1971 and '85.

The two also had distinctly different personalities. "The only thing we had in common was racing and there were times we didn't even talk to each other," said Cook, who became a NASCAR official following a racing career that ended in 1982 with nearly 350 victories. Cook currently is NASCAR's competition administrator. "But we put on a show with it.

"He didn't win everything. I beat him and other drivers beat him so it wasn't like he won every single thing. But he did real well at it, that's for sure."

Evans won regularly and won with style and grace. He also was a promoter's dream, his presence putting hundreds of additional folks in the grandstands.

"He was a hard-core guy, racing to put food on the table," said John Bisci, a high-school student who watched Evans race at Lancaster Speedway in New York and became the track's program editor in 1976. Bisci is public-relations manager at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "You could talk to him any time. After the races he would give you an autograph and never said, 'I'm too busy kid; come back later.'

"No matter how many times he won, nobody booed. He never disparaged the other drivers and told the fans, 'I'm glad you were cheering for me.' He was a 'party guy' but when it came time to race he was all business."

Cup owner Tommy Baldwin Jr., whose father competed against Evans, brought his No. 36 car to a recent event with an Evans retro paint scheme. "Richie was someone we all looked up to and when he came to town we knew we had to beat him to win," Baldwin said. "He made us work harder and I think that prepared a lot of us for the Sprint Cup level."

The color orange may not have made Evans' cars go any faster -- but it probably gave him a psychological edge in an era when few race cars were brightly painted. "He had a fast orange car in a sea of stock Detroit colors. There was no mistaking him for anyone else," Bisci said. "You'd see him in the rear-view mirror and you knew it was him that was coming."

Richie Evans: Career highlights

• The recognized king of modified racing, Evans won nine NASCAR modified titles in a 13-year span, including eight in a row from 1978-85.

• Evans' career accomplishments included multiple track championships across the Northeast and hundreds of victories -- including a 37-win season during a stretch of 60 Modified races in 1979.

• In the first year of the current NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour format in 1985, Evans won 12 races, including wins in four of five races at Thompson, Conn.

• Evans ranked No. 1 in the 2003 voting of the NASCAR All-Time Modified Top 10 Drivers, and he was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

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Great stuff, thanks for posting! I'm a fan of short-track racing myself. I'm fortunate that the track I grew up with is still in operation, though these tracks are now an endangered species around the country.

And having my curiosity up by reading about Evans, I looked at more info about the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and found that Cale Yarborough is joining the club. Not only did he have a terrific career, but he was in two Dukes of Hazzard episodes. An ESPN article talks about it a little bit. Here's the article, scroll down to "A Lifetime of Close Calls" for the feature about Cale and his first Dukes stint:


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