50 Greatest Modified Drivers of All-Time: Gene Bergin 1932-2011
Gene Bergin was the first champion on asphalt (1967) at Stafford. Bergin is only one of two drivers to win on both dirt and asphalt at Stafford. Driving the famous M-6 of Beebe Zalenski, Bergin notched 11 of his 13 career wins on the asphalt in the M-6, but is best known for his last two, both in 1971 in the Bob Judkins 2X.
During the winter of 1970-1971, Judkins built a new chassis and couldn’t find a coupe body. A junkyard in Berlin, Connecticut provided a Pinto body and Judkins mounted it onto the new chassis. There was one problem: NASCAR wouldn’t allow it.
Stafford owner Jack Arute saw the need to upgrade the Modified division to allow late model bodies that fans could identify. After numerous phone calls to Daytona, Arute got the Pinto body approved and the Judkins 2X, with Bergin aboard, made its first appearance in mid-season. Bergin did what was expected and won. Bergin and the Pinto made history on Labor Day 1971. During time trials, Bergin became the first in the track’s history to break into the 20-second bracket. The 200-lapper was a ‘no contest’ affair as Bergin cleaned house and in doing so, started a trend with Judkins, which was called the ‘Pinto Revolution’.
Throughout his racing career, Bergin successfully drove Midgets, sprints, Indy cars, and even Grand Nationals (Winston Cup). He took victories from Maine to the Carolinas. He is a Riverside Park former track champion (1962) and among his other career highlights is one of Bergin’s best drives: the 1972 Race of Champions at Trenton. Bergin started dead last and at the end of 200 laps finished second.
Before he passed in 2011, Bergin enjoyed playing golf and was inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame. As part of Stafford Salutes NASCAR at 50 program, Bergin was voted to be honored as one of the ‘Fifty Greatest Modified Drivers of All-time’ as voted by the public.
By: Phil Smith