“Old Man ’78” has now passed from our midst and with it went twelve months filled with many happenings in NERF’ers Land. It was definitely a year of thrills, mysteries, controversies, tragedies and oh yes, some big surprises.
The question that will be running through the heads of many racing fans, drivers, owners and promoters in the Northeast is, “What will 1979 hold for the auto racing world or more exact, for us within the coverage area of this publication?”
It’s also time, once again, for “New Year Resolutions” and a little later on in this column we’ll give you our promises for ’79.
But for now, let’s review some of the happenings that made 1978 a very interesting year in Northeast auto racing. We’ll take it item by item as listed in the first paragraph of this conglomeration of illiterature, heh, heh.
1. The battle between Richie Evans and Jerry Cook for the National NASCAR Modified Championship.
2. The head to head track duels between Geoff Bodine and Maynard Troyer.
3. The miraculous fight for life and recovery shown by the “Big O” Ollie Silva.
4. Seeing the fantastic support exhibited by competitors and fans at the “Fred DeSarro” Memorial Race.
5. Watching the weekly antics of Seymour the Clown at Stafford Motor Speedway, especially his daffynitions of the flags.
1. Why did the mighty Firestone suddenly go flat in the racing tire industry?
2. What super setup was really hidden under the rear wheel canvas of the “Big Red Machine“?
3. What kind of unearthly problem was built into the beautiful new #711 driven by Bob Polverari?
4. Whatever happened to crowd pleasing Modified chargers John Anderson and Roger Westbrook?
5. Why Riverside Park Speedway and NASCAR continues to let John Tallini handle the track’s flagging duties?
1. The Geoff Bodine bumping incidents with Ken Bouchard, George Savory, Bugs Stevens and Richie Evans.
2. The battle between Riverside Park’s NASCAR officials and Fred Felton, over his #11MA Monza known as the “Radical Racer“.
3. Eddie Flemke not running Stafford Motor Speedway after an early season conflict with the track’s NASCAR officials.
4. The refusal to let the Bugs Stevens, Ron Bouchard and Geoff Bodine Fan Clubs sell certain articles at Stafford by Mike Adeskaveg.
5. The “T-Shirt” hassle between Oval Track Design’s Fred Poteto and Riverside Park Speedway concessionaire, Shany Lorenzet.
1. The loss of Fred DeSarro, one of New England’s finest Modified chauffeurs and former National NASCAR Modified Champion.
2. The death of probably greatest Modified dirt drivers ever and super car builder Dick “Toby“ Tobias.
3. The Northeast also lost another fine Modified dirt wheel man with the passing of Mike Grbac.
4. Andy Maine wasn’t a driver, but his death left a definite void in auto racing as part of the CFA team.
5. The deaths of Formula One drivers Ronnie Peterson and Gunnar Nilsson, both of Sweeden, within a couple of weeks time was a shocker.
1. The No. 1 Racing Team breakup and Geoff Bodine, along with Billy Taylor, joining the Bob Johnson – Jack Beebe GN venture.
2. Personable Stan Greger winning the Riverside Park Speedway NASCAR Modified Championship in Billy Simons #9.
3. Geoff Bodine’s complete domination of Modified racing in Dick Armstrong’s Nu Style Jewelry Pinto.
4. Sonny Fleury, owner of Claremont Speedway, turning the track over to the owners and drivers to operate in 1979.
5. Stafford Motor Speedway’s PR man Mike Joy heading South for a similar job at Daytona and John McMullin taking over for him.
1978 was definitely a year of many happenings and no one can predict what the new year holds for auto racing, but here’s hoping that the next 360 some days offer us a lot of good Speedway action and a lot less tragedy.
Checkered Chatter… Fans who venture to Stafford in 1979 will treated to the “Spring Sizzler“, the “Mark’s Auto Parts 100“, “Ferrara 100“, “Winston 100“, the “200 at Stafford” and the Modified – Late Model Doubleheader plus 14 regular season racing events… Ron Bouchard has also stated that he will campaign at Seekonk Speedway in 1979 as it is rumored that D. Anthony Vendetti will up the Modified purse on top by 100 bucks… Ernie Clark has purchased Bob Polverari’s #711 Vega that brought him the 1976 and 1977 Riverside Park titles and will put 1978 Riverside “Rookie of the Year” Ed Kennedy behind the wheel… NASCAR Grand National Champion, Cale Yarborough, who collected a single season record of $530,751 for Junior Johnson’s Oldsmobile team, was selected as “Driver of the Year” by the National Motorsports Press Association… Riverside Park will not only lose a driver or two, they will also lose a faithful Bob Polverari follower as Scott Rodowicz will vacate the Park for greener pastures, Army green that is… Oh yeah! Here’s a resolution I promise ya. Here goes! I do hereby promise not to pick on anyone named Geoff Bodine or Bunky Skawski. I wish Geoff the best of luck as he joins the big boys on the Grand National circuit and Bunky doesn’t have to worry about me any longer as I’ll spend my Saturday nights at Claremont Speedway in 1979. Gee! Ain’t ya’ glad Bunky… Til we meet again, I wish everyone in NERF’ers Land a “Very Happy and Prosperous New Year.”
When our family started venturing religiously to the local speedways, from 1974 to 1978, I was a complete sponge soaking up the environment of each facility and gaining knowledge of the cars and their pilots, specifically the Modifieds. I studied each and every Coupe, Pinto, Bobcat, Vega, Astre, Gremlin, Chevette, Monza, etc. that came out of the pit gate and onto the speedway. I studied the bumpers, the cage, the way the bodies set, how the safety nets were positioned, the way the drivers sat and their posture behind the wheel, the way each held the steering wheel and the helmets they wore. I was all about identification because in order to get the full understanding of the racing I was about to take in and enjoy it, I HAD to make sure I knew WHO was piloting WHAT car. Pretty soon I was a wiz at which driver was in which Modified and would argue with anyone who challenged otherwise.
One Saturday just before practice at Riverside Park, Eddie Flemke (Sr.) made a brief rare appearance in the grandstands. He came up from the pit area to speak with my father. -I’m not positive, but believe it was in regards to Fred Felton’s Radical Racer and Park officials refusing to let it run- The conversation between the two led to my father making a quick dash into the pit area and left Eddie in the Grandstands to keep an eye on me. Eddie sat down in my father’s seat and immediately started to quiz me. It wound up being something that he’d do when we stopped by his shop, among other places, and saw Eddie. -“Where did you go? Who was running good? What was he driving?”-.
By the time my father came back and thanked Eddie for keeping me company Eddie was calling me the “Racing Dictionary” and that nickname stuck for quite a few years within the press boxes and press sections at the local stomping grounds of Riverside, Stafford, Plainville, Monadnock, Thompson and Westboro. Those Flemke quizzes I fondly remember with big smiles and was just fine with the nickname. When a guy like Eddie gives you a nickname, you wear it proudly like a badge of honor.
In 1979 our family’s racing intake went on a major diet and for a kid who grew accustom to the flavor of frequenting many of the great New England racing venues, it was an extremely painful cold turkey. My father took on the challenge of his first promoter and race director job with Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A. (Claremont Owners and Drivers Association) in Claremont, New Hampshire. A track who’s opening night in 1979 was the first race I had ever attended there. I knew no one, but that changed over the season with the Jarvis, Albro, Bodreau, and Bibens clans along with others treating us like family. It turned into a great experience for our family and one we have never forgotten.
After Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A.’s successful season concluded, all the joys of being the son of the NERF and the perks of being the son of a track promoter increased a hundred fold. Val LeSieur offered him the Promotional Director position at Speedway Scene (cue the chorus of angels singing).
If I tried to name every track we attended at least once in those Speedway Scene days from late ’79 to the close of the ’84 season, I know for sure I would miss a few. It was simply a bull-rush of racing for over 5 seasons. We turned up at every major race from Martinsville, Virginia to Nelles Corners, Ontario. Dirt or asphalt didn’t matter, all the Oswego Classics, Thompson 300’s, Race of Champions, Super Dirt Weeks, Oxford 250’s, over 100 plus races a season, we were there and I was living the dream.
Along the way we met all kinds of racing personalities. THAT is indeed the part I have always cherished while looking back over those years. Taking in all the racing events and meeting all of these fantastic racing personalities (fans, crews, drivers, owners, track owners, promoters, officials, sponsors and those in the press) was like learning the meaning of life for a nine to fourteen year old auto racing junkie of an equally addicted father. It was as if being handed the keys to the gates of Northeast Auto Racing Heaven (again.. cue the chorus of angels singing).
The interesting thing was coming back home and being asked by friends and their parents, where we had been. I’d go down the list of the past weekend’s fun and would be met most times with disbelief. “Stayed at Jerry Cook’s house? Sure.” .. “Steve Kinser told you and your father that? Yeah right!” .. “Sat in every car at Troyer Engineering last Thursday? Whatever.” And oh boy did the eyes roll when I came back after Labor Day in 1981 and told them we had camped out in Richie’s shop prior to Oswego Classic Weekend.
That leads me to Richie. In those years on the road we ran into Richie Evans and his crew numerous times each season; Stafford, Spencer, New Egypt, Riverside Park, Shangri-La, Oswego, Thompson, Monadnock, Seekonk, Pocono, Trenton, Islip, Holland.. I loved every time we did and looked forward to the ribbing I’d receive, well, most of it anyway.
Richie was something. Great racer? The best! Great champion? Without a doubt! Great guy with the fans? Abso-friggin’-lutely, no question about it!
Reminiscing over the years about Richie and starting up this site in memory of my father has led me to finally sit down and write about some of the many personal stories I am very fortunate to have involving Richie. I admit that it’s taken quite a while for me to buckle down and get it written. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Writing about personal run-ins as a kid with a guy who was and always will be the king of the division we know as Asphalt Modifieds can be a bit intimidating. It carries a certain amount of pressure to get it right. More so, talking about Richie can become a tough and emotional subject involving laughter, tears and more laughter.
During an email exchange, over a year ago, with a former co-worker and friend of my father’s, who was “chasing deadlines”, I mentioned the struggle I was having approaching how to write these memories down for this very column. Do I tell it this way or that way? In what style? His response was a short lighthearted one that I expected, “Yeah, it’s work!”
Another friend of my father’s gave some interesting advice that got the gears turning, “You lived it up with your father and met all kinds as a kid. Tell it like you’re telling stories around the campfire with friends, but write it through the eyes and ears of the kid who experienced it, not the adult you are today. Keep the innocent views of the kid you were. That’s how you should tell it.”
Alright then, so here it is. I gave it my best shot.
A quick note.. Some of the wording in conversations I’ve placed in quotes may not be exact. Thirty years of dust collected in my personal vault “upstairs” is indeed the reason. However, as others have shared their own personal memories of racing days gone by and interaction with racing personalities along the way, their wording more than likely isn’t exact as well.
I do assure you no falsehoods exists in these personal memories. I share them as a fellow fan who was extremely lucky to have a father involved in the media side of our sport which allowed me to experience many things others hadn’t. Lucky that Val hired my father to help grow his racing publication’s coverage area and also create the Racearama during a great period in Northeast auto racing history. Lucky to ride shotgun with my father all those years and have great memories of unbelievable people involved in our sport back in the day. Of course the subject at hand, lucky enough to get ribbed by Richie every time we ran into him.
