50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Steve Park
“A Cut Above the Rest”
Steve Park was born the same year that Stafford was paved: 1967. Park was all but raised at the race track as his dad, Bob, had been a regular competitor in the Modifieds at Islip and Freeport in his native Long Island, New York.
Voted by the fans as one of the Fifty Greatest Modified Drivers of All-Time, Park is a four-time winner at Stafford. His first win came on April 23, 1995 when he won the 80-lap SK Modified® portion of the Spring Sizzler. His second win, also a SK Modified® event, came on June 9, 1995. Win number three came on August 25, 1995 when he won a NASCAR Modified Tour 150 and his fourth win came on July 5, 1996 winning a 100-lap SK Modified® event.
Park’s roots in racing run deep. When he was old enough to walk, he spent countless hours helping his dad maintain their family owned Modifieds and at the ripe old age of 12, began racing Go-Karts. When he turned 16 in 1979, he moved up to racing four cylinder cars, but all during this period he worked and traveled with his dad. In fact, he was a vital part of his dad’s biggest achievement when he finished second to the late Richie Evans in the National Modified Point Standings.
His first big break came at the age of 17 when one night at Riverhead his dad was late in getting back from an A.R.C.A. qualifying session at Pocono. The Modified crew needed someone to qualify the car and decided to put Steve in it. He started dead last and proved to be a quick learner as he qualified the car in sixth spot. Park started racing Modifieds shortly thereafter and won his first Modified race in 1988 and backed it up with five wins in 1989.
At the end of 1989 he sold all his Modified equipment and bought a third hand Xfinity Series car. Along with his dad, they worked all winter and headed for Daytona where he missed qualifying by one spot. After Daytona they went to Richmond and after a few other races, he went broke because of the lack of a major sponsor. “It was the low point in my career”, he said. “I sold the Busch car to pay bills and still went broke,” he added. With no ride, he went back to helping his dad with his Modified. Park caught the eye of Modified car owner Curt Chase and a one shot deal was put together. It turned into a full time ride in 1991 and he posted his first Modified Series win at his home track in Riverhead on Long Island.
In 1993, Park shifted to his driving to TG Racing and when Jeff Fuller moved south in 1995, Park took over the Sheba Racing No. 8 and won seven Modified Series events. In 1996 he posted five more wins and also competed in 11 Busch North events, posting victories at Nazareth and Loudon. He also posted an 11th place finish in a NASCAR Truck Series event at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Indiana. Influential people in the south began to take notice. His big break came later in the year when NASCAR Cup star Joe Nemechek asked him to qualify his truck at Watkins Glen, New York. Much to everyone’s surprise, Park put the truck on the pole. Park turned the truck over to Nemechek as was previously arranged, but the dye was cast and the phone started ringing as numerous NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series car owners wanted this new hot property.
Park was relatively content to stay in the Modifieds where he had become a consistent winner and was hesitant at jumping at just any offer. Two calls on his answering machine from Dale Earnhardt changed all that. The first one went unanswered as Park thought some of his friends had made a crank call. When Earnhardt called again, Park returned the call. Earnhardt sent his private jet to pick him up and the rest is history.
Park finished out the 1996 season in the Sheba Modified and moved to North Carolina to become the full time driver for Dale Earnhardt’s Busch Grand National South effort in 1997. Park didn’t let the seven-time Champion down as he won three events, nearly finished second in points, and won the Rookie of the Year title. Midway through the 1997 season Earnhardt made the decision to move Park up to the Cup Series for 1998.
Park recorded his first Cup Series victory in August of 2000 on the road course at Watkins Glen and he followed that victory up with a win at Rockingham in 2001, the first race held following the death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500 that season.
Steve Park is a true Champion.
By: Phil Smith