“.. 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.
In 1979 our family’s racing intake went on a major diet and for a kid who grew accustom to the flavor of frequenting many of the great New England racing venues, it was an extremely painful cold turkey. My father took on the challenge of his first promoter and race director job with Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A. (Claremont Owners and Drivers Association) in Claremont, New Hampshire. A track who’s opening night in 1979 was the first race I had ever attended there. I knew no one, but that changed over the season with the Jarvis, Albro, Bodreau, and Bibens clans along with others treating us like family. It turned into a great experience for our family and one we have never forgotten.
After Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A.’s successful season concluded, all the joys of being the son of the NERF and the perks of being the son of a track promoter increased a hundred fold. Val LeSieur offered him the Promotional Director position at Speedway Scene (cue the chorus of angels singing).
If I tried to name every track we attended at least once in those Speedway Scene days from late ’79 to the close of the ’84 season, I know for sure I would miss a few. It was simply a bull-rush of racing for over 5 seasons. We turned up at every major race from Martinsville, Virginia to Nelles Corners, Ontario. Dirt or asphalt didn’t matter, all the Oswego Classics, Thompson 300’s, Race of Champions, Super Dirt Weeks, Oxford 250’s, over 100 plus races a season, we were there and I was living the dream.
Along the way we met all kinds of racing personalities. THAT is indeed the part I have always cherished while looking back over those years. Taking in all the racing events and meeting all of these fantastic racing personalities (fans, crews, drivers, owners, track owners, promoters, officials, sponsors and those in the press) was like learning the meaning of life for a nine to fourteen year old auto racing junkie of an equally addicted father. It was as if being handed the keys to the gates of Northeast Auto Racing Heaven (again.. cue the chorus of angels singing).
The interesting thing was coming back home and being asked by friends and their parents, where we had been. I’d go down the list of the past weekend’s fun and would be met most times with disbelief. “Stayed at Jerry Cook’s house? Sure.” .. “Steve Kinser told you and your father that? Yeah right!” .. “Sat in every car at Troyer Engineering last Thursday? Whatever.” And oh boy did the eyes roll when I came back after Labor Day in 1981 and told them we had camped out in Richie’s shop prior to Oswego Classic Weekend.
That leads me to Richie. In those years on the road we ran into Richie Evans and his crew numerous times each season; Stafford, Spencer, New Egypt, Riverside Park, Shangri-La, Oswego, Thompson, Monadnock, Seekonk, Pocono, Trenton, Islip, Holland.. I loved every time we did and looked forward to the ribbing I’d receive, well, most of it anyway.
Richie was something. Great racer? The best! Great champion? Without a doubt! Great guy with the fans? Abso-friggin’-lutely, no question about it!
Reminiscing over the years about Richie and starting up this site in memory of my father has led me to finally sit down and write about some of the many personal stories I am very fortunate to have involving Richie. I admit that it’s taken quite a while for me to buckle down and get it written. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Writing about personal run-ins as a kid with a guy who was and always will be the king of the division we know as Asphalt Modifieds can be a bit intimidating. It carries a certain amount of pressure to get it right. More so, talking about Richie can become a tough and emotional subject involving laughter, tears and more laughter.
During an email exchange, over a year ago, with a former co-worker and friend of my father’s, who was “chasing deadlines”, I mentioned the struggle I was having approaching how to write these memories down for this very column. Do I tell it this way or that way? In what style? His response was a short lighthearted one that I expected, “Yeah, it’s work!”
Another friend of my father’s gave some interesting advice that got the gears turning, “You lived it up with your father and met all kinds as a kid. Tell it like you’re telling stories around the campfire with friends, but write it through the eyes and ears of the kid who experienced it, not the adult you are today. Keep the innocent views of the kid you were. That’s how you should tell it.”
Alright then, so here it is. I gave it my best shot.
A quick note.. Some of the wording in conversations I’ve placed in quotes may not be exact. Thirty years of dust collected in my personal vault “upstairs” is indeed the reason. However, as others have shared their own personal memories of racing days gone by and interaction with racing personalities along the way, their wording more than likely isn’t exact as well.
I do assure you no falsehoods exists in these personal memories. I share them as a fellow fan who was extremely lucky to have a father involved in the media side of our sport which allowed me to experience many things others hadn’t. Lucky that Val hired my father to help grow his racing publication’s coverage area and also create the Racearama during a great period in Northeast auto racing history. Lucky to ride shotgun with my father all those years and have great memories of unbelievable people involved in our sport back in the day. Of course the subject at hand, lucky enough to get ribbed by Richie every time we ran into him.
I hope you enjoy these personal Richie stories written as best as I remember them as the kid who was very fortunate to experience them.
* * * * * * * * * *
Filling That Tank..
Richie Evans’ stats speak for themselves. A nine time NASCAR National Modified Champion, over 65 track championships and 600 plus feature wins at numerous tracks up and down the east coast, to which are still being discovered. Those stats are only the tip of the iceberg in regards to who Richie Evans was to the auto racing community and why he meant so much to the fans, media and fellow competitors all the way up to the track owners, promoters and sanctioning body heads.
