Richie Evans, one of the most successful short-track racers in history, was killed Oct. 24, 1985, while practicing for a NASCAR modified race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Evans, 44, a resident of Rome, N.Y., was pronounced dead on arrival at Martinsville’s Memorial Hospital, with the cause of death listed as multiple trauma.
His familiar orange and black No. 61 B.R. DeWitt modified slammed the outside concrete wall between turns three and four on the flat .526-mile asphalt oval during a morning practice session.
It was the first fatality at Martinsville Speedway since the track opened in 1947.
Evans, known as the “Rapid Roman,” was born July 23, 1941, and had been racing stock cars since 1962.
He had already clinched the 1985 NASCAR modified championship, his eighth-consecutive title and his ninth overall. Evans, who had 20 career victories on the Martinsville track alone, was also a nine-time winner of the modified division’s Most Popular Driver award.
In addition to the modified title, Evans had also claimed his fourth-consecutive Northeast Region championship in the NASCAR Winston Racing Series prior to his death.
“I’m proud of modified racing,” Evans was once quoted as saying. “It’s more popular in the Northeast than any other kind of racing, and I haven’t found anything I’d rather do than race.”
During his 20 years of racing modifieds, Evans earned 26 track championships and more than 475 feature victories.
Evans left his family’s farm as a teenager to work in a local garage and soon began drag racing. An associate eventually suggested he build a hobby stock to race at nearby Utica-Rome Speedway and his oval-track career began in 1962.
Ironically, he was killed in the same season NASCAR introduced a new format for the 37-year-old modified division. The new format turned the modifieds into a touring series of 29 races with events held on Sundays and midweek dates so not to conflict with weekly modified racing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks.
Evans opened the season on March 31, 1985, with a victory at Thompson Int’l (Conn.) Speedway and he won 11 more times, including a string of five straight during July and August. He clinched the championship back at Thompson on Oct. 20 and was 123 points ahead of runner-up Mike McLaughlin in the final standings.
Evans was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996 and was among the nominees considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.