Tag Archives: Richie Evans

Everyone Has A RICHIE Story: A Few From the “Press Brat”

RE-NCR-Richie

“.. just a press brat..”

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. 

Claremont Speedway, Claremont, New Hampshire 1979. *Left click the photo to enlarge.
Claremont Speedway, Claremont, New Hampshire 1979. *Left click the photo to enlarge.

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.

With the gold Speedway Scene Pontiac Firebird my father had before the van came along. Our first visit to Wall Stadium, New Jersey in mid 1980.
The gold Speedway Scene Pontiac Firebird my father had before the famous van came along. This was our first visit to Wall Stadium, New Jersey in mid 1980. The next day we were at the historical Watkins Glen for the last CART race held there. Personal collection.

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.

My father and I put a lot of miles in the Speedway Scene van. 70 to 80 or more races a season. Howie Hodge photo.
We put a lot of miles in the Speedway Scene van. 100 plus races a season. If it was a racetrack, dirt or asphalt, and it was located in the Northeast and eastern Canada, we were there at one point along the way. Here pictured at Thompson Speedway in early 1982. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Polverari #711 lines up for heats at Riverside Park Speedway in 1977. The same year he won his 3rd consecutive track championship. Jared Echo Photo.
Bob Polverari #711 lines up for heats at Riverside Park Speedway in 1977. The same year he won his 3rd consecutive track championship. As I typed that I could picture Richie up there in heaven shaking his head and saying, only you would write about me and have the first Modified photo in the story be Bobby. Jared Echo Photo.

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 Guard. Assuming the position as many of us youngsters did back in the day of open trailers, haulers and ramp trucks. My what kids are missing today. Robert Echo photo.
Car Watcher. Assuming the position as many of us youngsters did back in the great days of open trailers, haulers and ramp trucks. In my opinion, it’s a damn shame what kids are missing today. Open haulers and trailers created excitement and changed a family’s weekend plans when a hauler passed them on the road. Robert Echo photo.

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..

Reggie Ruggiero chases Richie Evans at Riverside Park Speedway in a 1978 feature event. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore's collection.
Richie Evans leads Reggie Ruggiero at Riverside Park Speedway (Agawam, MA.) in a 1978 feature event. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore’s collection.

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, ‘Your 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.

Heading for the start-finish line with two laps to go in the 1981 Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT). Richie makes a move down low. The two battled side by side over these last two laps. It is considered the greatest Sizzler finish of all time. Howie Hodge photo.
Heading for the start-finish line with two laps to go in the 1981 Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway (Stafford Springs, CT). Richie makes a move down low. The two battled side by side over the last two laps. This race is still considered the greatest Sizzler finish of all time. Howie Hodge photo.

In 1980 Bob and team returned from a year off with a brand new new Chassis Dynamics Chevette bodied Modified. The Modified sported a paint job most of his fans had been accustom to from previous seasons, white body with deep blue script numbers. In 1981 they had the Chassis Dynamics chassis, but no one would’ve guessed. The second year chassis and frame was now powder coated gold. The body was a TC3 (Plymouth Horizon). Both the hood and body were black with the traditional script numbers in shiny gold.

His performance in that Sunday’s 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 to the line 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.

I don't think there were many times anyone can recall Richie (R) being THAT happy and NOT winning. However, being beat by a good friend in the closest finish in Sizzler history and seeing Reggie (L) finish third in Mario's new Modified, an Evans chassis, gave him plenty of reason to smile. Howie Hodge photo.
I don’t think there were many times anyone can recall Richie (R) being THAT happy after NOT winning. However, being beat by good friend Bob Polverari in the closest finish in Sizzler history and seeing Reggie (L) finish third in Mario’s new Modified, an Evans chassis, gave Richie plenty to smile about. Howie Hodge photo.

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've posted this photo before. 1980 at Stafford. The third of three taken. The first pic Richie squeezed my neck and I ran out of the photo. The second photo taken he did it again, but quickly grabbed me in a head lock. By the time this photo was taken we were all laughing. The leather visor was one my brother made in high school. Bonnie Echo photo.
1980 at Stafford Motor Speedway. The third of three photos taken. The first pic Richie squeezed my neck and I ran out of the photo. The second photo taken he did it again, but quickly grabbed me in a head lock. By the time this photo was taken Richie and I were red faced from laughing. The leather visor was one my brother had made in high school. From my personal collection.

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.

Richie, Billy and Kenny. Photo courtesy of Val LeSeiur & Speedway Scene.
Richie, Billy and Kenny. Photo courtesy of Val LeSieur & Speedway Scene.

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 old Evans shop at 608 Calvert in Rome, NY. The door behind the truck was the typical entrance. We parked the camper just inside the bay door on the far left. My father and Richie used to laugh about us camping out at his shop. Allen Clark Photo.
The old Evans shop at 608 Calvert in Rome, NY. The door behind the truck was the typical entrance. We parked the camper just inside the bay door on the far left. My father and Richie used to laugh about us camping out at his shop. Allen Clark Photo.

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.