As a youngster in the mid ’70’s and early ’80’s and a die-hard Bob Polverari fan, I thought Richie was special. It wasn’t because of his wins or championships, but the way he was towards me every time we ran into him – well, except the first time, but you’ll soon know that story-. Only as I grew older did I truly realize he was that way with damn near everybody. He was special.
Anyone who met him and had the chance just to be around him, even for a brief moment in the pits, before or after a race, walked away feeling as if they knew him and had made a friend.
To the young fans the most important thing is wanting to feel like you matter. Just a few minutes of one on one conversational interaction between a youngster and a driver lasts forever and makes a fan for life. When drivers or racing personalities, people they look up to, gives someone that time and attention it filled that tank. It works the opposite as well. A driver has a bad day and isn’t up for interaction or conversation, blowing someone off, it leaves a lasting negative impression. As for kids, it’s that ever important first impression to which they draw their conclusions. As a young fan, THAT impression is EXACTLY why it never dawned on me until I got a bit older that Richie was indeed great with everyone.
Richie proverbially filled that tank. He took time and even shared some laughs with fans of all ages. If Richie had an off night, a very rare wreck or even lost a close one to a heated competitor, he still had time to talk, joke, laugh and always met you with a smile. For that very reason he was a champion of the fans and not just with HIS fans..
But, that’s not how it started between Richie and this kid..
The Park and.. Child Labor?
My father would occasionally share this particular story with friends in racing, especially when around Richie or when his name was brought up after Richie’s untimely passing. It took place at a time my father was writing the “NERF’ers Corner” for what was then known as New England Speedway Scene.
At Riverside Park Speedway in 1978, most nights for those in attendance ended with the drop of the checkered flag on the Figure 8’s feature. Some fans wound up at Riverside Park’s Beer Gardens to enjoy corn on the cob, hot German potato salad, a beer or three and great conversation.
If you were a child of one of those Park’s Beer Garden attendees, you were either on the rides in the amusement park or out in the parking lot looking at the Modifieds strapped to their ramp trucks and trailers. If you were real lucky, you were given the prestigious job most of us kids referred to as a Car Watcher –“Hey kid, if you watch our car, there’s a hat in it for you”-. The Car Watcher was indeed an honor bestowed by the team while they mingled at the Park’s Beer Gardens.
Car Watcher (kär wŏch′ər) *kid’s definition: A job consisting of keeping watch over the hauler and the car strapped to it. See to it that no one messed around with anything in the car or the tool compartments. A very important job that pays off in t-shirts, jackets, hats, or stickers (a racing fan’s gold).
Car Watcher (kär wŏch′ər) *Parental definition: An utter sham. A tactic used by quite a few of us to allow ourselves time to laugh it up at the beer gardens and talk racing or shoot the breeze with the drivers, crews and fellow fans while our kids amused themselves among other kids by any particular hauler. A way to make sure we don’t have to walk through the entire damn amusement park to hunt them down.
The most memorable time I recall this story being told was at the breakfast table in the Thompson Speedway Clubhouse on Thompson 300 weekend (’80 or ’81). We were sitting at the table with Val LeSieur, Richie and a few other Northeast racing personalities. Richie started giving me crap about how I was holding my spoon and I smarted off to him with a smile. Richie reacted by knocking my hat off and saying, “What’s the matter with you? Hold your spoon right AND why can’t you keep your hat on your head?“
As I’m picking up my hat, one of the others at the table said I should be nice to Richie. Richie answered, “Don’t worry about Lil’ Echo. He’s been a press brat since I first met him.“
The gentleman asked how long that had been and after some words from Richie and my father, they started in with the story..
My father started off, “We’re in the beer gardens at the Park and I’m shooting the s**t with Richie (throwing a thumb to the very person sitting to his left. I was sitting to Richie’s left.). He starts telling me about how he couldn’t get over all the kids out in the parking running around the haulers and says..“
Richie interrupts and takes over, “They were like a mob of pint sized Keystone Cops out there.. So I’m telling him how we pulled up and parked by Bobby’s (Polverari) hauler. There’s this little long blond haired kid sitting on the hauler with a serious look on his face. I walk up to him and ask what he’s doing. He says he’s watching his favorite driver’s car. I ask him if he could watch ours too. He says, ‘I could, but Bob’s is number one.’ So I says, ‘There’s a t-shirt in it for you’. The kid ain’t budging, doesn’t even answer! So I ask him, ‘Does Bobby give you shirts?’ He says, ‘My parents got me a bunch of Bob’s shirts.’ So I says, ‘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.
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.
