June 20, 2011


By Brian Danko                           

How many people are there who go by one name and you know immediately who they are. Elvis, Cher, Madonna, Oprah and Richie.

Well certainly all but Richie are internationally known but in the auto racing world mention Richie and people automatically know who you are talking about.

Richie Evans was modified racing. He personified what it meant to be a modified driver and now, he is where he should be, in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Last week, Evans was included in the third class of NASCAR’s elite.  Richie you see wasn’t just a nine time champion, who won more than 475 races,  he defined a division.

There have been thousands of drivers who have raced in the modified division but there was only one driver whose name was just as large as the division he raced in.

I have to admit that when the Hall of Fame was conceived, I said they should call it the NASCAR Sprint Cup Hall of Fame because I feared that is what it would be and I now will say sorry. Sorry to NASCAR for assuming that they would only want the Cuppers in the Hall of Fame. To NASCAR and to the voters, thank you for making me say I am sorry.

But Richie was and is just as big as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt and you can’t deny NASCAR’s only nine time champion shouldn’t be in the holy halls of the Hall of Fame.

Every time the cameras show the inside of the Hall of Fame, there is Richie’s famous number 61, the bright orange modified gracing the hall and how could you have the car in the hall without the person who made it famous.

From the time that I began covering auto racing and modified racing, Richie was already a champion and he just continued to follow that up with title after title after title. Throw in 26 track championships up and down the east coast and you begin to understand the impact he made on the modified division.

Richie wasn’t just big in the modified division. When the International Race of Champions was formed (IROC) it was a series of the world’s greatest drivers, driving  identically prepared cars and the only distinguishing mark was the car colors with the drivers name on the side of the door. There was blue, pink, yellow, purple, green, red and Evans Orange. You get the notion this guy was something special.

Now you would think that a driver who won with the regularly that he did, he would be despised by others in modified racing but you would be dead wrong. Richie was adored by the fans, drivers looked up too and wanted to be like Richie, the media loved Richie and the promoters loved seeing that orange #61 pulling into their pit area.

How many drivers were liked and respected by all. One driver.  Richie Evans.

While there are many perceived Kings of this and King of that, there is only one King of modified racing and that is Richie. With apologies to Teddy Christopher, the king of modified racing today, T.C. would be just a commoner to Richie and that isn’t a knock on Teddy.

Even Kyle Petty said when Evans name was announced that now the “true King’ of racing was in the Hall of Fame. Not bad coming from the son of the ‘King’ Richard Petty.

Even Darrell Waltrp, himself a member of the third class was thrilled with Richie being in the elite circle of five.

When the modifieds went to a touring series, many complained of the miles on the road. They don’t know what miles on the road meant. In the days of Evans and longtime rival, Jerry Cook, the two Rome, N.Y., drivers who were chasing points at weekly NASCAR tracks up and down the east coast.

Friday night at Stafford, Saturday afternoon in North Carolina and Saturday night in Virginia and then end the weekend at Thompson Speedway, that it what it meant to chase points and nobody was better than Richie.

When you thrown in the fact, that Richie never was one to load up right away and head off to the next track. Not Richie, he and his crew chief Billy Nacewicz would usually be the last ones leaving after having a few beers and talking with fans and competitors alike.

When problems would arise in modified racing, it was Richie that the media wanted to talk with and it was NASCAR who wanted to know what Richie would suggest.

Richie would always be the one striving for this change or that change and it wasn’t to give himself an advantage, it was to give the modified car owners and drivers a better and sometimes cheaper way of racing.

Richie always did it with making the modified division the best division it could be. He cared about the modifieds and when that fateful day in October of 1985 when Evans life was cut short at the age of 44, modified racing began to die.

The modified division lost its spokesman. It lost a part of it soul. It lost the only true leader the series ever had. There are current drivers and past drivers AND car owners who could have taken over Richie’s voice but no one ever showed up.

You see Richie wouldn’t stand with what NASCAR was doing to the modified division. And he would tell them in no uncertain terms. NASCAR loved Richie and they feared Richie. Now, that my friends is powerful.

Walk through the pit area of any modified track and mention Richie and a thousand stories will begin to flow and everyone in the pit area knows the name Richie Evans regardless of their age.

Just like youngsters today know the names of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. They might not know a lot about them but they will know they played baseball.

Mention the name Richie and they will tell you he was a NASCAR driver, a multi time champion, he WAS A MODIFIED DRIVER.

There is a lot that will said about Richie in the months leading up the induction in Charlotte, N.C. in January and most if not all of it will be true.

While Richie has been gone 26 years now, his influence on the division is still around. It was Evans who gave a young driver named Mike Stefanik his first major break when Richie asked him to driver his backup car at Thompson Speedway in the early 1980’s. Mike Stefanik and Richie Evans are NASCAR’s ONLY TWO nine time champions. Not Petty, not Earnhardt, not Gordon. Stefanik’s NASCAR record shows seven modified titles and two Busch North championships.

Not only could Evans build a car and win with it, he also had an eye for talent.

When noted author Bones Bourcier was asked to write a book on Evans in big bold letters on the cover was just one word, RICHIE. Above it was the rest of the title, The Fast life and times of NASCAR’s greatest modified driver.

I felt the need to re-read the book this past week following Richie’s induction and it took just one night as the 363 pages seemed to go fast. Just like Richie Evans

Bones book captured Evans perfectly by the people who raced with him, against him and knew him the best.  While I didn’t know Richie like Bones did, I laughed at many of the stories, having heard them a thousand times before.

And while you will read more about Richie’s exploits, as I scanned the internet one day following his induction, there was a person name Jerry Dunn writing on NASCAR Racing Scene and he said while he respected Evans record he “can’t justify placing him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame at the expense of NASCAR’s pioneers of NASCAR’s highest form of racing.”

So if what that writer is stating is that once all of the Cup stars, car owners, and Cup crew chiefs are enshrined then we’ll allow other lower forms of NASCAR to be inducted. If it is that kind of narrow minded thinking NASCAR legends such as Tommy Ellis, Sam Ard, Jerry Cook, Larry Phillips and others wouldn’t stand a chance.

NASCAR and its voters did the right thing. It was as Eddie Flemke, Jr.  told Hartford Courant auto racing writer Shawn Courchesne that it was “one small step for NASCAR and one huge step for modified teams and fans everywhere.”

It is also huge for short trackers around the country who know that they too might have a chance at NASCAR highest honor without ever getting to the Sprint Cup series.

Richie Evans was and will always be a champion. Now he just added another part to his legacy.