A colored shot of this very photo hung in the shop by the phone just inside the entrance to the shop. Richie Evans and the probably the most recognized trophy lady in all of motorsports, Miss Hurst Shifter Linda Vaughn pose in Daytona International Speedway's victory lane after Richie's runaway victory in the 1981 Modified 200. Photo courtesy of Speedway Scene archive.
A colored shot of this very photo hung in the shop by the phone just inside the entrance to the shop. Richie Evans and arguably the most recognized trophy lady in all of motorsports, Miss Hurst Shifter Linda Vaughn pose in Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane after Richie’s runaway victory in the 1980 Modified 200. Photo courtesy of Speedway Scene archive.

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?

-Silence-

I then asked, “What’re you looking at?

-More silence- 

“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.

I followed Richie everywhere the first full day. After so long it wouldn't have surprised me if he told me to go play in traffic, but he never seemed to get frustrated. I was the go'fer. "Go'fer a couple rags.", "Go'fer a phillips head." Val LeSeiur photo.
I followed Richie everywhere the first full day. After so long it wouldn’t have surprised me if he told me to get lost for a while, but he never seemed to get frustrated. I was the go’fer. “Go’fer a couple rags.”, “Go’fer a phillips head.” Val LeSieur photo.

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.

Billy and Richie working on one of their Modifieds. Circa 1983 or '84. Val LeSeiur photo.
Billy and Richie working on one of their Modifieds. Circa 1983 or ’84. Val LeSieur photo.

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.

I have memories such as these from stopping by with my father and of course when we camped in the shop in 1981, but they were Pinto bodied. Val LeSeiur Photo.
I have memories such as these from stopping by with my father and of course when we camped in the shop in 1981, but they were Pinto bodied. It was always a fun time when we visited. Val LeSieur Photo.

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?

Yes.

Okay. Now go do something useful will ya?.. Except DON’T get in the cars! (pointing a finger at me and smiling) Got it?

Yup!

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.

and..

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?

Yes!

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!

Stafford Motor Speedway 1981. A photo featured in the book "RICHIE". I saw this while reading the book for the first time. Imagine my surprise. Shawn Sienkiewicz (Right in the 32 shirt) was one of my very best friends growing up, Center is myself in my Bob Polverari / Czarnecki Brother's #20 shirt. I actually don't recall this, but there we are. Oh, and there's Booker's tow truck. I'd bet Booker was waiting just before the race to give Richie that good-luck handshake too! Howie Hodge Photo.
Stafford Motor Speedway 1981. A photo featured in the book “RICHIE”. I saw this while reading the book for the first time. Imagine my surprise. Shawn Sienkiewicz (Right in the 32 shirt) was one of my very best friends growing up, Center is myself in my Bob Polverari / Czarnecki Brother’s #20 shirt. I don’t recall this, but there we are. Oh, and there’s Booker’s tow truck. I’d bet Booker was waiting just before the race to give Richie that good-luck handshake too! Howie Hodge Photo.

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.

The familiar smile that greeted most everyone who approached him. Howie Hodge photo.
The familiar smile that greeted most everyone who approached him. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Richie goofing around as Howie Hodge takes his photo. This side of Richie was always my favorite.
Richie goofing around as Howie Hodge takes his photo. Sure watching him cut through a field of Modifieds on the way to the front was always a great thing to witness, but this Richie was always my favorite. What a great shot.

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?

Richie at speed in 1983. Stafford Motor Speedway. Howie Hodge photo.
Richie at speed in 1983. Stafford Motor Speedway. Howie Hodge photo.

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..

Saying Goodbye..

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.

Kenny Hartung, Billy Nascwitz and Richie with chicken pox beard in '81. Howie Hodge photo.
Kenny Hartung, Billy Nacewicz and Richie with the chicken pox beard in ’81. Howie Hodge photo.

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?

Another win in the record books for Richie. 1981. Howie Hodge photo.
Another win in the record books for Richie. 1981. Howie Hodge photo.

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.”

In Closing..

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.

Martinsville Speedway. 1982. Howie Hodge photo.
Martinsville Speedway. 1982. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Post Script..

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’.”

All the best..

– Jared

Ladies And Gentlemen! It’s Time For The 2nd Annual Seymour Awards!

–  FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23rd, 1979 – PAGE 6  –Seymour-Awards-2

It’s once again time for auto racing’s answer to the Oscar, Emmy and Toni Awards. Yes, it’s time for the NERF’ers2nd Annual Seymour Awards Ceremony.Seymour

So, Racin’ Person! When I call your name, please come forward and pick up your Seymour! Notice how the Ole’ Nerf said ‘PERSON’ so he wouldn’t get into trouble. Well, now on to the presentations.

1979-Richie_EvansVLThe first Seymour goes to “Driver of the Year” for 1979 and as Geoff Bodine dominated with 54 wins last year in the Big Red Machine, our winner this season is a 52-time victor in Big Orange. Semour #1 goes to Richie Evans who captured his second straight NASCAR National Modified Championship this year.

A Seymour for the Most Improved Driver goes to the gentleman who captured the track championship at Thompson Speedway this year. Mr. 1X himself, Joe Howard.

Jeff Fuller in the T-5 he took the Westboro Modified crown with. Howie Hodge photo.
Jeff Fuller in the T-5 he took the Westboro Modified crown with. Howie Hodge photo.

For the second year in a row, the Rookie of the Year Seymour goes to a Westboro Speedway driver, this year’s track champ at that facility, young Jeff Fuller.