After the event’s post race interviews and celebrations I sought out Richie, who was by his car with one foot up on the front right tire leaning an elbow on his knee and smoking a cigarette. It was one of the few times I can recall seeing him by himself at any racetrack, if just for a moment. I approached him and told him, “That was the best race I have ever seen. You were charging hard after that pit stop, Richie.“
He smiled, knowing Bob was my favorite driver and said, “I bet it was, Lil’ Echo. It was a good one from where I was sitting too.“
Now at the age of 11, the belief that my driver could beat Richie at Riverside Park was indeed very real. I had seen it and cheered it a few times, but it was a little hard, even after seeing it for myself first hand, that it could happen at Stafford. Ah, the mindset of an 11 year old. So I hesitated a bit in front of Richie, looked around, kicked up some dirt and turned to say something that an 11 year old might, just for assurance as what I had just witnessed was the real deal, “Richie, thanks for let..“
Before I could finish, Richie gave a quiet chuckle, stood up abruptly, took a step closer, and while placing a hand on my shoulder said, “Jarret, I didn’t let him win, if that’s what you were going say. Bobby beat me and that’s all there is to it. Your driver won and I’m about as happy for him as you are.“
He pulled my hat down over my eyes, turned me around by the shoulders, kicked me in the seat of the pants and said “Now go enjoy it.“
I did as instructed.
“So am I your favorite yet?” ..
I’m not very sure when this ongoing exchange got started between myself and Richie. It happened so frequently through the years that I haven’t a clue as to when it began. It would start off after a win that night or the day after waiting for the gates to open or when we stopped by the shop. Richie would say to me, “I bet I’m your favorite now.” Or, “Who’s your favorite driver now, Lil’ Echo? It’s me, isn’t it?” or “So am I your favorite yet?”
“No, Bob Polverari is my favorite.“
Richie, “So I’m your second favorite then.“
“No, that’s Jim Shampine.“
“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?“
Richie, “TOP TEN? Awe what do you know, little Echo! You’re just a press brat.”..
Camping at 608 Calvert Street..
The week leading up to the 1981 Oswego Speedway Classic, my father decided he and I were going to make it a week long camping trip. The plan was to stay with Oswego Speedway PR couple Dick O’Brien and then wife, Linda at their home for a day. We were to stay the night, then head out to a campground on Lake Ontario for a few days. Come Thursday morning we would tear down at the campground and set up the camper on the hilltop by the speedway.
We hit the road from Massachusetts Monday morning. Around Syracuse we stopped for gas and while fueling up dad noticed the frame by the camper hitch had cracked. So as I finished fueling the van he went into the gas station to use their phone. He paid for gas, got back into the van and as we were driving away I noticed we were headed in a different direction. Before I could ask, he declared, “Change of plans. We’re going to Richie’s to get this thing welded.“
When we arrived I walked quickly past my father to the door and then walked in acting as if I was calm and cool. Richie was bent over the engine on one of the Modifieds that was slightly raised on the lift. He glanced over at me coming through the door and somewhat yelled, “Hey, it’s Lil’ Echo and the Nerf!”
Dad asked Richie where he should park the camper. Richie told him to wait a minute, he needed to ask Billy (Nacewicz) when he’d be able to get to it. Richie wiped his hands off with a rag and walked to the west bay and disappeared into the back room.
We overheard Billy going over everything he needed to get done and Billy got louder as both he and Richie appeared walking back towards us. We overheard Billy ending the the conversation with, “..before I can even look at Bob’s camper!“
As Billy walked by us he said hello and walked out the front door, to which he went to look at the camper, Richie comes back and says, “We’ll get it done for you, Bob.“
Dad says, “Thanks Rich. What are we talking about? Later this evening? Tomorrow morning?“
“No. More like Wednesday night or Thursday morning.” and from the expression on my father’s face Richie busted up laughing. “It’ll be a couple days before he can get to it. Big weekend coming. We have some extra work to be done. Don’t worry about it, you and Lil’ Echo can stay with us.“
My Dad expressed his appreciation for the offer to stay with him, but said he preferred not to intrude on Richie’s home life. Richie looked at him for a minute a tad puzzled and maybe even a slight bit offended.
“Okay, if that’s how you want to be. Set the camper up over there just inside the door (the west bay) and camp out here for all I care.” Then a grin came over his face and he lightly back handed me on the chest saying, “Lil’ Echo can be our guard dog.. Woof.“
The next couple of days I spent mostly following Richie around the shop. It was a trip for me. I got to see a slightly different side of him I hadn’t seen before. If I was a pain in the ass, well, Richie never let me in on it.
I inquired a few times as to the color photo of him and -whom I later found to be Linda Vaughn- tacked to the wall by the phone. The answer I received from Richie was, “That’s my favorite picture.“
“Why’s that?” I asked.
A moment of silence.. “Hmm.. Uh.. Because it was from our second win at Daytona.“
“It’s only you and that lady. No crew or friends, just you and her and it’s your favorite?“
I then asked, “What’re you looking at?“
“I was looking at a photographer.“, Richie says.
“That camera guy must’ve been laying on his belly taking photos.” I remarked completely oblivious.
“Enough about the picture, get over here and hold this for me..“
We had a conversation about how he got his number. He told me that he started off in Modifieds with the number 6. To which I inquired why he changed it. He replied that he ran against Maynard Troyer and Maynard had the number first and was known for it so he changed his to 61.
Since he had mentioned Maynard, I started talking about how Maynard’s cars were always good looking and shiny. I asked him about his paint job, not the color per say, but why he didn’t have chrome like Maynard. He stood up from being hunched over the engine. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, which was holding a screw driver, and said to me with a smile, “Because, pretty doesn’t make it go fast.“
I giggled and replied, “Well it sure seems to work for Maynard!“
His smile left and he looked at me quick, “Why don’t you go get me some rags or go outside and play in traffic.“
Off I went to fetch some rags. Playing in traffic didn’t seem very appealing at the time.