I hope you enjoy these personal Richie stories written as best as I remember them as the kid who was very fortunate to experience them.
* * * * * * * * * *
Filling That Tank..
Richie Evans’ stats speak for themselves. A nine time NASCAR National Modified Champion, over 65 track championships and 600 plus feature wins at numerous tracks up and down the east coast, to which are still being discovered. Those stats are only the tip of the iceberg in regards to who Richie Evans was to the auto racing community and why he meant so much to the fans, media and fellow competitors all the way up to the track owners, promoters and sanctioning body heads.
As a youngster in the mid ’70’s and early ’80’s and a die-hard Bob Polverari fan, I thought Richie was special. It wasn’t because of his wins or championships, but the way he was towards me every time we ran into him – well, except the first time, but you’ll soon know that story-. Only as I grew older did I truly realize he was that way with damn near everybody. He was special.
Anyone who met him and had the chance just to be around him, even for a brief moment in the pits, before or after a race, walked away feeling as if they knew him and had made a friend.
To the young fans the most important thing is wanting to feel like you matter. Just a few minutes of one on one conversational interaction between a youngster and a driver lasts forever and makes a fan for life. When drivers or racing personalities, people they look up to, gives someone that time and attention it filled that tank. It works the opposite as well. A driver has a bad day and isn’t up for interaction or conversation, blowing someone off, it leaves a lasting negative impression. As for kids, it’s that ever important first impression to which they draw their conclusions. As a young fan, THAT impression is EXACTLY why it never dawned on me until I got a bit older that Richie was indeed great with everyone.
Richie proverbially filled that tank. He took time and even shared some laughs with fans of all ages. If Richie had an off night, a very rare wreck or even lost a close one to a heated competitor, he still had time to talk, joke, laugh and always met you with a smile. For that very reason he was a champion of the fans and not just with HIS fans..
But, that’s not how it started between Richie and this kid..
The Park and.. Child Labor?
My father would occasionally share this particular story with friends in racing, especially when around Richie or when his name was brought up after Richie’s untimely passing. It took place at a time my father was writing the “NERF’ers Corner” for what was then known as New England Speedway Scene.
At Riverside Park Speedway in 1978, most nights for those in attendance ended with the drop of the checkered flag on the Figure 8’s feature. Some fans wound up at Riverside Park’s Beer Gardens to enjoy corn on the cob, hot German potato salad, a beer or three and great conversation.
If you were a child of one of those Park’s Beer Garden attendees, you were either on the rides in the amusement park or out in the parking lot looking at the Modifieds strapped to their ramp trucks and trailers. If you were real lucky, you were given the prestigious job most of us kids referred to as a Car Watcher –“Hey kid, if you watch our car, there’s a hat in it for you”-. The Car Watcher was indeed an honor bestowed by the team while they mingled at the Park’s Beer Gardens.
Car Watcher (kär wŏch′ər) *kid’s definition:A job consisting of keeping watch over the hauler and the car strapped to it. See to it that no one messed around with anything in the car or the tool compartments.A very important job that pays off in t-shirts, jackets, hats, or stickers (a racing fan’s gold).
Car Watcher (kär wŏch′ər) *Parental definition: An utter sham. A tactic used by quite a few of us to allow ourselves time to laugh it up at the beer gardens and talk racing or shoot the breeze with the drivers, crews and fellow fans while our kids amused themselves among other kids by any particular hauler. A way to make sure we don’t have to walk through the entire damn amusement park to hunt them down.
The most memorable time I recall this story being told was at the breakfast table in the Thompson Speedway Clubhouse on Thompson 300 weekend (’80 or ’81). We were sitting at the table with Val LeSieur, Richie and a few other Northeast racing personalities. Richie started giving me crap about how I was holding my spoon and I smarted off to him with a smile. Richie reacted by knocking my hat off and saying, “What’s the matter with you? Hold your spoon right AND why can’t you keep your hat on your head?“
As I’m picking up my hat, one of the others at the table said I should be nice to Richie. Richie answered, “Don’t worry about Lil’ Echo. He’s been a press brat since I first met him.“
The gentleman asked how long that had been and after some words from Richie and my father, they started in with the story..
My father started off, “We’re in the beer gardens at the Park and I’m shooting the s**t with Richie (throwing a thumb to the very person sitting to his left. I was sitting to Richie’s left.). He starts telling me about how he couldn’t get over all the kids out in the parking running around the haulers and says..“
Richie interrupts and takes over, “They were like a mob of pint sized Keystone Cops out there.. So I’m telling him how we pulled up and parked by Bobby’s (Polverari) hauler. There’s this little long blond haired kid sitting on the hauler with a serious look on his face. I walk up to him and ask what he’s doing. He says he’s watching his favorite driver’s car. I ask him if he could watch ours too. He says, ‘I could, but Bob’s is number one.’ So I says, ‘There’s a t-shirt in it for you’. The kid ain’t budging, doesn’t even answer! So I ask him, ‘Does Bobby give you shirts?’ He says, ‘My parents got me a bunch of Bob’s shirts.’ So I says, ‘You’re parents bought you those shirts. I’m going to GIVE you one! So how about it? You wanna’ watch my car?’ You know what the kid says to me? He says, ‘Sorry, you’re not Bob Polverari.’ Then he points behind me and says, ‘He’ll watch your car for you.’ I turn around and it’s a four year old wearing half the ice cream he’s eating and walking around with only one shoe on!“
Everyone at the table starts chuckling. My father takes over the story, “Then it dawns on me and I ask Rich, (again pointing a thumb to the very person sitting to his left), ‘This blond haired kid, did he have hair down to here?’ (putting his hand at shoulder length). Rich says, ‘Uh-huh.’ ‘And was he wearing a blue jacket with a Cardinal 500 patch on it?’ Richie says, ‘Yeah! That’s the kid! You know the little bastard?’“
Richie takes over, “He says, ‘Yeah, I know him.’ So I ask Bob, ‘Who’s friggin’ kid is it? Point ’em out. I’m going to give his parents a bunch of s**t.’ Bob loses his smile and says, ‘That’s my youngest son, Jared’ (Richie turns to his left and lightly back-hands me on the shoulder and also knocks the hat off my head again). I look at Bob and says, ‘Chip off the old, NERF!“
The table erupted with laughter as I picked up my hat and ate my breakfast while my face slowly turned a shade of Armstrong red.
After the ’81 SIZZLER..
More often than not Richie would start a race from wherever in the field and be holding the winning trophy by the end, wearing that trademark smile of his, surrounded by his crew and fans. Stafford Motor Speedway’s 1981 version of the Spring Sizzler was not one of those moments, but you couldn’t tell with Richie’s ear to ear smile when it was all said and done.
As I had mentioned, I’ve been a Bob Polverari fan since first taking in an event at Riverside Park Speedway in 1975. At Riverside Bob was a champion who was always one of the drivers with a great chance at being a victor. At Stafford however, he had yet to taste victory albeit his performances in the Spring Sizzler, of all races, is where he had opened some eyes and shined in the past.
In 1981 Bob and team showed up with a new car and body style and an unfamiliar black and gold paint scheme. His performance that Sunday in the Sizzler was nothing short of spectacular. The battle between he and Richie over the remaining laps is the stuff of legends. In the end Bob beat Richie by about a foot, if that.
Us Polverari fans were out of our ever-loving minds and that is NOT an over exaggeration by any means. Matter of fact most everyone on the speedway grounds were celebrating the spectacular finish.
What added to the moment was the scoreboard, which first read “71-61-44” when they took the checkers. A few seconds later it changed to “61-71-44”. The decibel level coming from grandstands was up there with a rock concert and when the scoreboard changed back moments later to “71-61-44” the decibel level red-lined and broke the proverbial needle. Ask anyone who was there, they can testify. It was the largest “pop” I have ever heard at Stafford.
If one missed the finish and the end result –oh, you poor soul- one might have mistaken Richie being the winner or even Reggie Ruggiero for that matter.
Reggie and Mario Fiore showed up with a year old Evans shop built chassis, Pinto bodied Modified by way of Midwest Late Model Star, Mark “Captain Sizzle” Malcuit. Their performance that weekend culminating with a third place finish was a victory in of itself. So the 44’s driver, owner, crew and fan’s celebration added to the celebration by Bob Polverari’s crew and fans as well as Richie’s crew and fans. It made it one electrifying podium.
After the event’s post race interviews and celebrations I sought out Richie, who was by his car with one foot up on the front right tire leaning an elbow on his knee and smoking a cigarette. It was one of the few times I can recall seeing him by himself at any racetrack, if just for a moment. I approached him and told him, “That was the best race I have ever seen. You were charging hard after that pit stop, Richie.“
He smiled, knowing Bob was my favorite driver and said, “I bet it was, Lil’ Echo. It was a good one from where I was sitting too.“
Now at the age of 11, the belief that my driver could beat Richie at Riverside Park was indeed very real. I had seen it and cheered it a few times, but it was a little hard, even after seeing it for myself first hand, that it could happen at Stafford. Ah, the mindset of an 11 year old. So I hesitated a bit in front of Richie, looked around, kicked up some dirt and turned to say something that an 11 year old might, just for assurance as what I had just witnessed was the real deal, “Richie, thanks for let..“
Before I could finish, Richie gave a quiet chuckle, stood up abruptly, took a step closer, and while placing a hand on my shoulder said, “Jarret, I didn’t let him win, if that’s what you were going say. Bobby beat me and that’s all there is to it. Your driver won and I’m about as happy for him as you are.“
He pulled my hat down over my eyes, turned me around by the shoulders, kicked me in the seat of the pants and said “Now go enjoy it.“
I did as instructed.
“So am I your favorite yet?” ..
I’m not very sure when this ongoing exchange got started between myself and Richie. It happened so frequently through the years that I haven’t a clue as to when it began. It would start off after a win that night or the day after waiting for the gates to open or when we stopped by the shop. Richie would say to me, “I bet I’m your favorite now.” Or, “Who’s your favorite driver now, Lil’ Echo? It’s me, isn’t it?” or “So am I your favorite yet?”
“No, Bob Polverari is my favorite.“ Richie, “So I’m your second favorite then.“ “No, that’s Jim Shampine.“ Richie, “Third?“ “No, Merv Treichler is.“ Richie, “What? Merv? He’s a bum! Pavement, not dirt. So I’m third in pavement.“ “No, Dave Bibens is.“ Richie, “Dave who? Never heard of him.“ “He races Late Models at Claremont Speedway.“ Richie, “Okay, so where am I on the list? Top 5?“ “Top 10.“ Richie, “TOP TEN? Awe what do you know, little Echo! You’re just a press brat.”..
Camping at 608 Calvert Street..
The week leading up to the 1981 Oswego Speedway Classic, my father decided he and I were going to make it a week long camping trip. The plan was to stay with Oswego Speedway PR couple Dick O’Brien and then wife, Linda at their home for a day. We were to stay the night, then head out to a campground on Lake Ontario for a few days. Come Thursday morning we would tear down at the campground and set up the camper on the hilltop by the speedway.
