Goodbye, Steve...

"What's a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?"
Blazing Saddles, 1972

 

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Steve Evans

 

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"Steve Evans drove hard: as hard as anybody who ever bolted themselves into a race car. Weekend after weekend, year after year, for three grueling decades he risked it all in front of a microphone. He won most of the time, but like all mortals, was bound to lose in the end.

It came not with a big crash as we would have expected, but due to the grinding life; the endless travel, the red eye flights, the fast food, the lumpy motel beds, the marathon marches through a thousand pits and paddocks in search of stories and, most of all, the incessant pressure to inform and entertain a vast television audience... it came silently in the night.

It was there, microphone in hand, that Steve Evans scored his victories. No one will ever be able to measure his contributions to the popularity of motorsports, but thanks to his consummate professionalism, his encylopdeic knowledge and his pure, boyish enthusiasm, his influence was huge in scope and relevance. I consider myself doubly honored to have known him both as a fellow journalist and a close and loyal friend for much of my adult life. Already I miss him terribly."

-Brock Yates-

 

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Irwindale Grand Prix Win

 

I too miss Steve. I'll never be able to watch another drag race -- or a sprint car race -- or a mud buggy race... you get the point... without thinking that "Steve could do is so much better". I met Steve when he was learning the ropes of drag racing at Fremont Dragway in 1968. In 1970, when he replaced my hero and mentor (C.J. "Pappy" Hart) as the manager of Lions Drag Strip, I was at first... "not happy". But it didn't take long to not only like Steve, but trust him. By the time he took over Irwindale Raceway we were, and I don't use the term loosely, friends.

Over the last 30+ years, both of us went through triumph and tragedy in our personal lives, and severe twists and turns in our professional lives. We socialized and commiserated... we partied and we griped. When the smoke cleared, Steve did better than I... and that was okay with me. I was unable to take my drag racing talents to another level... he took his to the stars.

The photo above is very special to me. Having never won a national event, winning the 1975 "Irwindale Grand Prix" was a big deal for us. Everybody who was anybody was there and we owned the race. Qualified #1 for the 32 car show and won every round convincingly... setting low ET of the meet twice. When all was said and done, I think Steve was happier that I was. We had blown off ALL the heavy hitters and if there was anything Steve Evans rooted for, it was the underdog. The party that night was....... well, memorable.

Goodbye, Steve. We'll all be together sooner or later and damnit, you better be there to do the finish line interview!  Sunday, Sunday, Sunday - BE THERE!

-Don Ewald-

 

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Postscript:

American Scene: Hard To Believe That It's Been Five Years

November 30, 2005
By Dave Argabright

FISHERS, Ind. -- November is the time of long shadows, gray days and thoughts of summers past. The leaves are gone, the mornings are cold and the sun runs away and hides in the middle of the afternoon.

And November is the time, five years ago, that we said goodbye to Steve Evans.

He was interesting, he was outrageous and he was memorable. To use one of his own phrases, he was "a one-off." Nobody, in all the days past or all the days coming, was anything like Steve Evans.

He was a pioneer announcer and broadcaster, and he loved drag racing so passionately that he allowed it to consume his entire life. Along the way he built a prolific broadcasting career, and surfing the dial on a summer night you might hear his voice calling the action at a drag race, a sprint-car race, a demo derby, or a swamp-buggy meet.

For those who knew him only as the voice through the speaker, you might have lamented his passing because you admired his work. But for those of us who knew him personally, it was so much more. He made us laugh, he made us think, he made us shake our head, and, at least for many of us, he made us better.

The first live television broadcast of my career was at Las Vegas in early 2000 on TNN, joining Steve and Bobby Gerould as a pit reporter. The first time they came to me for a report, my microphone wouldn't work. For most of the night I was tormented with electrical gremlins, and as you might imagine I was extremely frustrated. But as soon as the show was over Steve was right there to offer encouragement.

"Chin up, dude," he said. "You'll never work another one like tonight."

He was right, of course. Things got better, and it wasn't long before working with Steve was one of the things I looked forward to. Actually, socializing with Steve was even more fun than working with him. After the show, I would sit there laughing while he entertained us with great tales from a career that began before most of us were born.

I figure I've got a decent grasp of racing history, but when it came to drag racing I quickly realized that when Steve was around it would be best to keep my mouth closed and listen, because I couldn't bring a dog to this hunt, if you get my drift.

Early on I figured that Steve was just another guy holding a microphone; boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. His depth of experience was enormous. He promoted races, he operated race tracks, he did publicity, and he recorded about a million of those wonderful, "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!!!!" drag-racing commercials on the radio.

He never claimed credit for inventing that fabulous style, but he certainly elevated it to an art form. In his later years he compiled a terrific CD called "Be There!", which featured dozens of those great old commercials. Steve was kind enough to give me a copy during that summer we worked together, and at the time I didn't think much about it. In due course, however, it would become one of the most special and meaningful discs in my carrying case.

It's sad when I think of the last few days with Steve. We were in Greenwood, Nebraska, for a World of Outlaws broadcast, and they informed Steve that due to cutbacks he wouldn't be back on our show the following season. He was deeply disappointed, but I'll never forget how mature and professional he was. No whining or name-calling; just acceptance and moving on.

We had a few drinks that night after the show at a small hotel bar in Omaha. The entire crew was there, and it was a blast. Evans was in rare form, reeling off jokes and stories and making us laugh out loud with his wry, cynical one-liners.

A few weeks later we were in Las Vegas for our last show of the year. When we assembled that afternoon for our production meeting, and Steve wasn't there, I knew something was wrong. Sure enough, he had died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack back at the hotel.

You'd have to go a long way to find a darker night in Las Vegas, I can assure you.

I still pop that CD into the player every now and then, and that powerful, charismatic voice still makes me smile.

I often think about something Steve told me on that long-ago night in Nebraska, when the whiskey flowed and the night grew late and things got kind of blurry. I told him how much I would miss working with him the following season, and that it just wasn't going to be the same without him roaming the pits with us.

He shook his head. "Nah," he said, with a wry, knowing smile. "That's the way this business is, man. They forget about you in two weeks."

You're a long way from forgotten, Steve. Five years later, we still love to hear that voice.

 

Steve Evans - BE THERE on CD

 

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