50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Richie Evans 1941-1985
“The Ultimate Racer”
When one talks of Modified racing, Richie Evans’ name always comes up. Evans was a two-time Modified Track Champion at Stafford with 37 career wins. Considered the ultimate Modified racer, Evans set the standard which is still looked upon today.
Evans began racing in 1964 at the Utica-Rome Speedway, then an asphalt paved 1/3-mile oval. Throughout the late 1960’s, Evans raced primarily in New York State running both NASCAR and independent ovals. Banned by NASCAR for running the outlaw ovals, Evans continued to race. It was during this outlaw period that the legend began to grow. Eddie Flemke, a NASCAR Modified veteran, took a shine to the young renegade. Flemke raced for a living and drove the Evans team car to many NASCAR Modified wins at Malta and Utica-Rome. Even as a car owner and mechanic, Evans was not allowed in NASCAR pit areas. It was more of an inconvenience than a problem, as a pit was set up in the parking lot. Evans would prep the car and Eddie would drive it in, win the feature and Evans would drive home, thumbing his nose at the sanctioning body.
About 1970, Evans, who was now a full time, professional racer, took NASCAR to court over ‘Right to Work’ laws. He won his case, and was allowed to race in both NASCAR and non-sanctioned events. Once Evans won his case, NASCAR never again suspended a driver for racing in non-sanctioned events.
Evans hit full stride in 1973, teaming up with Gene DeWitt, a concrete supplier in upstate New York. He arrived armed with two new Pinto bodied Modifieds built by Clayton ‘Sonny’ Seamon, and hit the road running for the championship which, in the fall of 1973, was his.
Jerry Cook, who was the 1972 champion, ran to finish while Evans ran to win. From 1974 to 1977, Evans concentrated on the money races and let Cook do the traveling. Evans would take the championship back in 1978 and he succeeded in winning eight consecutive titles. Evans’ last title came in 1985. During the warm ups at Martinsville in 1985 something went wrong. The familiar big, orange No. 61 slammed into the turn 3 wall and Evans passed away at 44 years of age.
During his career Richie Evans won over 30 track championships. In addition to his two at Stafford, he won four at Thompson. To his credit he had over 500 feature wins including three Spring Sizzlers®, two Thompson 300s, three Race of Champions and two Daytona Speedway Modified events. He was elected to the International Motorsport Hall of Fame at Talladega, Alabama in 1996, inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame and was named to the ‘Stafford Salutes NASCAR at 50’ List of ‘The 50 Greatest Modified Drivers of All Time’.
Of all of his awards, the most cherished was being elected NASCAR’s ‘Most Popular’ Modified driver nine times, a fitting tribute to one who was and still is considered the ultimate racer. He raced hard, played hard, and was respected by all that knew him.
By: Phil Smith