We hit the road from Massachusetts Monday morning. Around Syracuse we stopped for gas and while fueling up dad noticed the frame by the camper hitch had cracked. So as I finished fueling the van he went into the gas station to use their phone. He paid for gas, got back into the van and as we were driving away I noticed we were headed in a different direction. Before I could ask, he declared, “Change of plans. We’re going to Richie’s to get this thing welded.“
When we arrived I walked quickly past my father to the door and then walked in acting as if I was calm and cool. Richie was bent over the engine on one of the Modifieds that was slightly raised on the lift. He glanced over at me coming through the door and somewhat yelled, “Hey, it’s Lil’ Echo and the Nerf!”
Dad asked Richie where he should park the camper. Richie told him to wait a minute, he needed to ask Billy (Nacewicz) when he’d be able to get to it. Richie wiped his hands off with a rag and walked to the west bay and disappeared into the back room.
We overheard Billy going over everything he needed to get done and Billy got louder as both he and Richie appeared walking back towards us. We overheard Billy ending the the conversation with, “..before I can even look at Bob’s camper!“
As Billy walked by us he said hello and walked out the front door, to which he went to look at the camper, Richie comes back and says, “We’ll get it done for you, Bob.“
Dad says, “Thanks Rich. What are we talking about? Later this evening? Tomorrow morning?“
“No. More like Wednesday night or Thursday morning.” and from the expression on my father’s face Richie busted up laughing. “It’ll be a couple days before he can get to it. Big weekend coming. We have some extra work to be done. Don’t worry about it, you and Lil’ Echo can stay with us.“
My Dad expressed his appreciation for the offer to stay with him, but said he preferred not to intrude on Richie’s home life. Richie looked at him for a minute a tad puzzled and maybe even a slight bit offended.
“Okay, if that’s how you want to be. Set the camper up over there just inside the door (the west bay) and camp out here for all I care.” Then a grin came over his face and he lightly back handed me on the chest saying, “Lil’ Echo can be our guard dog.. Woof.“
The next couple of days I spent mostly following Richie around the shop. It was a trip for me. I got to see a slightly different side of him I hadn’t seen before. If I was a pain in the ass, well, Richie never let me in on it.
I inquired a few times as to the color photo of him and -whom I later found to be Linda Vaughn- tacked to the wall by the phone.The answer I received from Richie was, “That’s my favorite picture.“
“Why’s that?” I asked.
A moment of silence.. “Hmm.. Uh.. Because it was from our second win at Daytona.“
“It’s only you and that lady. No crew or friends, just you and her and it’s your favorite?“
I then asked, “What’re you looking at?“
“I was looking at a photographer.“, Richie says.
“That camera guy must’ve been laying on his belly taking photos.” I remarked completely oblivious.
“Enough about the picture, get over here and hold this for me..“
We had a conversation about how he got his number. He told me that he started off in Modifieds with the number 6. To which I inquired why he changed it. He replied that he ran against Maynard Troyer and Maynard had the number first and was known for it so he changed his to 61.
Since he had mentioned Maynard, I started talking about how Maynard’s cars were always good looking and shiny. I asked him about his paint job, not the color per say, but why he didn’t have chrome like Maynard. He stood up from being hunched over the engine. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, which was holding a screw driver, and said to me with a smile, “Because, pretty doesn’t make it go fast.“
I giggled and replied, “Well it sure seems to work for Maynard!“
His smile left and he looked at me quick, “Why don’t you go get me some rags or go outside and play in traffic.“
Off I went to fetch some rags. Playing in traffic didn’t seem very appealing at the time.
I held his rags, stuffed in my back pockets, his tools while he worked and I ran to the tool box to get him things. -Heck, I was so preoccupied, I can’t recall where my father was all that time until everyone went home or I went to bed- I even answered the phone a couple times with specific orders regarding answering, “Sales people hang up on the third ring, so don’t answer it until after the third ring!“
The few times I did answer the shop phone it really threw the callers off, “Uh…? I’m sorry, I must have the wrong number.“
Richie got a kick out of it. I’d answer back, “No, this is Richie’s shop. Who do ya’ want to talk to?“
Of course being the youngster that I was, I had been eyeballing his Mod in the east bay, just inside the front door, and itching to sit in it since we arrived. Periodically I would mosey on over to the window, just lean into the window or start sliding my leg over the door and Billy, who had to either be clairvoyant or one of just good timing would catch me and say; “No sitting in the cars!” and again, “Not now, maybe later!” and again, “They’re not toys, Echo!“.. as he would walk by to retrieve something for his current task at hand without even looking in my direction.
Well, later Tuesday morning, while Billy was in the other bay behind the wall welding, another gentleman was out back, and Richie was hunched over the other Modified, I strolled slowly over to the east bay and slipped into the Pinto bodied Modified. About the time I got comfortable and reached up to put my hands on the wheel..
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THAT CAR?!?! Get out of there! No one said you could do that! How many times have I told you?“, Billy screamed as I scrambled from the cockpit so much so that my feet were hanging on the door and my hands were on the shop floor, “They’re not toys!”
As soon as I was completely out of the car I went the opposite direction of where Billy was coming from and made a “B” line straight to the camper.
Of course I knew I had done wrong, but in my 11 year old thick cranium I couldn’t understand why I could sit in Polverari’s car, Mario’s car, had free reign in every car at Troyer’s huge airplane hanger of a shop, along with so many other race shops, but not Richie’s.
At that moment in my eyes, no matter how nice he had been to me in the past, Billy was now ‘the bad guy’.
Early afternoon Richie started yelling for me. I opened the door to the camper and looked out. Richie asked if I wanted to take a ride and off we went. -trying to remember where we went I’m drawing a blank, but I remember the conversation very well- After a little silence Richie says, “You know, Billy’s a real good guy, right? He’s joked with you before at the track.”
I answered, “Yeah, but now he doesn’t like me very much.”
Richie says, “He didn’t say that. He’s just doing his job. He’s protecting his work. Racing’s what feeds our families just as selling subscriptions and going to all these tracks you visit with your Dad puts clothes on your back and food on your family’s table. He works hard on the cars. We all do. Billy is protecting our work.“
“But he really screamed at me. He was pissed.“
Richie says; “Your dad doesn’t let you talk like that so don’t start now. Billy’s reminded you how many times not to get in the cars? But you still did, didn’t you?” I nodded in silent agreement. “Just listen to Billy and respect what he says, okay? You do that and everything will be fine.“
I nodded again..
On the way back to the shop he asked if I wanted a job cleaning his office and of course I said yes.
We walked into the shop, took a left as we got in the door and arrived at a door located by the front of the shop. He opened the door and there are all these trophies from wall to wall. Some piled in the east corner. Some piled in the west corner and some sitting upright on the floor. All a mess. I stood there like a deer in the headlights. During that time I failed to notice he had walked away and brought back some rags to which he lifted the back of my shirt and shoved them into both of my back pockets along with a half spray bottle of glass cleaner. “Dust them off, clean them and straighten it up the best you can. After that, maybe, just maybe you can get in one of the cars by the end of the day.“
As I grew older and recalled that memory I realized Richie was just trying to keep me out of his hair for a while, -much like watching haulers in the Riverside Park parking lot- but at the time I thought cleaning up that “office” was something of major importance on 608 Calvert.
A couple hours later the door opened and in walks Richie. He looks around and says, “Hey look’it there! (pointing down) I can see the floor! How’d that get there? .. Looks good.“
He stepped in and said; “Okay, Jarrett, pick out a trophy to bring home until I need it back.“
I stood there in shock. I didn’t believe what I just heard so I looked at him and, “Huh?“
“Pick out a trophy. Any of ’em.“
I looked all over the room and while I scanned I was thinking I didn’t want to grab anything huge like the enormous Oswego trophy. I decided to go small and pick a Riverside Park regular fifty lap feature winning trophy.
“All that silver and gold and you pick that? C’mon, pick a good one.”
I put it back and scanned the room over and over long enough that Richie said, “Hurry it up. We got work to do.“
I walked over and picked up a pretty nice trophy that was a big cup on a wood base. I turned around and held it up by the handles for Richie’s approval. “This one?“
“Sure. It’s yours.” Richie said and backed up to let me walk out of the room. “You earned it. When I need it I’ll know where to find it, but take good care of it. That’s a good one. Put it in the back of your van where it won’t get wrecked.“
I went and put it in the back of the black Speedway Scene van. While doing so I thought about earlier when I didn’t listen to Billy and what Richie told me in the ride earlier. As soon as I shut the doors to the van I sought Billy out. I walked up to him in the back of the east bay and said, “Billy?I’m sorry for not listening to you. I promise I’ll listen to you from now on.“
Billy told me, “The best kind of helper listens to what they’re told and if you didn’t hear it right the first time you should ask again. Okay?“
“Okay. Now go do something useful will ya?.. Except DON’T get in the cars! (pointing a finger at me and smiling) Got it?“
That next day, mid morning, I was in the camper when Billy knocked on the small half-door while heading for the back room behind the west bay, “Richie wants your help.“
I came out of the camper, walked up to Richie who was in the east bay and announced my presence. Richie points to the driver side door while rummaging through a box and says, “Now’s your chance, get in.“
I looked at him as if he was trying to trick me into getting yelled at. I scanned around as if I was being pranked or set up. “What the heck are you doing?You heard me, get in. You’re not scared of heights are you, because I’m putting you up on the lift?“
Uh, yeah I’m REALLY SCARED of heights, “No. I’m okay.“
Richie. “When I say so, I want you to pump the brakes. Okay?“
“Okay.” I got in the car. The lift goes up and.. And.. And.. “Hello?“
“I’m here, I had to grab something.” Richie yells from what sounds like behind the car. His voice got closer and then, “Okay, Start pumping the breaks until I say so.“
“Okay!” I started pumping the brakes.
“Stop.” After a moment or two, “Alright, press the breaks as hard as you can.. Are you pressing them hard?“
Struggling, with a grunt, “Yes!“
“Press harder. Use both feet, Jarret!“
At this particular moment in time I had my left hand on the cage by the door, my right hand pulling on the steering wheel, my shoulders against the driver’s seat and both feet on the brake pressing with all my might.. “Keep pressing.. Keep press-“
– BAM!!! –
The brake peddle slammed straight to the floor board and at this moment in time there were two things occupying my thoughts..
1. I just broke Richie’s car and he’s going to kill me.
B. Worse yet. When Richie is done with me there’s Billy. And Billy is going to say, “That’s why I said to stay out of the cars!” and then HE was going to kill me!
The car starts lowering in silence and my stomach was filled with butterflies so much so that if I opened my mouth it wouldn’t have surprised me if a few Monarchs flew out. I was frozen in the same ‘hand on the cage, hand on the wheel, and both feet on the pedal’ position… And I am going to die..
As the car is lowering I see the top of Richie’s head then a splat of fluid on his forehead above his brow, a bit on his nose and the right side of his face. His chin had a bit dripping off too.. He is just staring at me with a straight face. –Yeah, I’m a dead kid–
He stopped the lift to where the window opening by the door is at his chest and wipes the fluid off of his face with a rag..
“I broke your car. I’m really sorry.” is all I could manage to quietly whisper.
Richie steps closer, places both hands on the door, peers in and then grinned , “You did good.“
-What??? I did good?- “But I broke your car.“
Richie smiles and says; “You broke the car, but it’s better than it happening at the track.“
-Huh? What?- “I broke the brakes and that’s good?”
