Monday, January 23, 2012

A Lesson Learned From "King Of The Modifieds" Richie Evans

He was a friend of my Husband's family having spent the first 16 years of his life living down the road from them. He was typical of most of the farm boys I've met. Laid back, good hearted, helpful people, with a wild streak that makes you want to shake your head at their antics and wonder whether there's something in the air on top of that hill. Maybe it's learning to drive tractors at a young age, or possibly the aroma of cow manure they're exposed to, but they all seem to have a need for speed. A need which life seems to lessen as they age, except in Richie's case.

He left the farm, learned auto mechanics and opened his own garage in the city I lived in some 12 miles from his home. By the 1970's when I first met him, he was an established stock car driver on many of the short tracks found in New York State and surrounding areas. I knew him and his future second wife through my place of employment. They were customers there. She was a flight attendant. I saw more of her than I did of him, but he would come in when she wasn't in town to pick up their things.

I wasn't a NASCAR fan. I'd been to the Utica-Rome Speedway once in the late 1960's, and thought it was ok, but nothing I'd ever find myself following. He was just a customer at the dry cleaning establishment that I worked in. I blame the fact that my first car was a muscle car on Richie. I've also often told my Hubby it was probably all Richie's fault that we married. My brief experience with Richie taught me that there were some very desirable qualities underneath all that country boy craziness. Things like honesty, loyalty and a willingness to help when needed. Of course, you do have to hang on to those qualities for dear life when you're traveling at 90 miles an hour on the fast lane called living. Those country boys give the phrase "misspent youth" a whole 'nother meaning.

It was September of 1978 and I had decided I was going to buy myself my first car. I'd gone to a local auto dealer who sold used vehicles and was looking at both a 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster and a Ford Torino. I didn't make a decision about which one I wanted because while I trusted this particular auto dealer, I knew very little about cars. I had decided to ask my Dad to look them over and was discussing the situation with a fellow employee when Richie came in. He'd overheard enough of the conversation to know what I was planning and he knew the mechanic at that particular dealership. Richie suggested I speak to the mechanic there and see which one he would recommend. That's what I did and I wound up a single 20 something owner of a fast car. I LOVED that car.

Getting married to my first husband and changing jobs took me away from any opportunity to get to know Richie in any other manner. I never became a fan of his and never considered myself to be anything more than an acquaintence for whom he did a kindness. I know so much more about him now. Partly due to stories told by Hubby's family and friends, and mostly due to his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this past Friday. I had no idea he was as important to the sport of racing as that.

"Rapid Roman" Richie Evans won 9 NASCAR National Modified Championships including 8 in a row from 1978 to 1985 when he was killed running a practice lap in Martinsville, Va at the Martinsville Speedway. He died from a skull fracture after hitting the wall on a turn. So far he is the only Hall of Fame inductee that never drove in the top NASCAR cup series.

This past weekend there's been much laughter and a few tears taking place in the hills of Westernville, NY. For many it isn't the honor bestowed on him by NASCAR that is what holds him dear in their hearts. It's the barn dances and the gas stolen from his Dad's pump with his Mom's collusion. It's the rides at breakneck speed over the hills and in a few cases through the pastures and the woods. For some it may be the knowledge of who it actually was that saw to it that paint from the City of Rome's Highway garage found it's way to Richie's to be used on his first number 61 stock cars.

Since 1987 when I first met my husband, my life has overlapped Richie's life in ways that I would never have imagined back in 1978 when he helped me choose my first car. I've met guys named Speed, Stubby and Cubby who were friends and relatives of his. I've heard their stories and marveled at how he managed to live until adulthood. I bought my current car from the man that taught him auto mechanics.  My Oldest step-son owns 13 acres of what was Richie's boyhood home. The barn is directly across the road. I took this picture from the front door of step-son's home back in 2007 I believe. I planned on painting the scene, never got around to it.

Richie was 44 when he died. I didn't really know him so I don't know how he dealt, or if he dealt with the knowledge that every lap he drove could be his last. What I do know is he grabbed onto everything that life had to offer and he wrung from it everything he could in the time he had. There's a lesson there that I think we all ignore in life. We only get one go round, we need to make the most of it. Can't be doing that when we dwell on everything that could go wrong. You know? Maybe I better start that painting. Might not do justice to it, but I'll never know until I try.


  1. Sherry,
    Thank you for bringing some sunshine to a dreary
    day. I think we all have a Richie.



  2. Great story Sherry. I'm a big race fan (Formula 1 mostly) and Richie was always in my awareness, setting this record or that, although, like you, I never saw him race. 44 was a really old man in that sport back then.

  3. Sarge,

    Anytime you need more sunshine, give a holler, there's LOTS more where that came from. I'm a veritable encyclopedia of northern redneck wildness. Some tales are true, some not, and ALL came from the family I married into and their friends.

    Mr. C,

    That old man was racing up to 5 races a week. Which may be why he didn't move to cup when it started to be a thing. With his ability, he was winning way more money than he could have made back when cup racing wasn't paying much. He had 5 kids he was supporting. Did right by them according to his widow and his ex-wife.

    As for me, I just wish I'd have taken the time to get to know him better. From what I know now, he was a lot like my Hub and both of Hub's brothers.

  4. Sherry,
    Over our way in New York State we had the Bodine brothers, Geoff, Bret, and Todd. All three moved from the Chemung Motor Speedway to NASCAR and eventually shifted out of the area. Geoff Bodine retired from the sport and went into bobsled design for US Olympians of all things.

    1. Geoff Bodine was a speaker on the special that NASCAR produced for the induction. Seems Richie and Geoff hated each other but did so with respect for each other. We could all learn a lesson from that these days.

  5. You write well a sad story.
    Just passing through.

    1. Thank you for the complement. It was sad especially since he had young children who lost their Dad when he died. Nice of you to pass through, feel free to stop on by again.