Race car drivers don't often like to look back, especially on the track.
But they'll make an exception Saturday night, as they'll remember three legends of Modified racing who lost their lives on the track in the fifth annual Baldwin, Evans & Jarzombek 77 Memorial at Riverhead Raceway.
"Tiger" Tom Baldwin, a Bellport native, won 11 career races at Riverhead in the Modified class, the first coming in 1978, and was an inaugural member of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, which began in 1985. His final race came in Aug. 2005 when he died in a crash at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway.
Howie Brode, a 46-year old from East Islip who is a close family friend of the Baldwins, will re-number his car with the elder Baldwin's No. 7NY this evening.
"He was like the Dale Earnhardt of Modifieds as far as I'm concerned," said Brode, who won the memorial race in 2006. "He was larger than life. It's hard to put into words. Now that he's gone, it means a lot more. It's bittersweet. He was a great ambassador."
To Brode and many others, Baldwin became the figurehead of Long Island racing when one of the other drivers being honored, "Charging" Charlie Jarzombek, died during a Whelen Modified tour race in Martinsville, Va., in 1986. Jarzombek, who resided in Baiting Hollow, remains the all-time leader in Modified wins at Riverhead with 63, and was a five-time track champion.
Though the third driver being honored, "The Rapid Roman" Richie Evans, wasn't from Long Island, he made quite a name for himself here, winning countless races at Freeport Stadium and Islip Speedway. The nine-time NASCAR national Modified champion won his only race at Riverhead two months prior to his passing at Martinsville in 1985. He was on the first list of 25 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.