“That could’ve happened this weekend at the races. You did good.. But now I’m going to tell Billy.” Richie screams across the shop to Billy; “Billy, Lil’ Echo got into the car and broke it.“
A couple minutes later Billy yells something from behind the wall and comes over –while I’m still sitting in the car TRAPPED and awaiting my execution-. He and Richie discuss something briefly and then Billy walks over to the window. -Here it comes-
“I told you to stay outta’ the cars, didn’t I?” Smiling as he said it. While walking away he says out loud, “See? You are good for something, Echo!“
Thursday morning, just as Richie had said, Billy welded and repaired the camper. We were ready to roll. That is until my father opened the back of the van to throw some things in and.. “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, JARED?!?!“
He comes out holding the trophy, “Did he give this to you?“
My father looks the trophy over and says, “I highly doubt that! You take this back and apologize right now!“
“Dad, he gave me it to hold onto. I cleaned..” But my father wasn’t listening and just walked past me with trophy in hand. I followed him as he walked up to Richie.
My father held up the trophy, but before he could speak Richie says, “He cleaned my trophy room and I let him pick out a trophy. That was the deal. It’s his to hold onto.“
My father looked at the trophy, looked at me, looked back at Richie, looked at the trophy again then back at Richie and said, “I’m sorry, but this year you’ve given him 3 shirts, a jacket and a hat. You fixed the camper. That’s more than enough. Besides..
He hands the trophy out to Richie, “If you’ve ever seen his room, there’s just no way in hell you would be letting my son take home your Race of Champions trophy.“
-All these years later, after seeing numerous photos, I believe my father spoke of the wrong trophy or I recall the wrong name being said. Not sure, but I remember how the trophy looked and felt in my hands. I believe I had actually picked out one of the Martinsville Speedway trophies. I also remember my father’s reaction left Richie standing there with his mouth open.
Pebbles at Stafford..
One night at Stafford the track management allowed me to accompany my father into the pits in order to assist him handing flyers out for Racearama ’82 or something to that effect. Quite frankly, my father had so much going on with promotional ideas and such, it could’ve been for anything.. So we arrived at Polverari’s hauler and I was checking out the car from a distance as the crew worked on it. While standing there at a distance I get hit in the back by something small and heard whatever it was click off the ground. I turned and looked around. Nothing. I look across the packed pit area. Nothing.
I went back to watching the crew work on the car only to get hit again as a pebble bounced off me and landed by my right foot. I spun around quick, scanned the pits close by. Across the pits I spot Richie by George Kent’s hauler in what looked like a deep conversation. I even scanned the crowd to see if Val was around because he was quite the prankster as well, but came up empty again. So I went back to admiring my favorite driver’s car.
Not long after came another pebble. I spun around fast and saw Richie, still by Kent, but he was scanning the sky and.. whistling? Kent, however is looking at Richie and laughing. At the same time I see Richie drop a handful of pebbles. Richie then turns and looks at me with a big grin. I pointed at Richie who immediately gestures “shame-shame” with an index finger pointed up waving side to side and then yells with his right hand cupped by the side of his face, pointing back at me with his left hand, “It’s not polite to point!“
All the while he has that trademark grin on his face. I laughed and followed it up by sticking my tongue out at him, “Ththththth!“
I turned back to Polverari’s hauler. A minute or two passes and I get hit with a bunch of pebbles. This time, before I have the chance to spin around, the back of my Polverari shirt gets pulled out of my pants and over my head, hockey style and I’m being grabbed by the arms. I start yelling; “Hey, Stop it! Leave my shirt alone!“
The familiar voice of Richie grunts; “Get that no good shirt off. Where’s the one’s I gave you?“
While struggling to stop him from removing my shirt in front of everyone in the pit area I screamed, “I don’t wear your shirts where Bob races! LET ME GO!”
He let me go, but not before he got my 711 shirt off and everyone around us laughing.
The T-Shirt Game..
Between 1978 and 1984 I accumulated a couple dozen Richie shirts (or so I thought). It really picked up when we started traveling to Spencer, Shangri-La, New Egypt and Oswego more often. If we were at any facility that ran asphalt Modifieds, twenty percent of the time I was wearing a Speedway Scene shirt and the other eighty percent, I was wearing a Bob Polverari shirt proudly, but that would usually end before practice even began, only if it wasn’t one of Polverari’s home tracks..
It was always the same. We would get to the track and pull the Speedway Scene Firebird (’80-mid ’81) or Van (mid ’81 to ’84) into the main gates behind the grand stand. After setting up early my father would head to the pit area. Upon his return he would have an orange shirt with him and when he got close enough to me he would more often than not throw the shirt at me underhanded and say; “Richie said Bob doesn’t race here. Put it on.“
When we saw him after the races the ribbing would commence, “See! You’re wearing my shirt, so I AM your favorite.” (-ding- And the typical questioning and ribbing would start over again!)
Then came one race at New Egypt Speedway. Polverari was chasing the NASCAR Budweiser Northeast Regional Points in 1982. I was unaware because it was early in the season, we were hitting much more dirt races and we had been away from Stafford, the Park and Thompson more often.
We arrived at the track, set up inside the gates and my father moseyed on into the pit area. A while later, right when practice was about to roll out I was sitting in the stands with my “Black Magic 711” shirt on. My father arrives with no shirt in his hands. He sits down beside without looking at me and without expression.
I was puzzled and quite disappointed, to be honest. Is the little joke between Richie and I over? Where’s the shirt? I know Richie’s here. Heck they blew past us on the interstate’s breakdown lane a few miles before the exit! The roar of the engines filled the air. My father looks at me straight faced.
“What?” I put my hands up gesturing ‘What gives?’
No answer. The the first group of Modifieds start up and begin rolling onto the track. That’s when my father stands up, glances over the fence by the pit exit and leans over, “Richie says you’re awful lucky tonight.“
My Dad points to New Egypt’s pit gate as Bob Polverari in his black Modified with the familiar yellow 711 numbers rolled out onto the racing surface. I sat stunned as my father busted up laughing at my expression and walked back to the Speedway Scene booth.
At the beginning of this part I wrote, “or so I thought” because..
In 1992 while my father and I were heading to Sugar Hill Speedway to work (he as the promoter and announcer, me as the chief starter) we were reminiscing about the 80’s which led to the subject of Richie. After a couple good laughs I brought up, “I remember all the shirts he gave me in those years. I had to have a few dozen by the time it was all said and done.“
“You didn’t have as many as you thought.” my father answered with a chuckle.
“Are you kidding? I had a butt-load of Richie’s shirts!” I fired back as if my father had lost his mind.
“No. No you didn’t.” He said smiling and looking out the passenger window. “After you accumulated about a dozen shirts I told Richie that from now on I’ll bring some of what you already have because you already had way too many. So I started grabbing the recent ones out of your drawer before we hit the road and if we saw him before he hit the pit area I’d hand him one of them for later. If we didn’t catch him I’d bring it to the pits with me, tucked into the back of my belt. So, when I returned with his message, I’d give you a shirt. Oh, he was in on it, you just didn’t have as many as you thought.“
“Huh? Are you serious?” There was silence in the car. I thought back and came to the conclusion he was b-s-ing me. Then a thought hit me. I had him now.., “What about when we were at Spencer then Shangri-La or New Egypt then Oswego? How do you explain that?“
“I took two shirts out of your drawer after you were all packed and did the same thing.” my father answered with a huge belly deep laugh.
“You son of a…“
I thought, seven years since Richie’s been gone and he’s still pulling one over on me.
Well played, Richie. Well played.
The Last Time I Saw Richie..
In 1985 my father reluctantly stepped down from his position with Speedway Scene and accepted a second stint as Promoter and Race Director for Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A..
Through his travels with Speedway Scene he had made many friends. One of which was Jerry Cook who had since retired from racing and whom in 1985 was given the reigns to the new NASCAR Modified Tour. That connection helped my father get a NASCAR Modified Tour date for the non-NASCAR sanctioned Claremont Speedway which was quite the feat for any promoter at the time and a BIG DEAL for Claremont Speedway and their great region of racing fans.
The Tour stop was the very last time I would ever see Richie compete or talk to. That day started off with seeing him at the pit booth when they pulled onto the speedway grounds. I had just brought more sign-in sheets to the booth when they must’ve pulled in. While speaking with some of the folks at the booth and unaware of their arrival, I hear from behind me, “Hey-hey! It’s not so little Echo!“
Recognizing the voice I turned around and Richie was right there with that trademark smile, “Hey Richie. How are you?“
He put out his right hand and I shook it, “You know I should’ve brought the trophy along to give it to you in front of your father after the race, just to see the look on his face. I thought about it after we left the shop.”
We both laughed about it. Things like him remembering the trophy from a few years prior just made my day. He asked where my dad was. I told him he was doing his typical race day, chicken-with-its-head-cut-off-routine, “I’m sure he’ll be by your hauler before practice starts.“
They signed in. I wished him and the guys a good race and off they rode into the pit area.
After the event was over, won by the man himself, I walked into the pit area to his hauler. There he was greeting, shaking hands, saying thank you’s to the many congratulations he was receiving from the fans who made their way to see him.
I waited until a few finished their conversation before I walked up and shared my congratulations as well. I told him he ran a great race and looked like he had the field handled. I asked him how he liked the track, being that it was his first time there, “It’s a neat place. Fun to drive. Going to have to talk with your dad to get with Cookie and get us back here next year. Fun place. Too bad about the weather though. That kept a lot of the fans away.“
We talked a few more minutes and said our goodbyes until the next time. But there wouldn’t be a next time..
When Richie passed Bones wrote what I personally consider the most perfect tribute piece for any driver that I have ever read. Quite honestly, I don’t think anyone else could have captured the emotions we all felt. It bled off the pages. Rightly titled, “The Day The Music Died” couldn’t have been more accurate regarding the feelings of Richie’s fans, friends, family and the Modified community as a whole.
If you were around back in those days, you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, the shock and the sinking feeling of dread that came once the news of Richie’s passing settled in.
I still tear up regarding the memory of first finding out about Richie’s passing, it was my father who broke it to me.
We were still living in Claremont, New Hampshire and I was attending a friend’s high school girls soccer game. I heard my name being called from behind me. I turned and was surprised to see it was my father as the tone sounded nothing like what I was used to. As he drew closer I could see why his voice was unrecognizable. He was trying to scream my name while all choked up in tears. His face was red and eyes were bloodshot.
Seeing the expression on his face, my immediate thought was that something had happened to my older brother or our Mother. I walked a few fast steps towards him and asked, “What’s wrong, Dad? What’s going on? Are mom and Shane okay? What’s the matter?“
“No. No. ..” He let out a long winded sigh and looked up at the clouds, “No, Jared, it’s Richie…“
He could see my bewilderment. -Richie? Who the hell is Richie? The only Richie I know is..-
“Richie’s gone.” he said, “I got a few calls earlier and made a couple myself to be sure.. Richie was killed in a practice crash at Martinsville. He’s gone, Jared. Richie’s g-…“
My father couldn’t hold back the tears as his face contorted in a failed attempt to keep a cry at bay. He embraced me and started to sob, bowing his head. I hugged him, still somewhat confused. I stood there with my arms around him looking over his shoulder in absolute disbelief. My thoughts were of all those years watching him race, I had never seen him get in a bell-ringer or bad wreck.. Richie was invincible. “No. That can’t be right. Are they sure it was Richie? Are you positive it was him?“
In between the sobs I heard lightly, “It was Richie. It was Richie, Jared. He’s gone. We’ve all lost Richie.”