Mario
Mario “Fats” Caruso #69. Comeback Seymour award winner for ’79. Howie Hodge photo.

The Comeback of the Year Seymour is awarded to the fellow who seems to get younger with age, Mario “Fats” Caruso.

We’ll give two Seymours in the next category because of a tie in the voting. Best Looking Car Seymours go to Ed St. [Michael] Angelo for his 19jr plus one to Dan Mason and his #04 as both were super looking Modifieds and could run too.

The Mechanic of the Year Seymour for 1979 is being awarded to the super crew chief of the Big Orange, the man who kept it running like a fine tuned piano, Billy Nacewicz.

A driver from Maine competing at Star Speedway gets the Good Guy Seymour because that’s just what Pete Madden is, a good guy.

The Best Looking T-Shirt Seymour once again comes from Fred Potito’s Oval Track Design. It’s a new look shirt for Reggie Ruggeiro designed by Potito with car drawing by super artist Bruce Roll.

A gentleman who drove every week from Mattydale, NY to Owego, NY to see the racing programs at Shangri-La Speedway has been selected as the recipient of the Fan of the Year Seymour. Earl Watchorn drove 120 miles (240 round trip) in his first year as an auto racing fan.

Last year, the Tire Changing Seymour went to my old buddy Chuck “Tire Iron” Jeffries. The honors were returned this season as Dave Kolenda and yours truly received the award for our much less than spectacular performance during the Claremont Speedway Pit Crew Competition in July.

Our Bonehead Seymour for this season has to go to the individual or individuals, whoever they may be, that decided to ban the rear engine SuperModifieds at Oswego Speedway for 1980.

Track champion for the last two years at Plainville Stadium in his Rock Age chassied Fred Flintstone-mobile, Ronnie Rocco get the Little Guy Seymour as a definite low-buck operator with great results.

The Hard Luck Seymour goes to last years Little Guy winner. He tried everything possible to make his Modified run like it had in years past, but never got it up to par. So to the Travelin’ Man, Pete Fiandaca, goes this Seymour.

An absolutely amazing shot by Peter Montano as he captures the starting field of 60 of Modifieds best for 26th Annual Race of Champions at Pocono International Raceway. Peter Montano photo
60 of Modifieds best and over a third of them left the event with an expired motor at the 1979 CAM-2 RoC on Pocono’s 2-1/2 mile tri-oval. Peter Montano photo

The 1979 ‘CAM2 Race of Champions’ at Pocono International Raceway gets the Blown Motor Seymour by a landslide as more than twenty were lost during the 300-mile event and somewhere near forty went up in smoke during the entire weekend’s activities.

The Sneaky Pete Seymour goes to the Unknown Political who raised havoc with a certain clown during his campaign for re-election as Mayor of Stafford Motor Speedway. Our Unknown friend is still unknown, hiding under his brown paper bag. Some are still askin’ if that was his lunch or his head under the bag, but hiding inside a sack is really sneaky.

Next comes the Ding Bat of the Year Seymour and this award goes to the fellow who told a certain group of car owners and drivers that he didn’t need them and then found out it was tough to run a show with a few cars and low turnout of fans. Wherever you now may be, it’s all yours.

Our Clown of the Year Seymour belongs to Speedway Scene’s Fat Rat for his outstanding performance during the “Busch 250” at Westboro Speedway in his stove-pipe hat and special ‘Omar the Tent-maker’ made suit. Eat yer heart out, Butch!

The Best Starter Seymour this year goes to the man who handles the flags for the D.I.R.T. of Central New York organization and does one heck of a job at it. The man is Bobby Watson.

Opposite of the aforementioned award is the Worst Starter Seymour and this goes to the man who took over for the late Ken Small at Star Speedway. He’s so bad I don’t even know his name, but the award is all his.

The Fiasco of the Year Seymour goes to Ernie Hastings as anytime he takes to the track it’s certainly a fiasco.

Next comes the Owner of the Year and this Seymour goes to the man with the bucks behind the Big Orange, Mr. Gene DeWitt.

Our Race of the Year Seymour goes to the Schaefer 200 during SUPER DIRT WEEK at the New York State Fairgrounds. The race, won by Jack Johnson, was definitely all it was billed to be.. Super….

Last years Best Fan Club Seymour went to Bugs Stevens Fan Club. Once again it’s a Stevens Fan Club, but this time it’s Dick Stevens. Although not nearly as large as da Bugman’s club, this little group of people are still big in heart and support for their driver so this season’s award is theirs.

Understatement. The Nerf nailed it on this one leaps and bounds. Howie Hodge photo.
“Up and Coming Driver Seymour” winner, Mike Stefanik. The Nerf really had his crystal ball out and nailed it on this one leaps and bounds. Howie Hodge photo.

The Best Up and Coming Driver Seymour goes to a young man who captured the Stafford Motor Speedway Limited Sportsman Championship in ’79 and also doubles as a pretty fair Modified driver. Mike Stefanik gets this award for he is definitely an up and comer. Watch him in the future.

Following are new Seymour Awards instituted this year:

Meservey
Dan Meservey’s work and dedication to not only NEMMA, but the Mini-Modified division helped build car counts, peak fan interest and put on some of the highest quality racing the division’s ever seen. SPEEDWAY SCENE photo.

