BUMP STOPS: Modifieds, Memories and Mike Stefanik Wins Again

Friday, June 17, 2011

It's then end of the week again. Time to take the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage for a spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

RICHIE EVANS IS in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is not only a victory for anybody that knew Evans or saw him race during a remarkable career. It's a victory for short-track racing on the whole.

Despite the repeated and over-the-top "shock" professed by national auto racing writers at Evans' inclusion in the field of five who comprise the third class to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Evans deserves to be there. The Hall is, after all, a NASCAR Hall of Fame – not a "Sprint Cup Series" Hall of Fame.

Evans career certainly was the stuff of legend.

He was the "King" of Modified racing while Richard Petty was busy earning that nickname for himself. He won an unprecedented – and never duplicated – nine career Modified titles, including eight in a row from 1978-1985. Evans collected track championships at virtually every northeastern track where Modifieds races, and he won 37 of of 60 Modified races in 1979.

Let that sink in... THIRTY-SEVEN of 60 starts in a single season...


But his legend only cemented when he was killed in an on-track incident at Martinsville Speedway in 1985. It was the season finale, and despite the tragedy, Evans still won the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship that year.

Some argued this week that while Evans had Hall of Fame credentials, it was too soon of an induction.

Sirius radio personality Pete Pistone, a native of the Chicago area, posted on his Twitter account only moments after the Hall's five inductees were named that he was surprised because – "Of the 15 names that now 'define' NASCAR who reside in the HOF one is a modified driver? That makes no sense to me."

Pistone went further, adding that Evans was "deserving at some point but in my mind down the line after many others."

It's a line of thinking that I can't follow.

Again, it's a NASCAR Hall of Fame, and having NASCAR's oldest division represented among the 15 current Hall members is spot-on. This is NOT the Sprint Cup Hall of Fame. It's supposed to be representative of all of NASCAR's history – and for a sanctioning body that loves to put lip service to its commitment to "grassroots racing," there's nothing more grassroots than a guy like Richie Evans.

I'm also a big believer in the philosophy that Hall credentials are Hall credentials. If you're worthy of the Hall of Fame, then you're worthy of the Hall of Fame, without any qualifying of that statement. Evans is as worthy now as he would be 20 years from now.

It's not going to change because a car owner from the 1980s makes the list, and it's certainly not going to change because somebody who ran during NASCAR's inaugural season needs to be in there.

To put it in more historical terms, baseball players make the Hall of Fame because they deserve to be there – OK, so Pete Rose is the exception to that rule – and not because they get voted in "when there's no one else we could think of this year."

Richie Evans represents an era in NASCAR, a culture in NASCAR, and a spirit that is as relevant now in Modified and short-track racing as it was 25 years ago.

Congratulations to all short-track fans everywhere. The NASCAR Hall of Fame now has your back.

BECAUSE I HAVE no other outlet for my thoughts, you're now forced to read about the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup this week.

Some of you won't care a lick about this, some of you will. Some of you will perhaps care even more than I do.

Watching the Bruins hoist the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night meant more to me than seeing the Red Sox win the World Series back in 2004.

I am a diehard baseball fan, a lifelong Red Sox fan. But my true day-to-day following of the Sox didn't happen much later, not until I was in college. I remember my first trip to Fenway Park as a boy, and I clearly remember the smell of a fresh-cut lawn on the breeze blowing through the windows as I watched the games on Saturday afternoons with my father.

I had favorite players, and I remember where I was in 1986 – as a 12-year-old – when the ball rolled through Bill Buckner's legs.

But I didn't come to truly appreciate the in's and out's of baseball's day-to-day ritual until I was much older, and I had more time and attention span to invest in them.

The Bruins, though. That's a horse of a different color, as they say.

I remember begging my father to let me stay up for the second periods. I remember Fred Cusick and the way he brought grace and elegance to play-by-play without smearing it with arrogance (wonder if Jack Edwards is listening...). I remember John Pierson after he moved to the studio for pre-game and intermission analysis. I remember believing we could never beat the Canadiens.

While my Red Sox memories are filled with colors – the green walls and grass, the stark white uniforms, the weathered brown of mitts, the red socks and stitching – my Bruins memories are more tangible, less mythical.

I remember the night Ray Bourque ripped his No. 7 sweater off with a No. 77 below it as they retired Phil Esposito's number at the Boston Garden.

I remember listening to radio voice Bob Wilson in the dark of my bedroom as Petr Klima (our Bruins version of Bucky Bleepin' Dent) scored in triple-overtime in Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals.

I had posters of Cam Neely, Craig Janney and Andy Moog, and I remember how we'd spend hours in the hallways at school talking about the Bruins and their playoff runs. I'd fill my journal in English class with recaps of the games the night before – and early sportswriter in training.

I can name some of the most inane Bruins ever to pull on the spoked B – guys most of you will pause and say, 'Who????' Dmitri Kvartalnov, Bob Joyce, Allen Pederson (I was mystified that an NHL defenseman could be demoted to the Maine Mariners, and I bought tickets to his very first AHL game in Portland – falsely convincing myself with every pass and blocked shot that he was thousands of times better than anyone else on the ice that night), Randy Burridge ("Stumpy"), Vladimir Ruzicka, and on and on and on...

I turned myself into one of those crusty old Gallery Gods who had convinced myself 30 years too early that I'd never live to see this team win the Stanley Cup. I was honest-to-goodness happy for Ray Bourque when he went to Colorado and finally got the Cup he deserved like no player I'd ever see. I'd hear Ulf Samuelsson's name and get a sick feeling in my stomach.

I hated the Montreal Canadiens (still do!) and loved every minute of beating them in Game 7 in 1994 – remembering vividly that I was forced to watch in my parents bedroom on a 13-inch screen because nobody in the house could stand to watch Bruins games with me.

After yelling, cursing, contorting my body and facial expressions in every manner, pointing at the television and hollering at officiating for the last two months' worth of playoff games, I went completely still for the final few seconds of the Game 7 victory over Vancouver this week.

My wife went so far as to ask me what was wrong. "You're sitting completely still and you haven't made a sound. Are you OK?"

I was. Finally. I was at peace with my torrid three-decade love affair with the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins are Stanley Cup champions. And it's pretty cool.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS on racing this week:

Anyone else sick of the rain, too?...

The ACT Late Model Tour heads back to Oxford Plains Speedway next weekend. Last race before the TD Bank 250 at the track in July. I'm sorry, but I've never been sold on that whole "last chance to get ready for the big race!" thing. The '250' is a race unto itself...

Mike Stefanik will someday rival Richie Evans in the mind of Modified fans for his accomplishments. He won again, by the way, on Thursday night in a Valenti Modified Racing Series event at Thompson International Speedway...

Headed to White Mountain for the ACT Late Model Tour race on Saturday. That or Thunder Road – can't decide which track has better views of the surrounding landscape...

Nice kid and all, but Max Gresham just doesn't do it for me as a personality for the face of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Still, it will be interesting to see him in the ARCA field at Michigan this weekend...

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the baked haddock, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Perry Como is here, so stick around.

– TB