FLEMKE AND HILLBILLY RACING GET A DIVORCE by Mike Twist
One of the Most Successsful Modified Tour Partnerships Is No More
When short track fans first heard of the announcement today that Eddie Flemke and the #79 Hillbilly Racing team split up just a few weeks before the start of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, everyone starting buzzing. Why would one of the most successful groups in all of Modified competition split up after a career season for both parties? Last year, Flemke finished as the runner-up to Tony Hirschman for the Tour title after their battle came down to the closing laps of the season finale at Thompson (CT). The driver and team had won 13 times together over the past seven seasons. This did not look like a combination that was on the outs given their on track success.
So what happened?
The answer is that there is no simple answer. The team was like a family and just like any failed relationship, nothing is easy to explain. Speed51.com talked to both parties and found out that there are a wide range of emotions floating around – sadness, regret and even hope.
“We had irreconcilable differences,” said Flemke. “We’ve been going in two different directions for a few different years now. Things have happened, things got said and things were never resolved. It’s like when you get a splinter and you don’t pull it out, sooner or later after it festers, it gets infected. We all let it get infected and tried really hard to fix it, but I guess it just couldn’t be fixed. We just decided it was best for us to do our own thing.”
But one thing is for sure: both sides have no interest in throwing mud at each other.
“Eight years ago, we planted a seed and watched it grow,” said Flemke. “Last year, we were finally able to taste the fruit from it.
We had the best team out there and we were like family. We should be arrested for letting what happened happen. I’m not blaming them. It happened to all of us and we share in that.”
“It will definitely be tough,” said crew chief David Hill. “It will be very unusual talking to someone else on the radio now. We got to the point where I knew what Eddie was thinking. He’s taught me a lot too. Eddie always had the time to teach me stuff about how the car works that my father didn’t have time to when he was racing. I definitely respect him.
“The decision came down from my Mom and Dad [Team owners Sandra and Roger Hill] and I just work for them. I hope that Eddie still respects me and I hope that I can still walk over to him at Thompson and ask him questions when I need his help.”
It was announced last week that Ted Christopher would drive for the Hillbilly team in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour opener at Caraway Speedway. In the past, Christopher and Flemke have had several run-ins on the track. While the decision to put Christopher into the car didn’t help to strengthen the relationship of Flemke and his team, it wasn’t the reason for the divorce either.
“Teddy is not why we split up,” said Flemke. “It made the situation more uncomfortable, but it didn’t end things. I really didn’t want anybody in my racecar, even if it was David [Hill], but it’s also their racecar and I understand that they need to be able to do what they want. I have nothing against Teddy. We get along fine. I just saw him last week. “
One of the races that Flemke won in the #79 was last year's Thompson 300.
The Hills obviously don’t harbor any ill feelings towards Christopher either.
“He’s been an enemy on the track,” said Hill. “But when the helmet comes off, he’s a pretty good guy. He will race anything and he always wants to win.”
But even if TC wasn’t the home wrecker, the question on how to handle the possibility of running more NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour races might have caused some of the major problems between driver and team though. Flemke lives in Connecticut, where he runs Raceworks - a successful chassis building business, and the Hill team is located in central North Carolina. The choice to load up their schedule with races down South might have been good for the team, but not so great for Flemke.
Having the Easter holiday take place on the same weekend of the Southern Mod opener at Caraway was another problem.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Hill. “But we just didn’t foresee going in the same direction with the team as Eddie did. We want to race every chance we get and with the Southern Modifieds, we are going to have more chances to do that this season. The races are in our own backyard. Our family and friends that couldn’t make it to the Icebreaker at Thompson can now finally go and see us race. There is a great fan base down here.”
“I understand that they are from the South and that they have friends down there,” said Flemke. “And by the way, I
The last race that Flemke ran in the #79 was at New Smyrna, where the team had a rough Florida Speedweeks.
Eddie Flemke. (Vintage Modifieds Photo)
still would have gone down [for Caraway]. The Easter thing was an issue because Easter is my holiday with my family. My sister does Thanksgiving, my brother does Christmas and I do Easter. It was going to be a pain, but when I realized how important it was for Roger to go, I would have gladly flown down and then back home for Easter. Instead of making dinner, I would make reservations. We were being polite and cordial about everything, so that was only part of it.”
So now with only 17 days before the trailers are unloaded for the season-opening Icebreaker at Thompson, the focus for both the #79 team and Flemke is to get ready for an attack on the 2005 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.
“There is no doubt that I will be at Thompson racing,” said Flemke. “It’s a shame that I will be scurrying around and that they will be scurrying around and I feel bad about that. But we will all be racing at the Icebreaker.”
“We’ll be running for the championship this year and we are exploring our options on a driver,” said Hill. “We won’t be making any decisions until Monday or Tuesday.”
And there have been plenty of volunteers to help fill the seat in the #79.
“I am shocked at the number of quality drivers who are with already with quality teams and have called us,” said Hill. “My phone has been ringing off the hook since eight this morning when the news got out. That makes me feel good and it lets me know that people realize what a good team we have here.”
But fans might need to look at the door number of the car to know which one it is on opening day.
“We are still going to have the #79, but everything will be new,” said Hill. “From the colors to the bodies to the driver, nothing will be the same.”
One thing that Hill isn’t looking forward to is having to race against Flemke. Even though he turns 50 next month and has running the Tour since 1988, his best season has been his most recent one.
“I was hoping at his age, he might just retire because it’s going to be tough to compete against him,” said Hill. “He’s got a little spunk left in him. He can still get the job done”
Quitting isn’t an option for Flemke though.
“If this wasn’t happening, I might consider it,” said Flemke. “But by no means will I stop racing this way.”
Speed51.com will have continuing coverage on the future plans for both Flemke and the #79 team in coming days.
Flemke will be close to home this Easter.
Flemke runs with the #18 of Donny Lia at New Smyrna.