The Promoter of the Year Seymour goes not to a track promoter, but to an owner-driver who led a certain group of race cars to a banner season. Dan Meservey gets this award for his leadership of N.E.M.M.A. (New England Mini Modified Association) who had their most successful year ever.

Before internet there was Paul Tremaine (seen here manning the video camera) and his Checkered Flag Announcer call in hotline. The best way to get your immediate racing results. Paul was indeed a great racing personality. Howie Hodge photo,
Before internet there was Paul Tremaine (seen here manning the video camera) and his Checkered Flag Announcer call in hotline. Back in the day it was the best way to get your immediate racing results in the Northeast. Paul was indeed a great racing personality and dearly missed. Howie Hodge photo,

Next is the Racing Media Person of the Year which will encompass writers, photographers, announcers, public relations, television and radio people. This Seymour goes to Ole Baldy hisself, Paul Tremaine, for his dedication to the sport of auto racing via his phone lines for the Checkered Flag Announcer.

The Toy-Let Seymour for this year goes to a fellow who was voted this honor unanimously by Claremont Speedway Tech Man, Howard Bowie and if you knew how big Howard is you’d know why I said, ‘unanimously’. The award goes to Lee Emery and his #71 Toilet…. I mean Modified….

The Racing Organization of the Year Seymour goes C.O.D.A. (Claremont Owners & Drivers Association) who did a super job at their track against all odds.

No surprise at all that da' Bugman received the Personality of the Year Seymour for '79. Howie Hodge photo.
No surprise at all that da’ Bugman received the Personality of the Year Seymour for ’79. Howie Hodge photo.

Our final presentation was given to Ollie Silva last year and this season that same award, the Outstanding Personality Seymour goes to another fantastic driver, one who has more fans than people in Massachusetts and also a super personality, da Bugman – “Bugs Stevens“….

This wraps up another night of Seymours, named after that refugee from Dr. Frankenstein’s Funny Farm, Seymour the Racing Clown. He shows dedication to the sport of auto racing through his humor by making thousands laugh at speedways throughout the northeast.

Till next week; “If you’ve never seen the SPEEDWAY SCENE then you should never be seen again without the SPEEDWAY SCENE, or you just may never be seen again!”

1979-Seymour

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Note..

A few things from this 1979 column by “the Ole’ Nerf”..

The Bonehead Seymour awarded to Oswego Speedway for banning the rear engine SuperModifieds did create an uproar and major criticism, but in hindsight it was a step in the right direction that saved SuperModified racing. The newer rear engined machines being built were fast and very competitive, but also quite a bit more expensive to build. So, yes, it wasn’t the first time the Ole’ Nerf was wrong and certainly wasn’t the last.

Fiasco of the Year Seymour goes to Ernie Hastings” and “Toy-Let Semour” to “Lee Emery”, were not rude shots, but ribbing between friends. Both recipients were friends of the Ole’ Nerf. They were a part of C.O.D.A. and the friendly racing community at Claremont Speedway in Claremont, New Hampshire.

Bobby Vee's gorgeous Arrow bodied Modified from 1978. Mike Adaskaveg photo / Howie Hodge collection.
Bobby Vee’s gorgeous Arrow bodied Modified from 1978. Mike Adaskaveg photo / Howie Hodge collection.

The “Best Looking Car Seymour“? Ed St. [Michael] Angelo, as the Ole’ Nerf put it, and Racin’ Danny Mason, both had a couple of beautiful Modifieds. The only reason I can think of as to why he neglected the amazing Bobby Vee, Busch Beer, #2 Arrow bodied Modified, is because Vee’s Modified debuted in 1978. Personally, I still would have given Mr. Vee’s machine the nod, but if I confronted the Ole’ Nerf about it as he wrote this particular column back in late November of 1979, there was the possibility I might have landed in my room, grounded.

All the best to you! And as the Ole’ Nerf said many a time, Keep on Trackin’!

Jared

When the Shoe Fits, OUCH!

CRAZY FEATURE AT RIVERSIDE PARK SPEEDWAY ENDS WITH RUGGIERO VICTORY

– FRIDAY, JUNE 23RD, 1978 –

Hey NERF’ers! I was going to junk the subject we’ve been on the past few weeks, but I couldn’t do that now after viewing the final lap finish of the Riverside Park Speedway 50 lapper this past Saturday night.

What’s the old saying..? “When the shoe fits, wear it!” Well, in the case of what happened at Riverside the line would go like this. “When the shoe fits, Ouch!”

With the white flag ready to fly for the final lap, the Czarnecki Bros. Vega, driven by defending three-time Park champion Bob Polverari, belched up a motor between turn three and four, sending cars every which way out of the third turn in the fluids dumped on the track. Former three-time champion Bob Stefanik rode the wall sideways almost ending upside down in the Earl Reynold’s Bobcat. Former track champ S.J. Evonsion in the Connally-Hosmer Chevette and Charlie Glazier in the Eddie Oles Vega also exited via the same accident as did 1976 Rookie of the Year, Marty Radewick in the Fred Felton Monza.

The accident brought out John Tallini’s caution flag setting the stage for the final two-lap charge to the checkers.

Reggie Ruggiero on the back stretch during practice at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass (1978). Mario Fiore photo.
Reggie Ruggiero on the back stretch during practice at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass (1978). Mario Fiore photo.

