Modified Veteran Finds A New Home With an Old Number
When Eddie Flemke and the #79 Hillbilly Racing team of Roger and Sandra Hill announced their separation three weeks before the start of the 2005 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, there was shock among Tour observers.  The pairing finished second in points last season and won 13 races in their seven seasons together. 
Picking up the pieces wouldn’t be easy.  As news of the split came out, Flemke vowed to be at the season opening Icebreaker no matter what.  Nobody doubted that since with Flemke’s contacts and stature in the sport, he would be able to find someone’s car to drive in a thrown together deal. 

Flemke will be at Thompson, but it’s not going to be in a stop gap car.  Instead, he has plotted out a new beginning in his career that will involve driving the #10 car of Gary Teto for the full 2005 season – and likely beyond that.

“It’s really going to be cool,” said the 50-year-old Flemke
of his new ride.  “Especially since I’m near the end of my career.  Let’s be honest, I’m not going to race until I’m 70, so I’m close to the end.  Maybe it’s destiny that I didn’t end my career with the #79 and maybe I will end it with the #10.”

The car number has special significance to Flemke since his father, Modified icon Ed Flemke, spend the closing years of his storied career driving the #10 Manchester Sand and Gravel car and long time fans of the sport can remember that.

“It meant a lot to us back then, that number,” said Flemke.  “It’s brought some fans out of the woodwork too.  There is a lot of support already for me from people who were fans in My father’s #10 days.” 
Sadly, one of the people who the new number might mean the most to is not going to be around to see it race.  Bill Thornton, the former car owner of the #10 driven by Flemke, Sr., passed away as Flemke, Jr. was completing his new deal.  He died on Sunday, March 26th, just two days before Flemke announced his new ride.

“Bill Thornton was a quality guy,” said Flemke.  “Unfortunately, he passed away before I was able to tell him about my #10.  That’s sad, but yet he’s watching over me too.  Maybe he can protect me more from up there than he could have down here.”
Speculation was that Flemke’s options in finding a new ride were limited because of his day job.  Flemke is partners with Reggie Ruggiero in Raceworks, a Connecticut based chassis builder.  It was thought that Flemke would only be able to drive for a team that used Raceworks equipment.  Although that was definitely preferred, it would not have been a deal breaker either.

“People said that I had to be in a Raceworks car,” said Flemke.  “But believe me, if I needed to be driving a racecar and I still wanted to drive it, I would have been in a Mitsubishi Galant or whatever.  Ronnie [Bouchard] would have helped me with some type of a foreign car to get out there. [Editor’s Note – Modified legend Ron Bouchard is Flemke’s Brother-in-Law and currently owns a chain of auto dealerships, including one of the largest Honda and Acura dealerships in the area.] 

Teto’s team does use Raceworks chassis.

“I am glad that it’s one of my customers that I am driving for and
Flemke behind the wheel.  (51 Photo)
When news of Flemke’s departure from the Hillbilly team spread, he received plenty of support fromt hose in the Modified community.  Offers of ride and equipment were made from several different sources, but what meant the most was just the simple show of support that Flemke got during a rough time.

“It’s a tremendous feeling,” said Flemke.  “I’ve tried to live my life with everything that my father instilled in us and to be a good person.  This is telling me that all that I’ve done in my life has definitely paid off.  The amount of support that has been shown by competitors as well as friends has just been tremendous.  That says something right there.  As low as this could have been, their lives have made this so much easier to deal with.”
The #10 team did not take part in last week’s pre-season practice session at Thompson Speedway (CT), but there isn’t much to read into based on that fact.  Flemke has never really been a fan of testing too much and almost certainly wouldn’t have been there if he was in his old ride either.

“The only times that we would test with the #79 was when we when we had to go and do a tire test for Hoosier,” said Flemke.  “The only time that we did any kind of an early practice was when we came out with a brand new car for the Martinsville race.  It was on those deals where we were going to practice, qualify and race
The #10 Manchester Sand and Gravel car was one that Ed Flemke, Sr. drove to great success.  (VintageModifieds.com Photo)
The Gary Teto team had two entries in last year's Thompson 300 - the #10 and the #40.  (51 Photo)
that it’s a customer that deserves to have some fun,” said Flemke.  “He’s had great people around him too.  We are going to have a fun year and that’s what it’s about.”

Flemke expects a little bit of an adjustment period, but does not think that it will take long for the new team to get used to each other.

“We’ll be alright,” said Flemke.  “It’s just going to be a little strange.  Things are going to be second nature instead of instinct.  There will be new personalities and new worries, but there are a lot of good people involved so we’ll be OK.”

“I’ve known the people that I’m going with for 10, 12, 15 years for most of them.  Some of them I’ve known for 30 years.  I’m not going in with my eyes closed or wide open.  I know who they are and they know who I am.”
And Flemke still has a role himself in the victory.

“Remember one thing, it’s still a Raceworks car,” said Flemke.  “I believe in my products.  It’s kind of funny that the guy who was in it has said that the cars were junk and won’t turn, but then he wins in one.  He’s been in them before and has whined about the cars, but he’s also won in them before.”

Flemke and Christopher have had run-ins on the track in the past.  Nevertheless, Flemke respects the ability of his rival.

“I know that Teddy can drive,” said Flemke.  “He’s a driving fool and he can get the job done. I was thrilled that he won.”
and it would be rushed.  So we went to Caraway with the car and ran about 20 laps.  We went wicked fast right off the truck.  We broke our own records.”

Caraway Speedway was also the first track that the #79 team visited in the post-Flemke era.  Two weeks ago, Ted Christopher drove the car to victory in the opening race of the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.  Flemke was neither bitter or surprised with his result.

“People asked me if I was surprised that Teddy won there and I said ‘absolutely not’,” said Flemke.  “We nearly won every race there.  We led every one going away and either broke or got wrecked.  I knew that the only way that he wouldn’t win is if he got wrecked or broke.  The car very seldom breaks and with the new officials down there, I thought that the chances of him getting wrecked were slimmer.  The last two times that we went down there, we were on the pole each time, so I knew that they would be good down there.” 
The #79 was the car that Flemke has been driving
Ryan Dolan drove the #10 at Beech Ridge last year.  (51 Photo)
And part of being thrilled involved making a phone call that could not have been an easy one.

“I called Sandra [Hill] Easter morning like I do every year,” said Flemke.  “In the seven years that we were together, I called every holiday morning and I’m not about to stop now.” 

“Unless they make a change, things will never change.  They were my car owners, they are still my car owners and they will always be my car owners.  We had some good times together.  I’m not going to let what has been said or done or has happened in the last few months change seven years of good times.”

Flemke, the Hill team [with new driver Mike Christopher] and the rest of the NASCAR Modified Tour competitors will kick off their season this weekend with the running of the Icebreaker at Thompson on April 9th-10th.  Speed51.com will have extensive team coverage of the event.