I held his rags, stuffed in my back pockets, his tools while he worked and I ran to the tool box to get him things. -Heck, I was so preoccupied, I can’t recall where my father was all that time until everyone went home or I went to bed- I even answered the phone a couple times with specific orders regarding answering, “Sales people hang up on the third ring, so don’t answer it until after the third ring!“
The few times I did answer the shop phone it really threw the callers off, “Uh…? I’m sorry, I must have the wrong number.“
Richie got a kick out of it. I’d answer back, “No, this is Richie’s shop. Who do ya’ want to talk to?“
Of course being the youngster that I was, I had been eyeballing his Mod in the east bay, just inside the front door, and itching to sit in it since we arrived. Periodically I would mosey on over to the window, just lean into the window or start sliding my leg over the door and Billy, who had to either be clairvoyant or one of just good timing would catch me and say; “No sitting in the cars!” and again, “Not now, maybe later!” and again, “They’re not toys, Echo!“.. as he would walk by to retrieve something for his current task at hand without even looking in my direction.
Well, later Tuesday morning, while Billy was in the other bay behind the wall welding, another gentleman was out back, and Richie was hunched over the other Modified, I strolled slowly over to the east bay and slipped into the Pinto bodied Modified. About the time I got comfortable and reached up to put my hands on the wheel..
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THAT CAR?!?! Get out of there! No one said you could do that! How many times have I told you?“, Billy screamed as I scrambled from the cockpit so much so that my feet were hanging on the door and my hands were on the shop floor, “They’re not toys!”
As soon as I was completely out of the car I went the opposite direction of where Billy was coming from and made a “B” line straight to the camper.
Of course I knew I had done wrong, but in my 11 year old thick cranium I couldn’t understand why I could sit in Polverari’s car, Mario’s car, had free reign in every car at Troyer’s huge airplane hanger of a shop, along with so many other race shops, but not Richie’s.
At that moment in my eyes, no matter how nice he had been to me in the past, Billy was now ‘the bad guy’.
Early afternoon Richie started yelling for me. I opened the door to the camper and looked out. Richie asked if I wanted to take a ride and off we went. -trying to remember where we went I’m drawing a blank, but I remember the conversation very well- After a little silence Richie says, “You know, Billy’s a real good guy, right? He’s joked with you before at the track.”
I answered, “Yeah, but now he doesn’t like me very much.”
Richie says, “He didn’t say that. He’s just doing his job. He’s protecting his work. Racing’s what feeds our families just as selling subscriptions and going to all these tracks you visit with your Dad puts clothes on your back and food on your family’s table. He works hard on the cars. We all do. Billy is protecting our work.“
“But he really screamed at me. He was pissed.“
Richie says; “Your dad doesn’t let you talk like that so don’t start now. Billy’s reminded you how many times not to get in the cars? But you still did, didn’t you?” I nodded in silent agreement. “Just listen to Billy and respect what he says, okay? You do that and everything will be fine.“
I nodded again..
On the way back to the shop he asked if I wanted a job cleaning his office and of course I said yes.
We walked into the shop, took a left as we got in the door and arrived at a door located by the front of the shop. He opened the door and there are all these trophies from wall to wall. Some piled in the east corner. Some piled in the west corner and some sitting upright on the floor. All a mess. I stood there like a deer in the headlights. During that time I failed to notice he had walked away and brought back some rags to which he lifted the back of my shirt and shoved them into both of my back pockets along with a half spray bottle of glass cleaner. “Dust them off, clean them and straighten it up the best you can. After that, maybe, just maybe you can get in one of the cars by the end of the day.“
As I grew older and recalled that memory I realized Richie was just trying to keep me out of his hair for a while, -much like watching haulers in the Riverside Park parking lot- but at the time I thought cleaning up that “office” was something of major importance on 608 Calvert.
A couple hours later the door opened and in walks Richie. He looks around and says, “Hey look’it there! (pointing down) I can see the floor! How’d that get there? .. Looks good.“
He stepped in and said; “Okay, Jarrett, pick out a trophy to bring home until I need it back.“
I stood there in shock. I didn’t believe what I just heard so I looked at him and, “Huh?“
“Pick out a trophy. Any of ’em.“
I looked all over the room and while I scanned I was thinking I didn’t want to grab anything huge like the enormous Oswego trophy. I decided to go small and pick a Riverside Park regular fifty lap feature winning trophy.
“All that silver and gold and you pick that? C’mon, pick a good one.”