Reggie Ruggiero in the Fiore-Nardi Chevette was in the lead followed by Richie Evans in the Gene DeWitt Pinto and guess who was in third? It was none other than our controversial buddy, Geoff Bodine, in the Dick Armstrong Nu-Style Jewelry Pinto.

The restart saw Ruggiero, Evans and Bodine head into turns one and two and on the back stretch the “Bellingham Bullet” got by the “Rapid Roman“. Bodine then moved in on Ruggiero’s bumper to bring about another controversial finish in the life of Geoff Bodine. Going into the third turn Bodine rode to the outside trying to overtake Ruggiero and all of a sudden sparks flew leaving Bodine sitting backwards between turns three and four. Evans and Jerry Cook, in the Hollebrand Trucking Pinto, rode past Bodine for second and third while Bodine straightened it out for fourth spot.

Geoff Bodine and Reggie Ruggiero motor down the front stretch to start the 1978 Riverside 500 at the Park. The packed grandstands at Riverside Park Speedway back then was the place to be on Saturday nights. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore's collection.
Bodine and Ruggiero motor across the start-finish line at the 1978 Riverside 500. Back then the packed stands at Riverside Park Speedway was the place to be on Saturday nights. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore’s collection.

The controversy arises again. Was Bodine rough riding? Did Ruggiero stuff him in the wall trying to stop him?

I always sit near the fourth turn at the Park because that’s where the action seems to be.

Ruggiero was running the groove all night and going into the fourth turn he definitely rode high with Bodine on the outside. Whether by accident or on purpose Ruggiero was in the lead at the time and until he gets a passing flag the track is his. Bodine has stated on a couple of occasions, since all the incidents have happened over the past few weeks, that the man in the lead has the track right-of-way.

Reggie Ruggiero chases Richie Evans at Riverside Park Speedway in a 1978 feature event. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore's collection.
Reggie Ruggiero chases Richie Evans at Riverside Park Speedway in a 1978 feature event. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore’s collection.

Once again asking different drivers and people you get umpteen different views. Ruggiero fans have their opinions, Bodine fans have theirs and all the other fans have a couple hundred more. So who knows? The best answer came from the humorous Evans who was trailing the accident. After being asked what happened, he replied, “I didn’t see anything. Remember I’m the guy who didn’t see Eddie Flemke sitting in the middle of the track at Stafford last night.”

Geoff Bodine puts down some practice laps in his Dick Armstrong Nu Style Pinto bodied Modified at Riverside Park Speedway (1978). Mario Fiore photo.
Geoff Bodine puts down some practice laps in his Dick Armstrong Nu Style Pinto bodied Modified at Riverside Park Speedway (1978). Mario Fiore photo.

If the man in the lead has the track right-of-way then why was Bodine so upset after the incident? Why did he turn around after the start-finish line and shake a finger at Ruggiero? Seems as though the shoe was on the other foot at Riverside and someone didn’t like the way it fit.

One of the head NASCAR officials stated, “I’ve never seen Bodine bumping like he did tonight. This kind of action is uncalled for and something is going to have to be done about it.”

He was referring to Bodine riding over Evonsion early in the race, belting Radewick, causing him and Polverari to spin and twice bumping rookie Jim Tourville in the Susies’ Auto Parts Coupe.

Oh well! The controversy continues and I suppose all the Bodine supporters will write in tellin’ us how good Bodine is and how rotten I am and just think, I didn’t even mention those you know, T-shirts..

Reggie Ruggiero in Mario Fiore's sharp New England Uniform Chevette bodied Modified had plenty to smile about back in the late '70's. Enough hardware on the roof to test the roll cage. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore.
Reggie Ruggiero in Mario Fiore’s sharp New England Uniform Chevette bodied Modified had plenty to smile about back in the late ’70’s. Here they have enough hardware on the roof to stress test the roll cage of the Evans built chassis . Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore.

A couple Polverari fans are looking for the address of the “Maynard Troyer Fan Club“. I wonder if they are jumping ship or do they hope to be a part of the Troyer clan when he invades New England in hopes of halting the “Bodine Express” at Stafford Motor Speedway in a couple of weeks. Anyone who has the address, drop us a line as there must be more fans out there who would like to be part of following the shiny #6 from New York.

The “Bugsy Stevens Fan Club” has their new look T-shirts now on sale at Stafford and Seekonk Speedway. If you’re a Bugsy Stevens fan, make sure you get your new T-shirt and support the Bugman. If you haven’t got your Bugsy Stevens Fan Club membership then send a $3.00 check or money order to: Bugsy Stevens Fan Club, (address withheld), Providence, R.I. 02914. For your $3 you will receive an autographed photo of the Bugman, a membership card, a newsletter and a bumper sticker. The Fan Club always has plenty of pictures of Bugs in the different cars he wheels and will also take special request photos for fans. Now that’s a real fan club.

Send in your fan club news, announcements or photos to NERF’ers Corner, c/o Robert Echo, (address withheld).