He tried to get me to go back to the car and ride home with him. I passed, still in shock, and told him, “I think I need to walk home. I’ll see you in a little bit, Dad.“
Without another word said, he just gave a nod, bowed his head as tears continued to roll off his cheeks and turned to walk away. I stood and watched him with his head down only stopping before walking through the gate and briefly looking up to the clouds again. I’ll never forget that memory of him pausing and looking to the overcast skies. Not many times does a child see his father in a terribly emotional state. That pause and gaze to the heavens still breaks my heart thinking about it.
After watching him drive away, I walked home the long way. It really hit me as I crossed the street from the park. I struggled to see through the burning tears to make sure I didn’t trip over the curb when reaching the sidewalk on the other side. There were a lot of tears shed that night in the Echo household just as was the case around the Northeast racing community as word continued to spread. We ALL had lost Richie.
I thought of his family, his girls and young son, his crew, a band of guys who seemed the tightest of friends, the folks we knew in racing that would be most effected by this terrible, terrible news. I also thought of Val and how he was dealing with it. It was nothing short of dreadful to think about how many this was effecting. My father even tried contacting Val for the first time since leaving Speedway Scene, but couldn’t get through.
The next day was my Freshman football game. My number was 78 (only a die hard race fan could figure out how I chose that number; 711, 61, 8.. Polverari, Evans, Shampine..). That morning in school I spoke to my coaches and asked if I could switch my jersey to 61. When I struggled through tears telling them why, the answer came by way of one of my freshman coaches placing the 61 jersey on my shoulder and a pat on the back.
That afternoon, as I sat by my locker fully dressed for the game, I bowed my head in my hands and said these words as my eyes weld up, “Richie, no matter what I ever said to you before, no matter how much we joked around, YOU have ALWAYS been and will FOREVER be a favorite.. Thank you for the memories and giving me some of your time. Rest in peace Richie. I’ll miss you. I’ll NEVER, forget you.”
Yes.. Richie was, is and always will be the King of the Modifieds. Yes.. He was and still is in my and many others eyes, the greatest Modified driver ever. Yes.. He was the “Racer’s Voice” of the division, the name that to this day represents the division.. But most of all, to many of us that grew up watching him and were fortunate enough to be around him periodically, he was more than that. He was Richie, who knew you by name and made you feel like you were important. A driver that could cater to the fans like no other. In my honest opinion, ALL of those things mixed together are indeed the reason why he was loved, admired and respected by so many. To me, THAT along with his kids are what makes up his legacy.
Folks talk about his NASCAR National Championships, his track titles, his big race wins, his stats, the hi-jinx and partying after the races, but with all that said his greatest attribute, in my opinion, was Richie’s dedication to the fans.
Through all the time and effort, long hours at his shop and on the road, his valuable time doing interviews for radio, newspapers and racing papers to help promote the sport of Modified racing and promote certain events for promoters, it’s the memories he gave us fans that made him the King of the Modifieds.
As I said in the beginning, Richie always had time for not only HIS fans, but ALL fans. If you had a chance to meet him you walked away thinking you knew him. A rare DNF, wreck, incident on the track or any other deal that would put any competitor in a sour mood never made him unapproachable. THAT is what makes Richie THEE champion of the Modifieds to this very day.
I always wondered how a driver of his caliber, who could strike up a conversation with any stranger at the race track, sharing his time and some laughs, yet look so vulnerable when a mic was shoved in his face.
It used to make me laugh while at the track or the Racerama and someone walks up with a mic or worse yet, mic and camera, and starts asking questions. Instantly Richie would (hide the cigarette if he was smoking) start looking around his surroundings, glancing down at the ground, and ending every answer with a “uh-huh” or “so..”, an up-nod of the head or any combination of the three. Even in victory lane he seemed shy during interviews. But not a minute after the particular media turned the mic, recorder or camera off he was back to his same old self.
This is where he always seemed so damned comfortable.. with the fans. His people. THIS, in my opinion, is what defined Richie Evans on the track and off.
For certain two things I would ask if granted wishes would be to ride shotgun one more time with my father and take in one last race with him. The other would be to travel to a race where Richie was competing. Walk up to Richie and wait for him to say, “So am I your favorite yet?” Just once.. But that’ll have to wait until my days are up and I see my father again. Hopefully that time will come, but a long time from now.
As is the case with quite a few of the Forewords and Post Scripts I’ve added to my father’s republished NERF’ers Corner columns as well as many of my own penned RELOADED’s, this piece was my way of sharing some, but not all of the personal experiences, memories and interactions I was fortunate enough to have had. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did sharing them.
In return, I’d like to encourage anyone who may have a Richie Evans story, to share it by either leaving it in the comment section with this column or on the Richie Evans – Nine Time NASCAR Modified Champion – Tribute Facebook page where young, old and everyone in between, including Richie’s family and friends, have been enjoying reading and sharing some fantastic memories and photos of Richie.
Again, I have my father to thank for these great memories and letting me be his sidekick up and down the roads from racetrack to racetrack, spring through fall for many years.
With this I bid you all a reluctant adieu. As of this moment in time this is the final RELOADED column. A good one to bookend with, I think. Rest assured, the NERF’ers Corners from days gone by will continue to be republished in memory of Robert “Bob” Echo and those of days gone by.
All the best to you my fellow racing fans. Be sure to SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHORT TRACKS! That’s where the real life stars of our sport compete each and every week and the real racing is.
Thank you for stopping by and as my father always said, “Till next time, Keep on trackin’.”
Labor Day weekend brought about the end of regular season racing at most New England Speedways and at the same time kicks off two solid months of open extra distance events throughout the Northeast.
The weekend itself is probably the biggest of the year in auto racing in the Northeast and anywhere else for that matter.
The Oswego Classic Weekend at Oswego, NY at Oswego Speedway begins the weekend’s asphalt action on September 1st while on the same night, dirt trackers can do their thing at the Montgomery County Fair Races in Fonda, NY at the Fonda Speedway.
The Fonda races will run through Labor Day with racing for Modifieds and Late Model Sportsman. Oswego will feature Modifieds on Saturday night in the Genesse 200 with a posted purse of $30,000 while the Supermodifieds will will battle for $55,000 on Sunday night in the International Classic 200.
On Saturday night you can also see extra distance races such as the Riverside 200 at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, MA, and the Labor Day 78 at Plattsburg International Raceway in Plattsburg, NY for Late Models. Beech Ridge Speedway in Scarborough, Maine will host Late Model and Limited Sportsman plus Modifieds for their two-day event tabbed the Labor Day Classic which will start on Saturday.
Thompson Speedway in Thompson, Conn. Will host a big 7-in-1 show on Sunday as their Labor Day Special with Modifieds, Late Models and Street Stock racing plus a demolition derby, powder puff derby, auto crash show, and aerial fireworks. You can see coupe racing in the Labor Day Special on Sunday at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Vermont while Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY will host their Labor Day Classic 100 on the same day for dirt track Modifieds.
Monday will be a big day in Stafford Springs, Conn., as the Stafford Motor Speedway hosts the 200 at Stafford which is sanctioned as a NASCAR National Modified Championship race carrying a purse of $28,000. The New York State Dirt Modified Championship will be held on Monday in Syracuse, NY at the New York State Fairgrounds while at Rolling Wheels Raceway in Elbridge, NY the R.M. Petrocci Memorial for dirt Modifieds will be held on the same day.
Other big races during the next couple of months are the NESMRA Classic at Star Speedway in Epping, NH on September 9th for Supers and Modifieds and on the following day, Islip Speedway in Islip, LI, NY will host the 1978 All Star 300 another NASCAR National Modified Championship race with a purse of $23,000.
The weekend of September 15th through 17th will find Thompson Speedway hosting the Thompson 300 which will carry the largest purse in the Northeast for Modifieds, that being $50,000.
On September 23rd, Trenton International Speedway in Trenton, NJ will host the Machinist Union 150 for USAC Championship and Mini Indy Cars while Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia will have the Modifieds for the Autumn 150 and the next day Martinsville will host the Grand Nationals in the Old Dominion 500.
Congrats to Tom Rosati for wrapping up his second straight Limited Sportsman title. Rosati who will campaign exclusively on the Northern NASCAR circuit next season, has sold his car to Dick Armstrong. Ricky Armstrong will wheel the new #1 entry of the Nu-Style Jewelry Racing Team… The Stafford Banquet has been set for January 13th at the Sheraton Sturbridge on US Route 20 in Sturbridge, Mass. While the Riverside Park Banquet will be held on November 18th at the Chez Josef in Agawam, Mass…. NASCAR Executive Vice President Lin Kuchler has resigned to take the position of Executive Director of the American Motorcyclist Association. Replacing Kuchler is Bill Gazeway, who has been NASCAR’s Winston Grand National Competition Director and Bob Smith, NASCAR’s Marketing Manager. Winston Grand National Technical Director, Ray Hill will assume Gazeway’s former duties…. The “Rapid Roman” is now leading the “Cookie Monster” by 132 points in the chase for the NASCAR National Championship. Richie Evans now has 3,036 to Jerry Cook’s 2,904. Cook picked up 16 points on the current leader last week…. Modified and Late Model Sportsman drivers went into the stands for charity at the NASCAR National Championship race at Monadnock Speedway on August 20th and using their helmets collected well over $1,250 from a capacity crowd. That’s what puts auto racing drivers and fans among the greatest people in the world…. The “Radical Racer”, owned by Fred Felton and driven by
Marty Radewick, returned to Stafford two weeks ago with one change. They widened the roll bar hoops at the roof of the car about 6 to 8 inches. On the right side of the car only, while the car’s width remains the same at all other points. Felton stated, “We gave a little and NASCAR gave a little.” Felton also told me that Bruce Watt had been very understanding and helpful during the “Radical Racer” conflict…. The racing world is always saddened when tragedy strikes the sport. 42 year old C.H. Whorton of Tulsa, Oklahoma was killed a couple of weeks ago at the Tulsa Speedway when he backed his Modified onto the track after a spinout and was t-boned by another car. Our deepest sympathy to the family, relatives, and friends of C.H. Whorton.
Geoff Bodine has won 46 races so far this season to lead the Nations Modified drivers, but there are some other big winners in the Northeast. Maynard Troyer has collected 37 wins, Richie Evans has 30 wins to his credit and Punky Caron has entered victory lane 19 times. You put this bunch together and you could call them auto racing’s Fearsome Foursome…. Fred Felton told me recently that he is really happy with the job that Marty Radewick has been doing in his car. He stated, “Marty drives like a man with 20 years experience instead of only a few years.” Radewick retired the Claremont Top Ten Drivers Trophy last Saturday by winning it twice in a row for the 11 Mass Racing Team. Felton’s car won last years races with Kirby Montieth at the wheel. It’s only the first time since the trophy was instituted nine years ago that a car has won back to back…. Have you seen all those Booker T – What It Is – tee shirts? Well, with Riverside Park going full NASCAR next year, we won’t have to worry about anyone runnin’ those Fat Motors will we?…. To Becky Coit of the #6 Racing Team; I think your poem on Ollie Silva was just super and you only confirm what I said earlier in this column about racing people…. It’s beginning to look like old times at Yarrington’s Yard. August 11th saw 51 Modifieds at Stafford and the following week there were 45. Last week’s total was 35, but weather seems to hold down the number of cars as Bugsy Stevens and Bobby Vee were among the missing.