I put it back and scanned the room over and over long enough that Richie said, “Hurry it up. We got work to do.“
I walked over and picked up a pretty nice trophy that was a big cup on a wood base. I turned around and held it up by the handles for Richie’s approval. “This one?“
“Sure. It’s yours.” Richie said and backed up to let me walk out of the room. “You earned it. When I need it I’ll know where to find it, but take good care of it. That’s a good one. Put it in the back of your van where it won’t get wrecked.“
I went and put it in the back of the black Speedway Scene van. While doing so I thought about earlier when I didn’t listen to Billy and what Richie told me in the ride earlier. As soon as I shut the doors to the van I sought Billy out. I walked up to him in the back of the east bay and said, “Billy? I’m sorry for not listening to you. I promise I’ll listen to you from now on.“
Billy told me, “The best kind of helper listens to what they’re told and if you didn’t hear it right the first time you should ask again. Okay?“
“Okay. Now go do something useful will ya?.. Except DON’T get in the cars! (pointing a finger at me and smiling) Got it?“
That next day, mid morning, I was in the camper when Billy knocked on the small half-door while heading for the back room behind the west bay, “Richie wants your help.“
I came out of the camper, walked up to Richie who was in the east bay and announced my presence. Richie points to the driver side door while rummaging through a box and says, “Now’s your chance, get in.“
I looked at him as if he was trying to trick me into getting yelled at. I scanned around as if I was being pranked or set up. “What the heck are you doing? You heard me, get in. You’re not scared of heights are you, because I’m putting you up on the lift?“
Uh, yeah I’m REALLY SCARED of heights, “No. I’m okay.“
Richie. “When I say so, I want you to pump the brakes. Okay?“
“Okay.” I got in the car. The lift goes up and.. And.. And.. “Hello?“
“I’m here, I had to grab something.” Richie yells from what sounds like behind the car. His voice got closer and then, “Okay, Start pumping the breaks until I say so.“
“Okay!” I started pumping the brakes.
“Stop.” After a moment or two, “Alright, press the breaks as hard as you can.. Are you pressing them hard?“
Struggling, with a grunt, “Yes!“
“Press harder. Use both feet, Jarret!“
At this particular moment in time I had my left hand on the cage by the door, my right hand pulling on the steering wheel, my shoulders against the driver’s seat and both feet on the brake pressing with all my might.. “Keep pressing.. Keep press-“
– BAM!!! –
The brake peddle slammed straight to the floor board and at this moment in time there were two things occupying my thoughts..
1. I just broke Richie’s car and he’s going to kill me.
B. Worse yet. When Richie is done with me there’s Billy. And Billy is going to say, “That’s why I said to stay out of the cars!” and then HE was going to kill me!
The car starts lowering in silence and my stomach was filled with butterflies so much so that if I opened my mouth it wouldn’t have surprised me if a few Monarchs flew out. I was frozen in the same ‘hand on the cage, hand on the wheel, and both feet on the pedal’ position… And I am going to die..
As the car is lowering I see the top of Richie’s head then a splat of fluid on his forehead above his brow, a bit on his nose and the right side of his face. His chin had a bit dripping off too.. He is just staring at me with a straight face. –Yeah, I’m a dead kid–
He stopped the lift to where the window opening by the door is at his chest and wipes the fluid off of his face with a rag..
“I broke your car. I’m really sorry.” is all I could manage to quietly whisper.
Richie steps closer, places both hands on the door, peers in and then grinned , “You did good.“
-What??? I did good?- “But I broke your car.“
Richie smiles and says; “You broke the car, but it’s better than it happening at the track.“
-Huh? What?- “I broke the brakes and that’s good?”
“That could’ve happened this weekend at the races. You did good.. But now I’m going to tell Billy.” Richie screams across the shop to Billy; “Billy, Lil’ Echo got into the car and broke it.“
A couple minutes later Billy yells something from behind the wall and comes over –while I’m still sitting in the car TRAPPED and awaiting my execution-. He and Richie discuss something briefly and then Billy walks over to the window. -Here it comes-
“I told you to stay outta’ the cars, didn’t I?” Smiling as he said it. While walking away he says out loud, “See? You are good for something, Echo!“
Thursday morning, just as Richie had said, Billy welded and repaired the camper. We were ready to roll. That is until my father opened the back of the van to throw some things in and.. “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, JARED?!?!“
He comes out holding the trophy, “Did he give this to you?“
My father looks the trophy over and says, “I highly doubt that! You take this back and apologize right now!“
“Dad, he gave me it to hold onto. I cleaned..” But my father wasn’t listening and just walked past me with trophy in hand. I followed him as he walked up to Richie.
My father held up the trophy, but before he could speak Richie says, “He cleaned my trophy room and I let him pick out a trophy. That was the deal. It’s his to hold onto.“
My father looked at the trophy, looked at me, looked back at Richie, looked at the trophy again then back at Richie and said, “I’m sorry, but this year you’ve given him 3 shirts, a jacket and a hat. You fixed the camper. That’s more than enough. Besides..
He hands the trophy out to Richie, “If you’ve ever seen his room, there’s just no way in hell you would be letting my son take home your Race of Champions trophy.“
-All these years later, after seeing numerous photos, I believe my father spoke of the wrong trophy or I recall the wrong name being said. Not sure, but I remember how the trophy looked and felt in my hands. I believe I had actually picked out one of the Martinsville Speedway trophies. I also remember my father’s reaction left Richie standing there with his mouth open.
Pebbles at Stafford..