RICHIE EVANS.. 61 FOREVER

RE-NCR-Richie“So am I your favorite yet?”
“No, Bob Polverari is my favorite.”
“So I’m your second favorite then.”
“No, that’s Jim Shampine.”
“Third?”
“No, Merv Treichler is.”
“What?  Merv?  He’s a bum! Pavement not dirt. So I’m third in pavement.”
“No, Dave Bibens is.”
“Dave who?  Never heard of him.”
“He races Late Models at Claremont Speedway.”
“Okay, so where am I on the list? Top 5?”
“Top 10.”
“TOP TEN? Awe what do you know, little Echo! You’re just a press brat.”..

The conversation would usually end with my hat bill pulled down over my face and a chuckle as he walked away…

1980 at Stafford. The third of three taken. The first pic Richie squeezed my neck and I ran out of the photo. The second photo taken he did it again, but quickly grabbed me in a head lock. By the time this photo was taken we were all laughing. The leather visor was one my brother made in high school. Bonnie Echo photo.
1980 at Stafford. The third of three photos taken. The first pic Richie squeezed my neck and I ran out of the photo. The second photo taken he did it again, but quickly grabbed me in a head lock. By the time this photo was taken we were red-faced from laughing. Bonnie Echo photo.

29 Years ago, on October 24th, 1985 our auto racing community was struck it’s most devastating blow leaving everyone absolutely shell shocked.  Our great champion, the division’s voice and greatest friend, Richie Evans was taken from us after suffering a crash in turn 3 at Martinsville Speedway.

God bless you Richie. You were ALWAYS a favorite. We all miss you. 

– “Little Echo”

1979 RACE OF “ONE” CHAMPION

– FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28TH, 1979 –

1979 RACE OF “ONE” CHAMPION

The 1979 CAM2 Race of Champions???  Hmmmm!  Well, maybe, but personally I think they could rename this year’s event the CAM2 Race of One Champion.  Yup!  That’s about the way it was as Richie Evans ran away from the field over the last one-third of the 300 mile distance to win the 29th edition of the prestigious event.

An absolutely amazing shot by Peter Montano as he captures the starting field of 60 of Modifieds best for 26th Annual Race of Champions at Pocono International Raceway. Peter Montano photo
An amazing shot capturing the starting field of 60 Modifieds at the 29th Annual CAM2 Race of Champions at Pocono International Raceway. Peter Montano photo

Pocono International Raceway, located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, was the site of the Joe Gerber promoted race.  The event is now held annually on the 2-1/2 mile tri-oval asphalt speedway speedway just 3 miles off I-80.

Chargin' Charlie Jarzombek (11) fends off Richie Evans (61) and the Allan Whipple machine piloted by Geoff Bodine. Peter Montano photo.
Chargin’ Charlie Jarzombek (11) fends off Richie Evans (61) and the Allan Whipple machine piloted by Geoff Bodine. Peter Montano photo.

With many of the front runners and several drivers considered to be challengers dropping out for one reason or another, like Ron Bouchard on lap 7; Bugs Stevens lap 31; Jerry Cook and Charlie Jarzombek lap 58; Doug Hewitt lap 67; Geoff Bodine lap 89; John Bryant lap 93; and Greg Sacks lap 110, it didn’t leave too many to put the pressure on the Rapid Roman.

Maynard Troyer came across the finish line second almost a mile behind Evans.  Gail Barber was the only other driver on the lead lap finishing some distance behind Troyer.

Rounding out the top ten finishers were Jim Shampine, Satch Worley, and Ken Bouchard, all one lap down;  Fred Harbach and Paul Radford both two laps down; George Kent and Dan Jivanelli were both three laps behind.

Charlie Jarzombek (11) leads. Evans (61) makes an outside attempt for the top spot while Geoff Bodine (1) drafts him. Maynard Troyer (6) looks for an opening. Peter Montano photo.
Charlie Jarzombek (11) leads Evans (61), Geoff Bodine (1) and Maynard Troyer (6). Peter Montano photo.

It was a protest marred event as six drivers filed post race complaints due to a scoring mishap and some mistaken identity.  The protesting chauffeurs were Troyer, Barber, Shampine, Worley, Radford and Kent.  I waited a considerable length of time for a decision on the protests, but the last word out of one race official was that they’d made a mistake, they were sorry, come back next year.  One individual involved stated, “It’s the same old baloney every year.”

Bodine (1) follows Evans (61) as Charlie Jarzombek (11) keeps on charging. Peter Montano photo.
Bodine (1) follows Evans (61) as Charlie Jarzombek (11) keeps on charging. Peter Montano photo.

I don’t know what this person meant as I haven’t been at any of the previous events, but it sounds like they have a definite problem somewhere.  Personally I don’t understand how there could be such a problem with scoring on a track of this length.  There’s one scorer per car and since the cars go by the stands approximately once every minute, you’d think there’d be no problem.  A person can understand if there’s a scoring mistake on a short track of 5/8th mile or less, but not on a 2-1/2 mile speedway.  What’s the old saying?  Oh yeah!  Someone had better get their s–t together.

Some closing statistics on the ’79 RoC.  Evans collected $16,280.00 for his 49th victory of the season.  Evans took the pole position with a fast time trial lap of 58.627 seconds for a m.p.h. clocking of 153.512 which was two miles per hour faster than outside pole sitter Troyer.  Evans set a new track record completing the 120 laps in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 45 seconds for an average speed of 113.385 m.p.h.. Evans led 83 of 120 laps.

