Probably the greatest modified driver in history, Richie Evans won nine NASCAR National Modified Championships, including eight in a row from 1978 to 1985. He was killed in a crash at Martinsville Speedway while practicing for the Winn-Dixie 500 Tripleheader in late 1985. He had already secured the inaugural Winston Modified Tour Championship.
Richard Ernest Evans, The 'Rapid Roman', was an American racing driver who won nine NASCAR National Modified Championships, including eight in a row from 1978 to 1985. The International Motorsports Hall of Fame lists this achievement as "one of the supreme accomplishments in motorsports".
Evans left his family's farm at age 16 to work at a local garage. After he found early success in street racing, then became a winner in drag racing, an associate suggested he try building a car to race at the nearby Utica-Rome Speedway. He ran his first oval-track car, a 1954 Ford Hobby Stock numbered PT-109 (after John F. Kennedy's torpedo boat in World War II), in 1962. He advanced to the Modifieds, the premier division, in 1965, winning his first feature in the season's final night.
In 1973, Evans became the NASCAR National Modified Champion. In 1978 he won a second title and did not relinquish his crown during the next seven years. Evans took over four hundred feature race wins at racetracks from Quebec to Florida before he was killed in a crash at Martinsville Speedway while practicing for the Winn-Dixie 500 Tripleheader in late 1985 (three races in one day -- a 200-lap Modified race, a 200-lap Busch Series race, and a 100-lap Late Model race). Before his fatal crash, Evans had clinched the inaugural Winston Modified Tour (now known as Whelen Modified Tour) championship.
Evans' crash, along with other drivers' fatal crashes in the late 1980s, led to questions about car rigidity with Tour Modifieds and safety changes. In particular, straight frame rails were phased out, with new chassis required to have a step which could bend in hard impacts rather than passing the force to the driver.
The number 61 was officially retired in both NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour divisions out of respect for the late driver.
Evans' son Richie Jr. has raced Modifieds in the Northeast, but in recent years he has raced sporadically, frequently carrying the number 61JR.
Evans' signature orange Modified paint scheme was replicated in 2003 on a Busch Series car driven by New Jersey native Martin Truex, Jr. in his first year on the series driving for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s Chance 2 Motorsports.