Where were you on Oct. 24, 1985?
I can recall my entire day. Racers with a connection to NASCAR’s Modified division could probably tell you the same thing.
I was in high school and came home in the late afternoon after football practice. I was in my room when my dad called down the hallway to “come here. A racer had died.”
My father was watching our local news broadcast on television. By the time I walked to where I could see, a commercial break had already begun. Dad said they had a story coming up of a driver death.
We were both racers so those few minutes waiting to see who it was seemed like an eternity.
I was wandering through a list of many names in my head thinking who it could be. A Winston Cup star? An Indycar driver? But it was a Thursday. Maybe a test somewhere?
The news report returned with the sports desk anchor. His somber mood expressed the heaviness of the situation. Richie Evans was dead.
It couldn’t be.
At 16 years old my world was rocked. One of the heroes and bigger than life superstars was gone.
My racing friends called me to ask if I had heard the news. I called others to let them know.
Widely regarded as the greatest NASCAR Modified driver ever, Richie Evans lost his life in a practice crash for the Winn-Dixie 500, a Martinsville tripleheader featuring twin 200-lap features for the Modifieds and what is now known as the Nationwide Series, and a 100-lap late model race.
To the Modified community this resulted in a memory where everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. I remember vividly friends asking me Friday at school if I was all right. I wasn’t but must have had a distant look about me. I was a card-carrying member of the Richie Evans Fan Club. Literally.
Local newscasts only used NASCAR Cup racing results during sports reports for filler. On Sunday evenings, maybe you got race results, maybe you didn’t. ESPN’s Sportscenter even had a place near the back of the line for NASCAR results. This Modified story was a headline on both fronts this night. Richie Evans was the guy. He was that big of a deal.
The loss shocked the Modified world like Dale Earnhardt’s death shook Cup racing.
Researching Evans in the record books just isn’t good enough. He was named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998 and NASCAR’s Hall of Fame ballot the past two years. You can research the hundreds of wins and dozens of championships and tell how good he was. That only tells a fraction of his story. You had to experience Richie.
Evans was to Modified racing what Richard Petty was to Grand National racing, what A.J. Foyt was to IndyCars, what Don Garlits was to drag racing. Evans was the guy.
As a young race fan I watched him plenty of times from this side of the catchfence. I’ve read umpteen articles and stories on him. Heck, even written a few myself. I have read his life story “Richie” a few times. Author Bones Bourcier worked on the book project almost 20 years after Evans’ death and did an outstanding job in capturing his life on the track and, just as entertaining, off the track.
He raced hard and lived hard. Evans’ popularity was unmatched in modified racing. When he towed anywhere up and down the East Coast from Florida to Canada he was the guy to beat, the guy everyone respected yet still the guy everyone liked.
This Sunday, October 24 will mark 25 years since the "Rapid Roman’s" passing. Coincidentally the Cup Series races in Martinsville. For 500 times the field will pass through the third and fourth turns, the place where one of racing’s greatest made his final laps and his car came to rest.
I still admire the legacy that he left behind. On this day my mind will be thoughtful of Evans, his family, his crew, his crowd, and all that the racing world lost.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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