One night at Stafford the track management allowed me to accompany my father into the pits in order to assist him handing flyers out for Racearama ’82 or something to that effect. Quite frankly, my father had so much going on with promotional ideas and such, it could’ve been for anything.. So we arrived at Polverari’s hauler and I was checking out the car from a distance as the crew worked on it. While standing there at a distance I get hit in the back by something small and heard whatever it was click off the ground. I turned and looked around. Nothing. I look across the packed pit area. Nothing.
I went back to watching the crew work on the car only to get hit again as a pebble bounced off me and landed by my right foot. I spun around quick, scanned the pits close by. Across the pits I spot Richie by George Kent’s hauler in what looked like a deep conversation. I even scanned the crowd to see if Val was around because he was quite the prankster as well, but came up empty again. So I went back to admiring my favorite driver’s car.
Not long after came another pebble. I spun around fast and saw Richie, still by Kent, but he was scanning the sky and.. whistling? Kent, however is looking at Richie and laughing. At the same time I see Richie drop a handful of pebbles. Richie then turns and looks at me with a big grin. I pointed at Richie who immediately gestures “shame-shame” with an index finger pointed up waving side to side and then yells with his right hand cupped by the side of his face, pointing back at me with his left hand, “It’s not polite to point!“
All the while he has that trademark grin on his face. I laughed and followed it up by sticking my tongue out at him, “Ththththth!“
I turned back to Polverari’s hauler. A minute or two passes and I get hit with a bunch of pebbles. This time, before I have the chance to spin around, the back of my Polverari shirt gets pulled out of my pants and over my head, hockey style and I’m being grabbed by the arms. I start yelling; “Hey, Stop it! Leave my shirt alone!“
The familiar voice of Richie grunts; “Get that no good shirt off. Where’s the one’s I gave you?“
While struggling to stop him from removing my shirt in front of everyone in the pit area I screamed, “I don’t wear your shirts where Bob races! LET ME GO!”
He let me go, but not before he got my 711 shirt off and everyone around us laughing.
The T-Shirt Game..
Between 1978 and 1984 I accumulated a couple dozen Richie shirts (or so I thought). It really picked up when we started traveling to Spencer, Shangri-La, New Egypt and Oswego more often. If we were at any facility that ran asphalt Modifieds, twenty percent of the time I was wearing a Speedway Scene shirt and the other eighty percent, I was wearing a Bob Polverari shirt proudly, but that would usually end before practice even began, only if it wasn’t one of Polverari’s home tracks..
It was always the same. We would get to the track and pull the Speedway Scene Firebird (’80-mid ’81) or Van (mid ’81 to ’84) into the main gates behind the grand stand. After setting up early my father would head to the pit area. Upon his return he would have an orange shirt with him and when he got close enough to me he would more often than not throw the shirt at me underhanded and say; “Richie said Bob doesn’t race here. Put it on.“
When we saw him after the races the ribbing would commence, “See! You’re wearing my shirt, so I AM your favorite.” (-ding- And the typical questioning and ribbing would start over again!)
Then came one race at New Egypt Speedway. Polverari was chasing the NASCAR Budweiser Northeast Regional Points in 1982. I was unaware because it was early in the season, we were hitting much more dirt races and we had been away from Stafford, the Park and Thompson more often.
We arrived at the track, set up inside the gates and my father moseyed on into the pit area. A while later, right when practice was about to roll out I was sitting in the stands with my “Black Magic 711” shirt on. My father arrives with no shirt in his hands. He sits down beside without looking at me and without expression.
I was puzzled and quite disappointed, to be honest. Is the little joke between Richie and I over? Where’s the shirt? I know Richie’s here. Heck they blew past us on the interstate’s breakdown lane a few miles before the exit! The roar of the engines filled the air. My father looks at me straight faced.
“What?” I put my hands up gesturing ‘What gives?’
No answer. The the first group of Modifieds start up and begin rolling onto the track. That’s when my father stands up, glances over the fence by the pit exit and leans over, “Richie says you’re awful lucky tonight.“
My Dad points to New Egypt’s pit gate as Bob Polverari in his black Modified with the familiar yellow 711 numbers rolled out onto the racing surface. I sat stunned as my father busted up laughing at my expression and walked back to the Speedway Scene booth.
At the beginning of this part I wrote, “or so I thought” because..
In 1992 while my father and I were heading to Sugar Hill Speedway to work (he as the promoter and announcer, me as the chief starter) we were reminiscing about the 80’s which led to the subject of Richie. After a couple good laughs I brought up, “I remember all the shirts he gave me in those years. I had to have a few dozen by the time it was all said and done.“
“You didn’t have as many as you thought.” my father answered with a chuckle.
“Are you kidding? I had a butt-load of Richie’s shirts!” I fired back as if my father had lost his mind.
