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Modifying the Hall of Fame

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Richie Evans takes his deserved place in the Hall of Fame on Friday. Photo: Howie Hodge

Richie Evans was the greatest NASCAR driver never to get behind the wheel for a Cup Series car.  Plain and simple.

On Friday, he becomes the first of 15 inductees into NASCAR's Hall of Fame that doesn't have a direct connection to NASCAR's top level.  And, while he might never have competed in that series, it'd be unfair to assume that Evans wasn't on that level.  That would be a falsehood.

The Rome, N.Y., native won nearly 500 modified races in his life and would drive around Cup level drivers that thought it cute to get behind the wheel of a modified.

The disqualification that Sprint Cup Chaser Ryan Newman experienced after the F.W. Webb 100 here in July would have been far less noticeable, if Evans were still around.  His No. 61 would have left Newman in the dust as he took the checkered flag and eliminated controversy over the race's winner!

Evans closed out his career with eight consecutive modified titles from 1978-85.  NASCAR fans recently had the opportunity to witness Jimmie Johnson's historic title run.  In the process, they learned just how hard it is to string those titles together and also listened to pundits tell them how they might never see it again.  Johnson won five straight, Evans won eight!

Sadly, the only thing that stopped Evans' streak was life itself.  On Oct. 24, 1985, he died during a practice session at Martinsville Speedway.  He left behind a legacy of the greatest driver ever to race a modified, but also left behind the question of just how great his career accolades might have gotten.  Born in 1941, Evans was certainly in the later stages of his career by 1985, but with his run of eight titles still intact, he had yet to show signs of slowing down.

He never lived to see the day when Bob Bahre bought Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, N.H., and rebuilt it as New Hampshire International Speedway.  He wouldn't know that one day NASCAR would devote two entire weekends to racing in New England.  Based on his lack of interest in the Cup Series, he probably didn't need to.  Evans still contributed to the region's auto racing in a way that will never be forgotten.

The modified tour is synonymous with short-track New England racing.  Just ask many of our fans here at NHMS!  For all the glitz and glory that races our track on a Sunday afternoon in the form of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there are still plenty that prefer to see the Whelen Modified Tour race the day before.  The mods are at the core of New England racing and so is the series' greatest driver.

Long before the Cup came to Loudon in 1993 or before the track opened its gates at all in 1990, the New England racing community had Richie Evans.  He traveled from track to track, allowing the competition to race one another for second-place.  In 1979, he won 37 races in 60 starts.

Evans will assume his rightful place in NASCAR's Hall of Fame on Friday, as he joins Dale Inman, Darrell Waltrip, Glen Wood and Cale Yarborough in the Hall's third annual class.  He passed away too early, but, thanks to his induction, his legacy never will.  He'll forever be enshrined as a reminder of just how much our northeast region has to offer to the auto racing world.