To all of the people who don’t like what I write in NERF’ers Corner, all I have to say is don’t read it and you won’t get your ulcers in an uproar. If you continue to read this column, then as the Fonz would say; A-y-y-y-e-e-e, Sit On It!…. Until next week remember; “NERF’ers Do It Trackside.
The “Decade of the 80’s” was supposed to bring about some changes that would better the sport of auto racing for both the competitor and fan.
Some changes have helped the sport already, including USAC’s decision to finish all their stock car events under the green flag. Some tracks enacted their own tire rule while yet other facilities have shortened the distance of their regular races and cut down on the number of extra distance events.
Fans have been treated to the prettiest looking and finest field of asphalt Modifieds ever assembled with all the Troyer, Bo-Dyn, Evans, Nu-Style, Lindblad, Flemke, R.G.M., plus various other brands and home-made cars being built.
Taking the Northeast, which consists of New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and all of New England, there have been 54 Modified races on asphalt with 35 different winners and 139 drivers have placed in the top five in those 54 events. What more could a fan ask for as far as competitive racing?
Modified racing is expensive as is Grand National (*Now Cup), late Model Sportsman (*Now Nationwide), Indy Car, Formula One, SuperModified and any other dozen or so divisions. Most car owners have come to the conclusion that this is a high buck class of racing machine and if one can’t afford it, then either he gets out or he drops down a division that meets his pocket book. This doesn’t mean that Modified owners are happy high cost or they wouldn’t mind seeing costs lowered considerably.
About 90 percent of the Mod owners feel that tires are the biggest culprit in high cost while they know the second most expensive item is motors.
The season is only five or six weeks old and everything seems to be running on an even keel with a decent field of cars showing at most speedways… So… What happens?… NASCAR lowers the boom!
Let’s look at what the word NASCAR means, National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. The key word in this large sanctioning body’s name is a three letter preposition… The word FOR!… This means the large racing conglomerate is in the business of helping the sport… Or are they?… A technical Bulletin sent out by NASCAR, dated April 25th, stated that four things would have to be changed by May 7th. Those items listed were: 1) Weight, meaning pounds per cubic inch for the big blocks. 2) Rearend tread width and location of left rear wheel. 3) Engine location. 4) Hoods.
The time period alloted gave car owners exactly twelve days to make these changes to once again be legal, and if you consider a couple of days in the mail, the time was even less.
After car owners exploded about the time alloted and why?… The deadline was extended to June 1st… Big deal! Why make these changes at all at this time?… Why add more expense to an already costly product?… Why try to disrupt the division when things seem to be running fairly smooth?
I wish someone would show me how NASCAR is helping the Modified division by making these changes at this time.
Why would they want someone to bolt 200 or so pounds of lead onto their car at a cost of about $200, when that same piece of lead or pieces thereof could become a missile flying off the car if it was involved in an accident running a hundred M.P.H.. I wonder how a fellow driver or yourself, for that matter, would feel if hit by this bolted on lead? Well the driver or yourself probably wouldn’t have to worry about it as we’d most likely be paying our respects. This is the feeling of myself and Shangri-La Speedway promoter, Dale Campfield, who has mostly big blocks running his facility.
I personally feel that the other three things in the Technical Bulletin are totally unnecessary at this point in time.
Maynard Troyer feels that the changes now are both harsh and unneeded. The rules, as Troyer states, “Is directed at a few guys who run up front and what it does is puts the little guy, who’s been running somewhat competitively right out of the ballgame.” He then said what everyone has been saying right along, “No matter what they do, the same guys are going to win.”
Campfield, who had yet to receive a copy of the Technical Bulletin as of May 12th, and Spencer Speedway promoter, Del Spencer, are both asking why they weren’t questioned before this action was taken… I agree… It is Campfield’s contention that Spencer and himself have done more NASCAR in New York in the last couple of years than anyone else, so why weren’t they asked.
Charlie Jarzombek, former Islip Speedway champion and top runner, feels the changes at this time are too costly and hurts the little guy more than they slow down the front running few the rule seems directed at.
Bob Polverari, who’s returned to Modified racing after a year off, stated, “You don’t make these changes during the season, instead do them after the racing year is over and before the next one begins.” He had some other things to say about NASCAR which were unprintable, but I was in total agreement with him in his reference to the group.
All the people questioned are in agreement on one thing, which is that the Modifieds need a representative in the Northeast that lives in the Northeast. They feel the people in Daytona who are at weekly Grand National events and half of the Late Model races, but are seldom seen in the Northeast for a Modified show, should finad a Northeast representative for the division or just leave the Modifieds alone before they destroy the class.
The one person who most are in total agreement would be the best individual for the job is Islip promoter, Bob O’Rourke. They feel he knows the division as well as anyone if not better. He loves the Mods and is considered fair in making decisions… Good choice!
Troyer stated, “You can’t rule over the Modifieds from behind a desk in Daytona when you know nothing about the division.” He then added, “Most guys get into this division because they want to use their inventive ideas. That’s why they’re called Modifieds.”
So listen up NASCAR, before you ruin a super class of racing, get someone up here who knows what the hell is going on. You can help the division, but not the way you’re leading it.
Most of the people own offset cars or big blocks that I’ve talked to, have stated that they’ll either park their cars or run non-NASCAR sanctioned tracks.
Can Stafford Motor Speedway, Riverside Park, Thompson, New Egypt, Shangri-La, Spencer or Islip afford to lose cars when track like Westboro, Monadnock, Waterford, Claremont, Star, Plainville, Lancaster and Wall are waiting in the wings to gobble up the evicted machines.
Wake up NASCAR!… Before it’s too late or you might be on the outside looking into the Northeast.
Until next time, “See you at your favorite Speedway!”
You’ll find this weeks column a little less filled with controversy for sure. Let’s say that it will be from the lighter side.
Never the less, the “NASCAR-Radical Racer” battle will continue at Riverside Park Speedway this Saturday night and I’m sure we’ll hit on the controversy again as more details arise and I’m sure they will.
While on the subject of Riverside, how’d you like the field of cars they had last week? What do you mean, “What field”? They had a total of 26 cars sign into the pits for the night including one that made it to the track just before the feature. Don Desrocher blew his engine in warm ups and motor problems befell Ronny Wyckoff. That left 23 Mods to fill a 24 car field until the late arrivals made the scene. How long will fans put up with racing programs that are short on cars? The only good side of last weeks program was that some cars that are never able to qualify, fell into starting positions.
How about only 30 cars for the July 26th All Star show at Stafford Motor Speedway? Just enough to fill the starting grid. Thompson Speedway had some 51 Modifieds the week before. The question is, why do the cars continue to stay away from Stafford? The track hasn’t got the Black Plague, only the Red Menace. Come on back guys, we need ya! The field of cars was again small last Friday night. Some of the regulars missing were Dick Caso, Ray Miller, Fred DeSarro, Ed Flemke, Moose Hewitt, Mike Murphy, Dick Traynor, Ron Rocco, Gene Bergin, Tom Sylvester, Leo Cleary, and Billy Knight.
The M&H Tire Vega got engine sickness last Friday night at Stafford. Could it be because it was without it’s snazzy white sidewalls? We know it doesn’t make ol No. 7 go any faster, but it’s nice to see some color put in the sport besides red!
Could it be that the driver of the Big Red Machine has cleaned up his driving act over the last few weeks? Was that really G.B. Who was passing out red lollipops at Stafford last week? Seymour, ya still got Jared’s vote.
Watch for the new edition of the “Modifieds of the Month” calendar this week. It will have a centerfold of No. 1 and No. 6 or is that No. 6 and No. 1? The Winston 100 will tell us who’s who.
You always hear about the front runners, the stars so to speak. Well, here’s a switcharoo for you. We want to give some ink to some of the lesser known who are going good. At Stafford let’s mention Dave Monaco, Corky Cookman, W.J. Grez, Ronny Rocco and Jeb Balise in the Limited Sportsman. At Riverside the praise goes to W.J. Grez, Jim Whipple, Dick Taylor and Frank Minch. Tony Papale, Jerry Dostie and Jack Hamilton are to be cited at Thompson.
This is for Deborah Johnson of West Haven. You are definitely right and I’m sure you’d like to know that many of the drivers feel the same way.
This years most versatile driver has to be S.J. Evonsion who wheels the Bolles, Telasandro, and Checci No. 91 Mustang at Stafford and the Connolly-Hosmer No. 28 Chevette at Riverside. He also straps into the Jim Fournier No. 47 Vega to run Thompson. Super job in three different cars. The personable Evonsion gave up his ride last week at Stafford to Ronny Bouchard. To the owners of the No. 91 and Evonsion, I say you should be commended. The only bad side of the whole thing was that the car got severly damaged in a six car pile up in the third turn.
The Ronny Bouchard Fan Club is set up on Fan Club Alley at Stafford on Fridays, Seekonk on Saturdays and Sundays at Thompson. See Barbara or Diane of write the fan club (address withheld). They have t-shirts, jackets, bumper stickers, pencils, pads, and pictures for sale. Membership is $3 for adults and $2 for children.
Here are some short quotes on the new tire rule for the 1979 season from the men who drive the cars..
Tony Papale; “Middle guys will run new tires every week.” Richie Evans; “I’ll quit racing.” Ken Bouchard; “It’ll be the same guys running up front.” Jerry Cook; “I really don’t know yet.” Jon Potter; “Where will I get used tires?” Brian Ross & Marty Radewick; “It sucks.” Stan Greger; “It’ll help the little guy.” Bob Polverari; “Should make it more competitive.” Ed Flemke; “Promoters should test them first.”
What do you think? Let us know by dropping us a line to NERF’ers Corner c/o NESS.
Next Sunday, May 11th is a holiday for Mothers everywhere. It’s also an asphalt Modified fans holiday. It signifies the beginning of Open Season with the running of THE BULLRING BASH Open Modified race. The event takes place at the 3/8 mile asphalt oval known as Lee USA Speedway located in Lee, New Hampshire. It’s an exciting time for the division and the first race of the crown jewel of asphalt Modified racing that is the Tri-Track Open Modified Series. The BULLRING BASH kicks off the division’s old school tradition of the open format races which draws teams, drivers and fans from every series and speedway that runs tour-type Modifieds. It’s an opportunity to witness a championship caliber event with representatives from all series and tracks.
The two other events that make up the series are the SBM 125 IV on Saturday, June 14th at Star Speedway in Epping, NH and the MODIFIED MADNESS at the place they call the Cement Palace, Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, Mass on Wednesday night, July23rd. As if each race purse isn’t enough, the bonus is a point fund at the end of the season.
I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the individuals who were kind enough to take a quick break from running absolutely ragged, gathering sponsorship, contingency and lap money from fans and businesses who wish to be a part of something special. Truly special is exactly what this band of individuals and all contributing truly are.
A 3 Step Program. Step 1: Become a Modified Fan.
It’s that ever popular question where everyone has a unique, yet at the same time, similar answer; How did you become a Modified fan?