“No. No you didn’t.” He said smiling and looking out the passenger window. “After you accumulated about a dozen shirts I told Richie that from now on I’ll bring some of what you already have because you already had way too many. So I started grabbing the recent ones out of your drawer before we hit the road and if we saw him before he hit the pit area I’d hand him one of them for later. If we didn’t catch him I’d bring it to the pits with me, tucked into the back of my belt. So, when I returned with his message, I’d give you a shirt. Oh, he was in on it, you just didn’t have as many as you thought.“
“Huh? Are you serious?” There was silence in the car. I thought back and came to the conclusion he was b-s-ing me. Then a thought hit me. I had him now.., “What about when we were at Spencer then Shangri-La or New Egypt then Oswego? How do you explain that?“
“I took two shirts out of your drawer after you were all packed and did the same thing.” my father answered with a huge belly deep laugh.
“You son of a…“
I thought, seven years since Richie’s been gone and he’s still pulling one over on me.
Well played, Richie. Well played.
The Last Time I Saw Richie..
In 1985 my father reluctantly stepped down from his position with Speedway Scene and accepted a second stint as Promoter and Race Director for Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A..
Through his travels with Speedway Scene he had made many friends. One of which was Jerry Cook who had since retired from racing and whom in 1985 was given the reigns to the new NASCAR Modified Tour. That connection helped my father get a NASCAR Modified Tour date for the non-NASCAR sanctioned Claremont Speedway which was quite the feat for any promoter at the time and a BIG DEAL for Claremont Speedway and their great region of racing fans.
The Tour stop was the very last time I would ever see Richie compete or talk to. That day started off with seeing him at the pit booth when they pulled onto the speedway grounds. I had just brought more sign-in sheets to the booth when they must’ve pulled in. While speaking with some of the folks at the booth and unaware of their arrival, I hear from behind me, “Hey-hey! It’s not so little Echo!“
Recognizing the voice I turned around and Richie was right there with that trademark smile, “Hey Richie. How are you?“
He put out his right hand and I shook it, “You know I should’ve brought the trophy along to give it to you in front of your father after the race, just to see the look on his face. I thought about it after we left the shop.”
We both laughed about it. Things like him remembering the trophy from a few years prior just made my day. He asked where my dad was. I told him he was doing his typical race day, chicken-with-its-head-cut-off-routine, “I’m sure he’ll be by your hauler before practice starts.“
They signed in. I wished him and the guys a good race and off they rode into the pit area.
After the event was over, won by the man himself, I walked into the pit area to his hauler. There he was greeting, shaking hands, saying thank you’s to the many congratulations he was receiving from the fans who made their way to see him.
I waited until a few finished their conversation before I walked up and shared my congratulations as well. I told him he ran a great race and looked like he had the field handled. I asked him how he liked the track, being that it was his first time there, “It’s a neat place. Fun to drive. Going to have to talk with your dad to get with Cookie and get us back here next year. Fun place. Too bad about the weather though. That kept a lot of the fans away.“
We talked a few more minutes and said our goodbyes until the next time. But there wouldn’t be a next time..
When Richie passed Bones wrote what I personally consider the most perfect tribute piece for any driver that I have ever read. Quite honestly, I don’t think anyone else could have captured the emotions we all felt. It bled off the pages. Rightly titled, “The Day The Music Died” couldn’t have been more accurate regarding the feelings of Richie’s fans, friends, family and the Modified community as a whole.
If you were around back in those days, you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, the shock and the sinking feeling of dread that came once the news of Richie’s passing settled in.
I still tear up regarding the memory of first finding out about Richie’s passing, it was my father who broke it to me.
We were still living in Claremont, New Hampshire and I was attending a friend’s high school girls soccer game. I heard my name being called from behind me. I turned and was surprised to see it was my father as the tone sounded nothing like what I was used to. As he drew closer I could see why his voice was unrecognizable. He was trying to scream my name while all choked up in tears. His face was red and eyes were bloodshot.
Seeing the expression on his face, my immediate thought was that something had happened to my older brother or our Mother. I walked a few fast steps towards him and asked, “What’s wrong, Dad? What’s going on? Are mom and Shane okay? What’s the matter?“
“No. No. ..” He let out a long winded sigh and looked up at the clouds, “No, Jared, it’s Richie…“
He could see my bewilderment. -Richie? Who the hell is Richie? The only Richie I know is..-
“Richie’s gone.” he said, “I got a few calls earlier and made a couple myself to be sure.. Richie was killed in a practice crash at Martinsville. He’s gone, Jared. Richie’s g-…“
My father couldn’t hold back the tears as his face contorted in a failed attempt to keep a cry at bay. He embraced me and started to sob, bowing his head. I hugged him, still somewhat confused. I stood there with my arms around him looking over his shoulder in absolute disbelief. My thoughts were of all those years watching him race, I had never seen him get in a bell-ringer or bad wreck.. Richie was invincible. “No. That can’t be right. Are they sure it was Richie? Are you positive it was him?“
In between the sobs I heard lightly, “It was Richie. It was Richie, Jared. He’s gone. We’ve all lost Richie.”
He tried to get me to go back to the car and ride home with him. I passed, still in shock, and told him, “I think I need to walk home. I’ll see you in a little bit, Dad.“
Without another word said, he just gave a nod, bowed his head as tears continued to roll off his cheeks and turned to walk away. I stood and watched him with his head down only stopping before walking through the gate and briefly looking up to the clouds again. I’ll never forget that memory of him pausing and looking to the overcast skies. Not many times does a child see his father in a terribly emotional state. That pause and gaze to the heavens still breaks my heart thinking about it.