Jerry Cook (38), in his Superspeedway Modified tries to hold off Richie Evans (61), Geoff Bodine (1). Peter Montano photo.
Jerry Cook (38), in his Superspeedway Modified, tries to hold off Richie Evans (61) and Geoff Bodine (1). Peter Montano photo.

Other stats were 8 caution flags for 45 laps meaning that over one third of the event was run under the yellow.  There were 17 lead changes between eight drivers.  Those drivers leading the race besides Evans were Cook, Troyer, Bodine, Jarzombek, Bryant, Dave Thomas, and John Blewett Jr..  The estimated attendence was in the vicinity of 27,000.

Dan Mason was awarded best appearing car and Tom Comerford took rookie of the year honors as he was the highest finishing first year RoC driver.  He also showed the best progress for the day starting 58th in the 60 car field and finishing 15th for an improvement of 43 spots.

Evans (61) and Troyer (6) race back to the track after pit stops during the 1979 Race of Champions. Peter Montano Photo.
Evans (61) and Troyer (6) race back to the track after pit stops during the 1979 Race of Champions. Peter Montano Photo.

An interesting sidelight to this year’s RoC was that 20 of the 60 Modifieds starting the race were built by Troyer Engineering.  An impressive showing for the man from Rochester, New York.  Upon mentioning this to Mr. Troyer, he replied,  “The fun’s in trying to keep them all running.”  We should all have such a big problem, huh!

Several motors went up in smoke during RoC weekend. Approximately 25 to 30 engines would be a close estimate.  Averaging them out at around six grand a piece it would come to about $150,000 in powerplants went to the junk pile.

From what I can see, the main reason for so many motors letting go is that most of the people running Modifieds can’t afford to put super high buck engines together that will hold up under the stress of a long track super speedway action.

Paul Radford (07), Fred Harbach (90) and Rit Patchen (94) about to be lapped Richie Evans . Peter Montano photo.
Paul Radford (07), Fred Harbach (90), Rit Patchen (94) and eventual race winner Richie Evans (61) scream down the long Pocono front stretch. Peter Montano photo.

After talking to many of the competitors and listening to many fans complain, I think the powers that be ought to look at the possibility of moving the annual event back to Trenton International Speedway.  It’s the car owners who are really feeling the money crunch in racing and if the race was taken to a shorter track it would be to their advantage.  Also the Modified fan would be able to enjoy racing on a track more suited to their liking rather than a speedway so enormous the they can’t tell who’s who on the back straights without binoculars.

I’d like to say that Mr. Gerber along with CAM2 Product Manager Robert Burtner and both their staffs went out of their way to make it an enjoyable weekend even though the weatherman tried his best to wreck everyone’s plans.  Personally I’d like to thank Mr. Gerber, Tim Sullivan and Joe Mattioli III for the hospitality extended me as the former Promotional Director for Claremont Speedway and now a similar position with Speedway Scene.

Evans (61) puts Long Island Modified standout Greg Sacks (18) a lap down on the long home straight at Pocono. Peter Montano photo
Evans (61) and Long Island Modified standout Greg Sacks (18) on the long home straight at Pocono. Peter Montano photo

Yes the 1979 RoC is history and the question now being asked is “Will EVANS win six more to break BODINE’S record of 54 wins set last season?”  With approximately six to eight races left, it would seem to be an impossibility, but by the 25th of November we ought to know for sure.

EVANS, ROSATI “FALL FINAL” FAVORITES…  This weekend is the FALL FINAL at Stafford Motor Speedway with twin 100 lap events scheduled on Sunday for both the Mod Squad and North Tour Late Model Sportsman.  Both races are NASCAR sanctioned with the Modified 100 tagged as a National Championship event while the Sportsman will compete for North Tour points.

Richie takes the checkered flag after dominating 1979 CAM2 Race of Champions. Peter Montano photo.
Richie takes the checkered flag after dominating the 1979 CAM2 Race of Champions. Peter Montano photo.

Saturday will find all cars taking time trials for the first ten starting spots with the remaining machines qualifying through heats.

Richie Evans would have to be considered the strong favorite to win the Mod half after his convincing RoC win last Sunday and Tom Rosati has to be the Sportsman favorite as Stafford was his home track a year ago.  In two seasons at the track he only won approximately 25 races, “Rookie of the Year” honors in 1977 and two track titles.  He also won the prestigious Oxford 250 this past summer.

Going into the FALL FINAL, Evans leads the NASCAR Modified National Championship Point Standings once again over Jerry Cook.  Beaver Dragon leads the NASCAR North Tour Point Race over Hector LeClair, Gardiner Leavitt and Rosati.  Andy Isbister is the current North leading candidate for the “Shearer Chevrolet” Rookie Crown.

