"I’m just saddened to think that a lot of the younger people on the modified scene – racers and mechanics and fans alike – never got the chance to know him.
The good thing is that now, through this book, they’ll get that opportunity.” – Ray Evernham, foreword to “Richie! The Richie Evans Story”
I, on the other hand, having grown up in the Western New York racing scene, got a little teary eyed: while I never got to see him race, I was brought up knowing that Evans was the best NASCAR driver who never landed in those “upper tiers”, and as I found out in this book, it was simply due to his love of the modified division of NASCAR.
Bones Bourcier, who was featured in the SPEED Channel’s Richie Evans biography special and also co-wrote “True Speed” with Tony Stewart, takes fans into the 25-plus-year career of Evans, who started street drag racing as a teen in the early 1960s, eventually moving up to more organized drag racing – it’s said that he even raced against drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney at Fonda Speedway in New York. The Rome, New York native moved onto the then-asphalt oval at Utica-Rome Speedway in 1962, first in the hobby stock class and later in the modified division, where he eventually found his calling.
It is estimated that between his first modified win in 1965 and his untimely death at Martinsville Speedway in 1985, Evans won more than 475 features; in addition to his nine NASCAR Modified Division titles, he also won 26 track championships – he did all of this by often racing three to four nights a week, sometimes twice in one day.
Bourcier introduces readers to Evans’ early rivals like Ed Flemke, Lou Lazzaro and Jerry Cook (currently NASCAR’s Administrative Director), as well as a few later rivals whose names will likely ring a bell with even today’s NASCAR fans: Geoff and Brett Bodine, Greg Sacks and Jimmy Spencer. It was actually amazing to read this book and find out just how many drivers and crew members were touched in some way by Evans: in addition to Evernham, references to people like Steve Hmiel, Robin Pemberton, Bobby Hutchens, former Nationwide Series regular Mike McLaughlin, the late Neil Bonnett and even ol’ DW himself are scattered throughout the book.
“Richie!” is full of amusing stories, like how “Evans Orange” came to be and the numerous pranks Evans pulled on the road, as well as tales of his life on the road and his strained family relationships. The final chapter tells of the impact Evans’ death had not only on his family, friends and closest competitors, but on the entire NASCAR Modified Division. In his foreword, Evernham states “Twice now – with Richie and then with Dale Earnhardt – I’ve experienced days when I realized The Man was gone, that the one race driver we all thought was indestructible wasn’t.” His sentiments were echoed by many throughout this section.
In the New York racing and modified racing circles, it seems like everyone – even my father! – has a Richie Evans story. Bourcier takes a lot of those stories and weaves together a tale of racing days gone by – days we the race fans will never see again.
"Richie!” and many of the other books you’ll see reviewed in Race Fan’s Book Shelf are available to purchase from Coastal 181 (http://www.coastal181.com/).