Kevin Rice’s recollection is an all too familiar one for many of us. Kevin, an auto racing journalist and creator of what will soon be the 4th Annual SBM Open Modified race, was infected with the racing bug by his parents; “I have been a fan of racing since before birth while going to the races in my mothers stomach. In those early days, Spencer Speedway was my Friday night home first. Watching Bodine, Evans, Troyer, Kent, Cook, Treichler, Seamon, Loescher race weekly how could you not get hooked on racing? As I got older into the teen years I spent most of my Saturday nights at Oswego Speedway. There was no better place for racing in the 1980’s. At age 17, I made my first trip from home in Fulton, NY to Thompson, driving on a frosty morning in a compact car with no working heat and the rest is history. After traveling to New England for racing for many years, I moved there in 1998.”
And when did James Schaefer first catch the bug before he metamorphosized into the Long Island Mod Maniac? “I went a few times as a kid back in the late 60s and early 70s, but only to Riverhead (Raceway in Riverhead, NY). Finally around 1980, went to Islip (Speedway in Islip, NY.) for the first time and I was hooked. There was something special about those damn Modifieds! Who were my favorite drivers? It was all Charlie Jarzombek and Junior Ambrose back in the day. When I finally got to Islip, Charlie J was still the man.”
Step 2: Getting Involved..
Once the Long Island Mod Maniac got involved in the sport his level of enthusiasm, drive, and willingness to give to the Modifieds became easily defined by his nickname. “In 1985, the town of Riverhead was trying to shut the track down. I had my 4th grade students show up to town hall to give speeches to keep it open. Had a petition going around to keep it open too. Met the Brunnhoelzl family and sponsored my first car, the 8x of Eddie Brunnhoelzl. As I got older and had a little more money to spend, I started to travel, and started to help out when I could at different races with different drivers. I will always remember when I asked this woman to sign the petition, and she said, ‘I guess I better! My brother races there!’. Turns out she was the sister of Eddie Brunnhoelzl. So I asked her.. ‘so if someone wanted to sponsor one of these cars…how do you go about it?’ She told me to come in the pits next Saturday. I did and I haven’t stopped writing checks since then!”
He then took it another step further at a “flash” race in 2009 at Riverhead Raceway. “I decided to put up some extra money to the winner. The following year, I decided to hand out extra money to all the teams that participated at the Tour race at Riverhead. It just felt like the Modifieds were always getting screwed on good purses, and I just figured if I could help, why not.
“The idea of helping out the Modifieds seemed to grow each year we did it. More people would come on board, so it just continued to grow. We didn’t have the lap money at Riverhead at first, but it just seemed to make sense to have it, and get more fans involved. Now, we have lap leader money and leading Riverhead regular money to help out the local guys who don’t run the tour on a regular basis. This year , we almost have $9,000 raised to be split among the 2 races. We already have close to 30 people who are putting up $300 to each race team.” His dedication to raising extra cash for Riverhead Raceway Whelen Modified Tour stops for years should make it an easy decision for WMT teams to show their support by throwing their hats in the BULLRING BASH next weekend as well as the other two Tri-Track Series events.
Kevin Rice’s love of racing caused him to take it up a notch early on as a teenager. He began writing and putting together racing programs at the age of 16 when he operated a pedal bike track in the woods of Fulton, NY. “I started a weekly racing program with photos, points etc. I still have a couple of those programs. That was the best thing I have ever done. At one point we had 80 kids racing at that track, and knowing today they carry that experience with them for the rest of their lives is very special. In the early 1990’s I answered an ad to become a writer for the Oswego Speedway Eagle Program. As I gained experience I just got better at it, and I got satisfaction from how my work as a writer helped short track racing.”
His first taste of being a part of the promotional side of things in the auto racing world started at one of the most talked about facilities in the Northeast, the 5/8th mile Steel Palace, Oswego Speedway which used to play host to the Modifieds in an Open format about 6 or so times a year. It biggest Mod event was the 200 lap Bud 200 held on Oswego Classic weekend. “Oswego Speedway asked me to be their representative at the Guaranteed Starter events they used to have and use to promote Classic Weekend. So I took their pace car to Stafford, Shangri-la and other places promoting the Classic Weekend for them. That ended when they dropped the Modifieds from Classic Weekend. I quit.”
History My Friends..
For those unfamiliar with the significance of Modified Open shows I’ll explain just a little the part they played in the division back in the day. Modified Opens were practically jammed into a weekday every other week during the summer. Sometimes a track would take a weekend off from it’s regularly scheduled program just to run an open Modified show. At the end of the season us fans got to enjoy what we all called championship races. These events included some open and some “outsider friendly” races throughout the 70’s, 80’s and even the early 90’s. They drew the big names with big money and it also gave the home track Modified regulars or invaders an opportunity to defend their turf or compete against the very best teams and drivers the division had to offer. In doing so the fans, press and even other speedway’s personnel with their pace cars and wreckers would show up to not only promote their speedway or business, but witness great racing while sometimes lending a hand. It was good for all the facilities. Like bugs to a light and we couldn’t get enough of these championship level races.
They were so important to the division that the likes of Richie Evans, Jerry Cook, George Kent and Jimmy Spencer who were chasing NASCAR National Championship points made agreements to skip points paying races to hit many of these open shows.
Now let’s be honest here. Back in the 70’s and early 80’s no Modified tours existed and tons of tracks ran a regular Modified program with good fields. The much talked about ALL-STAR LEAGUE was pretty much a series of Modified Open shows all over the Northeast and lived up to their title. There were shows being put on everywhere.
Points in the NASCAR National Modified Championship were collected by competing at any NASCAR sanctioned track or event. Some of these points paying events for the Modifieds were held at facilities like Catamount Stadium (formerly in Milton, VT) which was a NASCAR North track. (Where you might see the likes of Jean Paul Cabana, Beaver and Bobby Dragon, Robbie Crouch, Claud LeClerc and Joey “The Kid” Kourafas competing regularly) would have an occasional NASCAR Modified points event that drew non-NASCAR competitors.
Oswego’s Modified events were all open shows that awarded a Modified title at the end of the season and events like the ICEBREAKER, SPRING SIZZLER, THOMPSON 300, and the RACE of CHAMPIONS were outsider friendly for competitors of non-NASCAR sanctioned facilities. Oswego’s Bud 200, Thompson’s 300 and the Race of Champions all had guaranteed starter races at most facilities around the Northeast that ran Modifieds with or without sanction.
Once the tours started to gain momentum most tracks running a weekly Modified division started to drop the division or go to an alternative Modified class. So in these modern times of three Northeast Modified tours and a small number of facilities running weekly what is now referred to as tour-type Modifieds, any thoughts of saturating the weekdays and off weekends with Open Modified shows would be unrealistic. Teams are competing for titles and with the extreme high costs of racing any damage could be a season killer for some teams. It’s a sign of the times, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for a few big money open Modified shows. It only means the few that are out there is all that can be afforded to a division mostly made up of tours.
Kevin added some interesting insight and thoughts on asphalt Open Modified events. “The Open show was so popular back in the day but it is a LOT of work. I think that is the primary reason why you don’t see them much anymore. Maybe an even bigger factor though is cost. No matter what you do the tire bill is going to be a deterrent. Take last July at Seekonk for example. The racing that night was spectacular, but it was on life support because of car count issues. But now with this Tri-Track deal you will see a resurrection of that event for sure. If these were dirt track races for a $45,000 purse you would see 50 cars or more. Generally dirt teams can run the same tires more than once. It’s an unfortunate part of pavement racing. Open shows offer fans something different in these days of points and the same starting lineups week after week. To me there is nothing in the world more exciting than a field of 24 Modifieds that has six from the WMT, six from the VMRS, six from the RoC , three locals and three outlaw invaders. There is nothing better, and the fan reactions I have gotten all point to that.”
James Schaefer or Mr. Mod Maniac, same guy, shared his view on having Open shows for the asphalt Modified division and the teams that compete; “Remember, two of these races already exist. I’m putting up the extra money at Seekonk ( $7,030) and Star ($6,400) so that they become $1,000 to start shows. Who knows how long these shows will continue? Seekonk’s car count was low last year. And Star, unfortunately lost Kevin Rice to the south. So, the extra money is to let teams know, the fans want these races to continue! Hopefully, the support of race teams and fans will prove that we really do want these races. We were hoping to have a 3rd race just to try something different and make a series out of it! I’ve sponsored a lot of drivers over the last 5 years and I’d like to think I can count on those guys to support this series, knowing my involvement, and also because of the large amount of money we are willing to lay out to make this possible. Obviously, if it’s not supported, we’d be foolish to ever do this again. Word of mouth, says that these are going to attract a good number of cars and be a success. Hopefully, I am right.”
Their feelings of additional open shows for the future?
James; “There’s not much room on the schedule for many new shows. I doubt you will see much change overall. The 3 main tours will continue to do what they do. I wish the rules would allow for teams to go easily from one touring series to the next. For example, it is a crime that Dwight Jarvis can’t easily show up for a Monadnock show. But I can dream. It’s not going to happen. Even, with the Tri Track, many teams won’t support it because of the rule package. Some teams think they are at a disadvantage with the rules. Rules are not my area – so I can’t really say. But others tell me, when you race at a short track.. no matter where you come from, it should be a fairly even playing field.”
Kevin; “I think having too many of these Open shows would be a big mistake. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the less impact it has. Too many races could run the Open show into the ground completely, and if it didn’t, then it would just become another tour. We already have enough tours. We don’t need another one. My hope is that Open shows create new Modified fans, who then would want to go see these drivers on the tours. That would be a win-win for everybody involved.”
Those last two sentences are exactly why one Northeast Modified tour, The Valenti Modified Racing Series gave it’s support for the Tri-Track Open Modified Series and all open shows in general. These opens not only are great opportunities to pit the very best of all tour-type teams in a championship event, but in turn further promotes the series’ and tracks in which tour type Modifieds compete. VMRS understands the big picture and potential of such events. It is every sense of the word a win-win for all involved and promotes those series and facilities who run the tour-type Modifieds.
The SBM Open Modified Event.
In recent years Kevin Rice has built a fantastic 125 lap tour-type Modified all star race that has grown into one of the most talked about events in the division. The SBM 125 is going into it’s 4th year of existence. The high banked quarter mile of Star Speedway is where the event calls home and it’s somewhat fitting as in the past, Star was the scene of some memorable open Modified shows. The uniqueness of the event were the lap sponsors, contingencies, and awards are all funds from not only the organizers themselves, but
businesses, fans, teams, and drivers. The Grand Marshals are not placed there by sponsors. They are true legends of the sport chosen for their true contribution and hard work within the Modified division. The last two years it was legendary former Modified team owner Mario Fiore giving the command and last year it was legendary racing photographer Howie Hodge. Both were very humbled by the honor and equally deserving of it as well.
However, the SBM Open Modified race’s beginnings arose from some not so wonderful circumstances, but none the less, it got Kevin interested in being involved again; “It was rekindled when Bobby MacArthur took over Star Speedway. I helped him try to get the Modified Open Show format going. I sponsored the first open show myself for $3,000 out of pocket. From there he got big ideas and drove himself into debt. It was very difficult for me after he ran out of money and didn’t pay the teams.”
From those misfortunes the SBM race was born because although he wasn’t responsible he took it upon himself to make things right; “That is how the SBM got started. SBM I was run to raise money for the teams who didn’t get paid. It was a struggle. We had only 16 cars, but made a little money and gave it to those teams who were owed money by the previous owner. Teams were skeptical to support it, which was unfortunate.
