The 400 miles the Cup cars ran Saturday night at Daytona featured close racing, plenty for crashed racing machines and a winner, Kevin Harvick, who is making his claim for the championship.
Beyond those typical headlines, there was an effort that honored one of the 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees. A driver regarded as one of the best the sport of stock car racing has ever seen, Richie Evans.
Evans was a nine-time champion in NASCAR’s modified division including his final eight in consecutive seasons. The last crown was awarded posthumously when he was killed while practicing for the tour finale at Martinsville in October of 1985.
Long before his death, Evans’ reputation and popularity preceded him. He was known as a man who put as much effort into having fun as he did into his racing.
Evans was a big winner, friendly, and seemed to always have time to chat with anyone who wanted to visit. At the same time as being the man to beat whenever he pulled into a northeast pit area, he earned the respect of fans and competitors alike. And achieved hero, idol, and mentor status among many of those groups.
Tommy Baldwin, Jr. hails from Long Island, NY and began working on his father’s modified crew as a young man. Baldwin, Sr. competed against Evans over the course of many years. Respect and admiration mutually flowed between the two teams. Baldwin, Jr. worked his way through the modified ranks as a crew chief, moved south to work in professional NASCAR competition, and currently owns the number 36 on the Cup series.
Steve Park also comes from Long Island and northeast modified racing. In the mid-1990s, Park was a big winner on the modified series with Sheba Racing. His crew chief during that period was non other than Tommy Baldwin, Jr. Park did well enough in Modified, Busch North, and Truck Series racing that he caught the eye of Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt hired Park to drive his Busch Series entry for 1996.
Park’s career shined at DEI. He moved to Cup and took two tour victories. However he suffered a serious injury in a Busch Series crash at Darlington in 2001.
Over the years he returned to drive in Cup, held a Truck Series ride, and currently drives on NASCAR’s Pro Series. He made a return to the Cup Series in Daytona with Tommy Baldwin Racing and an Evans-tribute car design.
TBR collected donations to run the color scheme and run the race. The team has been forced to start-and-park status at times this season strictly to survive. That method of racing does not sit well with any true racer. Count Baldwin, Park and Evans as true racers.
Fans and companies alike jumped on board, gave money, and had their names on the car at Daytona. The lifelike detail of Evans’ modified was displayed with nerf bar, bumper, and header decals to emulate the likeness of Evans’ final season paint job. “Richie Evans” was even over the door window openings where the driver’s name is displayed. And most importantly the car was still racing when the Daytona checkered flag fell.
Park and Baldwin engineered a drive that avoided the crashes, stayed competitive, and were even up to ninth on the last restart. The group ended the race in 13th, a strong showing for the underdog Baldwin team.
It must have pleased the competitive spirit of a man like Baldwin to go out and actually compete in a race he entered. It must have pleased a man like Park to return to Cup racing and finish so well with a smaller team going up against the giant organizations that dominate the sport. And it surely pleased the legions of Evans fans that watched the famed orange color race one more time.
At the end of this race, NASCAR’s modified world held its head high and had a memory as bright as the fireworks in the sky.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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