Baldwin, Evans, Jarzombek Memorial this Saturday at Riverhead Raceway
Steve Halpin was on vacation at the time and couldn't believe it.
"Not Tommy," he thought. "It couldn't happen to him, he has the body of superman."
On Aug. 19, 2004, Halpin, who worked on the crew of legendary modified driver Tom Baldwin, saw that a big crash happened while he was online monitoring Baldwin's race at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway.
Halpin called the crew chief for an update on the race and was told Baldwin suffered a basal skull fracture after colliding into a concrete block protecting a light pole and passed away upon impact. He was 57.
Ten years later, Halpin still can't imagine it happened.
"I can't believe it's been 10 years," said Halpin, who is now a broadcaster at Riverhead Raceway. "He's definitely missed. He left a legacy. There's a little piece of Tommy Baldwin in everybody he knew."
East Patchogue's Baldwin won 11 times at Riverhead and spent 20 seasons (1985-2004) on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He will be honored Saturday in the annual 77-lap Baldwin, Evans, Jarzombek Memorial modifieds event.
"He was the Dale Earnhardt of that modified tour -- he was that voice during driver meetings," Halpin said. "He was a big deal. The who's who of NASCAR showed up at his funeral in Long Island."
Baldwin never took a season off, according to those close to him.
"He did exactly what he was supposed to do on that day," Halpin said. "If you gave him an option, he would have chosen to die in a race car."
Charlie Jarzombek, who was a Baiting Hollow native, began his racing career in 1962 and compiled a record 63 wins at Riverhead. A member of the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame, Jarzombek won 187 feature events during a 25-year career. He died in 1987 when his car hit a retaining wall at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Richie Evans hailed from upstate Rome and experienced much success on Long Island tracks. He won 17 races at Islip Speedway and two at Freeport Speedway. The last win of his career came at Riverhead in August 1985, two months before a fatal practice lap crash at Martinsville.
Baldwin honored both Jarzombek and Evans by displaying their numbers on the top left of the roof of every car he used. Before entering a car, Baldwin would touch the numbers.
"If you had the chance to ever ask him," Halpin said, "he would say he would be so honored to be honored on this night with his heroes."
Through July 12
1. Howie Brode, East Islip 261
2. Tom Rogers Jr., Riverhead 214
3. Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn. 190
4. Ed Brunnhoelzl III, Levittown 169
5. David Sapienza, Riverhead 165
Featured racing starts at 6 p.m.: 77-lap Baldwin, Evans, Jarzombek Memorial modifieds (time trials), figure eights, chargers, blunderbusts, legends