“I thought it would end there, but in the process something magical was happening. The race was incredible and so many people asked me to give it another chance. Year two- SBM II we had 28 cars and a larger purse, but still not the crowd I had hoped for.
After thinking about it for a couple of months. I became determined to conquer the challenge of making something of this event. SBM III was hundreds of hours of very hard work in the making. It paid off. We had 32 of the best. I would say the most talented field of drivers anywhere all year.
After SBM III, which still didn’t have the overflow crowd I wanted. I was done. Too much work and I was getting set to move to North Carolina. But Jim Schaefer wouldn’t let this race die. Now I’m jumping in because this event means so much to me. I have a couple of things in the works and if they come to fruition I think we’ll pack the place, which is my ultimate dream, to see a packed house for a Modified race at Star Speedway.”
When I asked Kevin what it meant being in the same journalist /publication group who were also race organizers or promoters at one time or another; “I don’t consider myself to be in the group of the promoters you speak of at all. I was just very motivated to help the race teams who were screwed out of promised point fund money and the only way I could think of getting them paid was to hold a profitable event on their behalf. I had no plans for an SBM II, especially after only 16 teams showed up for the first one.”
Ah yes, but many of his predecessors also experienced rough goings in their first attempts and just like Kevin, those predecessors didn’t give up either and moved forward.
Nay Sayers and Critics..
Yes it’s true. There are a few out there who have unjustly thrown criticism, accusations and even gone so far as to avoid mentioning the series altogether.
For some reason the concept of a racing journalist dipping into the promotional side of the sport was questioned on ethics in his chosen profession for starters. An accusation that falls flat on it’s face if you know anything about the history of auto racing in the Northeast and quite frankly everywhere.
Journalists and publications being involved, through organizing or promoting racing events are as much a part of our beloved Modified history as our past great Modified champions who define the division itself. To name a few, Dick O’Brien formerly of Oswego Speedway, Speedway Scene, National Parts Peddler, Russ Conway formerly of NESMRA, Star Speedway, Hudson Speedway and Lee USA Speedway, as well as editor of many publications and television reporter, Dr. Dick Berggren, was a co-founder of Stafford’s SPRING SIZZER. All were/are writers/publications that promoted, managed or organized racing events. Most of those mentioned wrote about and pushed their events through their write ups in the paper they wrote for or within their pages. Do you think they were ever challenged over ethics in journalism?
Writing about an event a journalist or publication may be involved in is no different than those writing for websites throwing in mentions of their advertisers in articles to give their advertisers a push. It’s far more ethical than a site purposely tricking users such as posting what appears to be an article on a social media page, only for the reader to click and find it isn’t an article at all. A deceptive move by the one posting the link in hopes the reader will sift through pages for the article in a pathetic effort to boost their site’s views and hits.
We’ll not bother with the tactics of those who report on Modifieds and clearly cover the Northeast’s touring series, yet for some odd reason or another refuse or avoid covering these Modified Opens, because excuses are like, well you know. However, just for amusement, let’s tackle the other accusation of profiting from these events. Some have gone so far as to accuse Kevin Rice of profiting off the SBM races. These accusations are equally as laughable as those which challenged his ethics in journalism for being involved in the promotional side. More often than not, these baseless accusations are a sad attempt to grab the attention of anyone listening to their jeering and steer them away from attending or competing.
The whole point of running any show, or running any facility, being in business is to make a profit. If they make money, what would be the downfall? Creating more big dollar Open races? Increased purses for those events? Both of which everybody involved; fans, series, teams, drivers, organizers and facilities all prosper. Who could possibly think negative towards any successful Modified event where everyone leaving the parking lot have smiles ear to ear because of what they just witnessed. What teams would not be happy leaving with a good wad of cash in their pockets? What could be so terrible about that? What’s so bad about making money? However, these recent open shows by like The BULLRING BASH at Lee, the SBM IV at Star and MODIFIED MADNESS at Seekonk, as far as James, Kevin and the Racing Guys, are another story in terms of where profits go.
Step 3: Making Profits?
Kevin Rice made it clear regarding the earning of any profits from the SBM races. “Money? How much did I lose you mean? Year one I probably lost another three grand in all. Funny to look back on it that was more than the teams got from event proceeds. I could have just given out a three grand point fund and saved myself a few hundred hours of hard work.
“Year two I was reimbursed for most of the expenses for promotional materials and such, but I put a bunch of my own money into the purse so I guess that would be considered a pretty significant loss, although it was my choice to do so.”
For 2013 the SBM III race drew a great car count with all three Northeast asphalt Modified Tours being well represented along with competitors from a few remaining tracks running tour type Modifieds regularly. “For SBM III last season I worked so hard and did so much that I really couldn’t tell you how the final numbers came out, but Bob Webber Sr., was very thankful and gave me more than I had asked him for. Honestly though, I have no idea if factoring in every expense and the money I put into the race myself was more or less than what I got in return, but I would guess that it was pretty close to even.
“We added $19,621 to the payoff through my efforts, so that was very rewarding, although we fell $379 short of the ultimate goal of an all-time record purse at Star of $45,000. That record was from an ISMA race when Russ Conway was promoter there, so it was quite a few years ago. I would probably go berserk if we made it to $45,000 this year with a packed house.”
When I asked James Schaefer about profits, laughing, he answered; “I make no money from this.. I take a lot of money out of my pocket.. The Tri Track is probably costing me $15,000 this year. Riverhead, on the other hand, may cost me only $3,000. It would have cost me nothing, except I made this promise to make the June race a $1,000 to start feature. I get no money back from doing this except for the possibility of the Lee race. If that show takes in any profit, any money I receive will go back into other races. We might even just raise the payout for the May 11 show on the spot. I am NOT doing this for profit.”
The BULLRING BASH..
“Kevin Rice got me involved with some stuff at the SBM over the last few years. Now, with the Tri Track Modified Open Series, I recently retired, so I have more time on my hands. Dick Williams, one of the Racing Guys (along with Wayne Coats, Steve Main, Fred Perry, Butch Perry, and Charlie McGowan), had this idea of promoting a 3 race series with big money on the bottom, hence the $1,000 to start idea. I only met him last year at Seekonk, but he’s become a good friend who I talk to on the phone almost every day.” The Long Island Mod Maniac explained. And that my fellow fans is how next week’s, Sunday, May 11th BULLRING BASH at Lee USA Speedway’s 3/8th mile semi-banked asphalt oval in Lee, NH came to be.
James’ response to trying his hand at the promotional side of a touring series is not only great material, but just as much a tribute to the kind of individual he is; “NO! There are days when I think even what I’m attempting this year will be a disaster and have no support. I’d have to take up drinking. I don’t think I can handle the large number of races that a series has. We have 3 races on this Tri Track and technically they are each independently run. What I do works because I have a lot of friends who love the Modifieds and are willing to fork over their money to make this a success. Without them, this wouldn’t even be happening. I’ve tried to get people to come on board as sponsors but it’s not easy. Thankfully, Applebees, Panera Bread and Red Roof Inn are helping out at Riverhead. But mostly you get rejected if you try to get corporate sponsors. And on the Tri Track, Alloy Wheel Repair Specialists, and Sunoco have come on board.”
“I’d love to see the LEE race be a huge success, with 40 Modifieds, and 4000 fans in the stands.” he said; “And the Racing Guys and Long Island Mod Maniac don’t lose their shirts. It would show us that people really want to see creative ideas in racing, and they want to see their Modifieds run for good money”
So what’s the future hold for the Tri-Track Open beyond 2014? James laughed; “Future? Just get me through this year! Some teams have asked for a guaranteed spot, but unfortunately,this year, it’s gonna be race to get in. I will never forget going to my first Turkey Derby, and watching Charlie Jarzombek NOT qualify. It sucked for me as a fan and him of course, but I will never forget that. I’d hate to see Ryan Preece or Matty Hirschman show up for a race like this and not qualify, but I think having a large number of cars will make it very interesting.”
These guys, as all of us, are fans first. They are in it for all the right reasons and unlike some in the past who have made good money off of Open Shows, the money taken in from these events for which they gather get’s poured back into the sport. The payoff for their efforts is a great field and packed house at every event. Considering the purse, contingencies and awards, I’d say the Tri-Track Open Modified Series events will live up to the old school opens of great seasons past. In turn the teams and drivers who compete in these events will join the likes of the old school Modified warriors who align our hall of fames and championship walls at speedways across the Northeast and down the east coast. Is there anything better? I doubt it.
Until next week, with a very special NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, safe travels and enjoy the racing where ever you may go.
Friday, June 16th, 1978 – NEW ENGLAND SPEEDWAY SCENE
Once upon a time many years ago at the Arena known as Norwood in Eastern Massachusetts was a man who won feature after feature and seemed to be unstoppable.
At the now defunct Norwood Arena was a group of fans who were tired of seeing one man dominate racing so much. What did they do to stop the gentleman in question? No, they didn’t all run out on the track and lay down in front of the man’s car in question nor did they throw bottles and cans at him either.
What these disgruntled fans did was organize a fan club to show their displeasure with this drivers winning all the time. They put together the “Slater Haters Fan Club” in honor of Bill Slater, who is now the promoter of “Speed Week” at New Smyna Beach, Florida in February and is also part of the management corps at Thompson Speedway.
Bill Slater was ruling the track at Norwood in the early 1960’s with win after win and in doing so he brought out the worst in the fans or did he.
Mr. Slater is well liked by everyone today and is considered to have one of the finest racing minds around, besides being one of the best modified drivers to ever come out of New England.
The fan club that was organized in protest of Slater’s victory skein didn’t seem to hurt the driver or anyone else, so what’s the big deal about having a club against a driver.
It seems as though we have a lot of skeptical racing fans out there or should I say Geoff Bodine fans who fear their heart throb is losing his appeal. It’ll never happen, so don’t worry about it. No matter where the Dick Armstrong Nu-Style Jewelry #1 Pinto goes, the stands will be full of racing fans. Some will want to see Geoff win and some will be there in hopes of seeing him lose. Some will cheer and some will boo. Some will wear Bodine T-Shirts, some will wear the shirts of other drivers and some may wear “I Hate Bodine” T-Shirts. Big deal!
I don’t know what’s so revolting about the idea that was given me at Stafford, but one thing is for sure the idea wasn’t the first of it’s kind.
Bodine is one of the finest drivers around with probably the best equipment money can buy and those two factors will over ride any obstacle he could or will encounter. It’s all part of the battle for victory lane.
To the people who would like to know my favorite driver, well, I don’t really have a true favorite. I like all who keep the feelings of their fellow competitors in mind along with their equipment.
All I can say is, to the gentleman who wrote to me this week, It’s good to know you are reading my column, thanks. Oh yes! I did interview the other drivers after the original incident and since it happened, but what did that prove. If you show four people a 30 second film clip, wait one hour and then when the people are separated ask them what they saw. You’ll most likely get three to four different stories.
By the way! Bodine ran two races I saw this past weekend at Stafford and Riverside Park Speedway. He ran both races flawlessly leading seventy of the eighty laps involved in entering Victory Lane twice.
I’m still not a Geoff Bodine fan as I’ve always liked the underdog. I will say this; I want to see him beat on the track while he’s running and a victory in any other manner would not be a victory in the hearts of any racing fan. Right!!!