After watching him drive away, I walked home the long way. It really hit me as I crossed the street from the park. I struggled to see through the burning tears to make sure I didn’t trip over the curb when reaching the sidewalk on the other side. There were a lot of tears shed that night in the Echo household just as was the case around the Northeast racing community as word continued to spread. We ALL had lost Richie.
I thought of his family, his girls and young son, his crew, a band of guys who seemed the tightest of friends, the folks we knew in racing that would be most effected by this terrible, terrible news. I also thought of Val and how he was dealing with it. It was nothing short of dreadful to think about how many this was effecting. My father even tried contacting Val for the first time since leaving Speedway Scene, but couldn’t get through.
The next day was my Freshman football game. My number was 78 (only a die hard race fan could figure out how I chose that number; 711, 61, 8.. Polverari, Evans, Shampine..). That morning in school I spoke to my coaches and asked if I could switch my jersey to 61. When I struggled through tears telling them why, the answer came by way of one of my freshman coaches placing the 61 jersey on my shoulder and a pat on the back.
That afternoon, as I sat by my locker fully dressed for the game, I bowed my head in my hands and said these words as my eyes weld up, “Richie, no matter what I ever said to you before, no matter how much we joked around, YOU have ALWAYS been and will FOREVER be a favorite.. Thank you for the memories and giving me some of your time. Rest in peace Richie. I’ll miss you. I’ll NEVER, forget you.”
Yes.. Richie was, is and always will be the King of the Modifieds. Yes.. He was and still is in my and many others eyes, the greatest Modified driver ever. Yes.. He was the “Racer’s Voice” of the division, the name that to this day represents the division.. But most of all, to many of us that grew up watching him and were fortunate enough to be around him periodically, he was more than that. He was Richie, who knew you by name and made you feel like you were important. A driver that could cater to the fans like no other. In my honest opinion, ALL of those things mixed together are indeed the reason why he was loved, admired and respected by so many. To me, THAT along with his kids are what makes up his legacy.
Folks talk about his NASCAR National Championships, his track titles, his big race wins, his stats, the hi-jinx and partying after the races, but with all that said his greatest attribute, in my opinion, was Richie’s dedication to the fans.
Through all the time and effort, long hours at his shop and on the road, his valuable time doing interviews for radio, newspapers and racing papers to help promote the sport of Modified racing and promote certain events for promoters, it’s the memories he gave us fans that made him the King of the Modifieds.
As I said in the beginning, Richie always had time for not only HIS fans, but ALL fans. If you had a chance to meet him you walked away thinking you knew him. A rare DNF, wreck, incident on the track or any other deal that would put any competitor in a sour mood never made him unapproachable. THAT is what makes Richie THEE champion of the Modifieds to this very day.
I always wondered how a driver of his caliber, who could strike up a conversation with any stranger at the race track, sharing his time and some laughs, yet look so vulnerable when a mic was shoved in his face.
It used to make me laugh while at the track or the Racerama and someone walks up with a mic or worse yet, mic and camera, and starts asking questions. Instantly Richie would (hide the cigarette if he was smoking) start looking around his surroundings, glancing down at the ground, and ending every answer with a “uh-huh” or “so..”, an up-nod of the head or any combination of the three. Even in victory lane he seemed shy during interviews. But not a minute after the particular media turned the mic, recorder or camera off he was back to his same old self.
This is where he always seemed so damned comfortable.. with the fans. His people. THIS, in my opinion, is what defined Richie Evans on the track and off.
For certain two things I would ask if granted wishes would be to ride shotgun one more time with my father and take in one last race with him. The other would be to travel to a race where Richie was competing. Walk up to Richie and wait for him to say, “So am I your favorite yet?” Just once.. But that’ll have to wait until my days are up and I see my father again. Hopefully that time will come, but a long time from now.
As is the case with quite a few of the Forewords and Post Scripts I’ve added to my father’s republished NERF’ers Corner columns as well as many of my own penned RELOADED’s, this piece was my way of sharing some, but not all of the personal experiences, memories and interactions I was fortunate enough to have had. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did sharing them.
In return, I’d like to encourage anyone who may have a Richie Evans story, to share it by either leaving it in the comment section with this column or on the Richie Evans – Nine Time NASCAR Modified Champion – Tribute Facebook page where young, old and everyone in between, including Richie’s family and friends, have been enjoying reading and sharing some fantastic memories and photos of Richie.
Again, I have my father to thank for these great memories and letting me be his sidekick up and down the roads from racetrack to racetrack, spring through fall for many years.
With this I bid you all a reluctant adieu. As of this moment in time this is the final RELOADED column. A good one to bookend with, I think. Rest assured, the NERF’ers Corners from days gone by will continue to be republished in memory of Robert “Bob” Echo and those of days gone by.
All the best to you my fellow racing fans. Be sure to SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHORT TRACKS! That’s where the real life stars of our sport compete each and every week and the real racing is.
Thank you for stopping by and as my father always said, “Till next time, Keep on trackin’.”
All the best..