NERF’ers NIBBLETS…….. I understand that Stafford Promoter Ed Yarrington was seen around 3 a.m. Sunday at the Pocono start-finish line doing an “Un-Rain Dance” in hopes of halting the rain at the RoC.  The reason is, the RoC raindate would have put Big Ed’s FALL FINAL head to head with the Pocono event.  Ya’ know what?  Ed’s dance worked……. Word has it that Monadnock Speedway Head Flagman Jim Hanks will be handling the same duties for the NASCAR North Tour Late Models next year……. I understand that C.O.D.A. (Claremont Owners & Drivers Association) Officials would like to thank Ernie Hastings for all the advertising he gave them with his “20M C.O.D.A. Outlaw tee shirts”.  Gee Ernie!  Ya’ can’t win for losin’, tsk, tsk……. Speaking of Claremont Speedway, they’ll be running the Modified Sportsmans with the small block Modifieds come next season paying special bonus money to the 292 cid cars.  They’ll also upgrade the Late Models somewhat and will be adding a pure Street Stock class as a third division……. Monadnock Speedway will run Modifieds, Late Models and a six cylinder class.  The only thing not certain is on which day they’ll be running, but rumor has it that Thursday night could be it……. Birthday wishes go out to Nanci Newcomb on September 27th.  Hey Puddles, how’s it feel to be “Sweet 16” and never been kissed?  I bet……. Up and coming events for the next couple of weeks.  The “Schaefer Super Dirt Week” is on tap starting Wednesday and running through Sunday at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.  Seekonk Speedway hosts the “Eastern Fall Classic” on Sunday, October 7th.  October 13th and 14th is the World Series of Speedway Racing at Thompson Speedway……. Until next time, remember, All good NERFers will be at the FALL FINAL…….

*       *       *       *       *

As Robert Echo mentions, the 1979 CAM2 Race of Champions was the first RoC he and I had ever attended.  My father “double dipped” by representing his previous position at Claremont Speedway and his new one with Speedway Scene.  Prior to arriving for the 1979 RoC, the biggest field we had ever witnessed was at the Thompson 300.

(2) Bobby Vee and (1) Geoff Bodine share the from row at the 1979 Thompson 300. Peter Montano photo.
The 1979 Thompson 300 field. (2) Bobby Vee and (1) Geoff Bodine share the from row.  Peter Montano photo.

Back in those days the starting fields for the Thompson 300 and Race of Champions were similar in size.  Visually Thompson’s 300 field covered a third of the 5/8th mile track giving it the appearance of a 24 car field at a bullring like the old 1/4 mile oval of Riverside Park Speedway.  The CAM2 Race of Champions on the big 2-1/2 mile tri oval looked much less cramped, but every bit as impressive.

Peter Montano’s photograph at the beginning of this republished time piece captures the huge field of 60 Modifieds stretched out on the final pace lap.  It also captures the strength of the division, and strength of the fan base.  Oh, and what about that crowd? 27,000 strong!

Like many that weekend we camped in the parking lot behind the grand stands in our pop-up camper along with thousands of Modified fans from up and down the east coast.  Many of the campers weren’t lined up as you might see nowadays they were in circles of 5 to 7, like the wagons of early settlers camped out from a long days ride.  Within our circle were a group from New England; a few folks from New York; one from New Jersey and another two from the Carolinas.

Richie’s dominance that weekend in September of ’79 became crystal clear during Saturday’s time trials.  Evans was released from the pit lane as the current Modified on track at speed, who’s driver and number escapes me, took the white flag and headed into his second lap.  Richie, on that warm up lap, fresh out of pit lane caught and passed that very Modified between the tunnel turn and the entry to the corner on the backside of the speedway.  For a moment arms of fans were extended pointing at the two Modifieds.  It was the type of reaction one might see these days on TV where “witnesses” reenact a sighting of a UFO or Bigfoot, in awe of what just happened.  At that moment, barring mechanical issues or heaven forbid an accident during the race itself, Richie had thrown down the gauntlet and put everyone on notice that the 1979 CAM2 Race of Champions was HIS RACE TO LOSE.

The only drivers that appeared to have something for Richie in the early goings were Geoff Bodine in a Chassis Dynamics Mustang bodied Modified that he built for New Hampshire hotshoe Allan Whipple and Maynard Troyer in yet another of his gorgeous Pinto bodied Modifieds.  Bodine dropped out with mechanical issues and Troyer faded in the last third of the event finishing second.  Richie Evans was not just fast that day, he was as many would say, ON RAILS.  (Results can be found here on Speed51’s The Third Turn. A fantastic stat site that any fan will enjoy)

Coincidentally, Robert Echo’s call for moving the CAM2 Race of Champions to a more favorable, downsized, engine and owner friendly track came true.  In 1980 the Gerber family moved the venue from the 2-1/2 mile Pocono tri-oval to the 3/4 mile Pocono oval that surrounded the pit area.  The facility remained home to the RoC for many more years.

The 1980 edition of the CAM2 Race of Champions?  Well, 2-1/2 mile tri-oval or 3/4 mile oval didn’t matter.  Although the 1980 RoC was more of a contest, Richie wound up at the same place at the end of the 1980 RoC, VICTORY LANE.  (Results for the 1980 RoC can be found here)

I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to Peter Montano for allowing me to publish his photos from the 1979 Race of Champions with this 35 year old column.  Peter used to have an online racing site called “PETE’S RACING SITE”.  The site was filled with fantastic photos from the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s and 90’s featuring our beloved Modifieds.  It was the “go-to” site to relive and get updates on the looks of your favorite Modified driver’s entry through many seasons.  Although the site is no longer up Peter was very kind to permit me to post the photos.  So very much appreciated sir!

– Jared

*09/16/15 – Photo captions edited / reworded.