The Southern Mod Community Mourns the Loss of Brian Pack by Matthew Dillner and Mike Twist
Motorcycle Crash Claims A Truly Colorful Character
Pack's loss has shaken many in the Southern Modified community. Fellow competitor Burt Myers hinted that the way it happened makes it even harder to process.
“I know that every time I get in the car, I take that chance,” said Myers. “In the bigger scheme of life though, it shows that every time you leave the house you take that chance. You understand it a little better when it's in the racecar. When it happens like this and to someone Brian's age it makes it tougher to swallow.”
“This is worse than losing one of my closest family members,” admitted North vs. South Shootout promoter Charles Kepley. “I would see Brian more than I see most of my family.”
“This is really tough and it really hits home,” said six-time Bowman Gray Mod champ and WSMT driver Tim Brown. “Brian has been around for years and his dad has raced for years. When you race with someone for around 15-years you get to know them real good. He was a super guy. It's been a tough week for the whole Modified family.
“The Packs have been very institutional in Modified Racing. They've sponsored Modified races out of their own pocket just so we could have a race. They are a family that just loves Modified racing.”
Racing was truly a family-affair for Packs. His father Gene was also his teammate.
Earlier this month, father and son were profiled in a story written by NASCAR WSMT
Public Relations Director Jason Mitchell.
“I'm more proud of what Brian has done by winning races at Bowman-Gray than any
victory I've ever had myself,” Gene Pack said in the story. “After he won those races, I
never went to Victory Lane - that was his time to shine in the spotlight and not my time.
“I kind of keep my emotions to myself but I'm pretty sure he knows how proud I am of
him and all he's done in both racing and life.”
Myers explained that racing as a family helped him connect with Pack.
“Their family is rooted into racing just like ours,” said the third-generation driver. “They've got pictures of toddlers around Daddy's racecars. They have a lot of racing history too.”
Pack's quiet charisma didn't fall far from the tree. His father Gene, nicknamed “Papa Smurf” is a beloved character in the Southern Short Track scene. Brian was well-liked by most of his competitors, the media and fans alike. His nickname however, was always something that made people tilt their heads in wonder. Exactly where did he get the unusual nickname “Sapo” from anyway?
“The Sapo question is the most asked question about Brian,” said long-time friend David Sells. “Most people don't know this but he was bilingual. He was a contractor (the family business is named B & J Builders) and a lot of his foreman and crew were Hispanic. He would speak Spanish with a southern drawl so it was funny to listen to. All of his workers used to say he looked like a toad so that is what “Sapo” is in Spanish. It means Toad. He had it on his helmet and then we started putting it on the car. Then everyone started calling him Sapo instead of Brian asking 'Hey, where's Sapo at?'
The world of Southern Modified racing is a colorful one. There are friendships, fights and good old-fashioned rivalries. At times, the whole scene resembles the Wild West more than short track racing. Everywhere you look; there are colorful characters to be found.
But one of its most colorful characters, Brian Pack, is now gone. The second-generation driver lost his life on Friday afternoon in a motorcycle wreck near his home in Walkertown, NC North Carolina. Pack was 34 years old.
The Winston-Salem Journal reported that neither speed nor alcohol appeared to be a factor in the wreck.
"It looks like he didn't negotiate that curve properly," North Carolina State Trooper T.D. Shaw told the paper. "It's just one of those accidents."
Pack, son of two-time Bowman Gray Stadium Sportsman champion Gene Pack, has two-career Modified feature wins in the record books at Bowman Gray and was a part of the popular Saturday night weekly circus at the historic North Carolina bullring. But Pack didn't limit himself to the borders of his home-state. He and his father were the first of the latest generation of Southern Mod-sters to make the trip north to the Turkey Derby at the now defunct Wall Township Speedway (NJ). Pack also competed on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. He was ranked 14th in the series point standings at the time of his death.
Bob. That's the car that when it would pull on the track kids would point at it and their parents would laugh. It kind of got his name out there that he was the guy that drove the Sponge Bob car.”
“He was as colorful as the cars he drove,” said spotter, media-member and long-time Modified enthusiast Charli Brown.
One colorful scheme wasn't enough for “Sapo”. For the Inaugural Whelen Made In America 300 weekend at Martinsville Speedway (VA), Pack brought a car with the paint-scheme of the famous “General Lee” from the television show “The Dukes of Hazard.” NASCAR made Pack make changes to the scheme, asking that the confederate flag part of the scheme be removed, but that didn't stifle Pack's creative vision. When he bought a new Troyer Modified from northern competitor Donny Lia, his latest scheme was born. Brian Pack instantly became “Pac-Man”.
When Brian debuted the Pac-Man scheme at Caraway Speedway two years ago, he told Speed51.com that he did it all for the kids.
“My last name is Pack so I figured this year we would go with Pac-Man,” said Brian. “We put it on my son's go-kart last year so now we will have team cars. The Pac-Man is getting chased by the ghosts on the side of the car. Hopefully I will be the Pac-Man chased by everyone else. This is more for the kids than anybody. I have three boys and they like it so that is all that matters.”
And according to those close to Pack, nothing mattered more to him than his own children - Zach, Brandon and Austin.
“What a lot of people didn't realize about Brian is that he was the best Dad,” added
Sells. He was the best dad a lot of us ever knew. The Dad that made you feel guilty
that you weren't a good enough Dad. A lot of people didn't get to see that side of him.”
“What impressed me the most about Brian is that his kids always came first,” said
an emotional Charles Kepley. “Nowadays there are so many absentee Daddies in
kid's lives but Brian's relationship to his kids was tremendous. There's not a day that
I would call that he wasn't at the ball-field or just left the ball-field.
Burt Myers couldn't agree more; “I've watched his boys grow up and I can't even
imagine what they are going through to not have a Daddy to be there and help them
out in life. I know the kind of activities Brian did with those kids from go-kart racing to
being their assistant baseball coach, to football and basketball. He was always there
for those kids so I know how tough it will be for them.
And when it came to his extended family at the track; it didn't matter what state their driver's license was from when Pack met them for the first time. Pack and his team struck up a friendship with Connecticut driver Doug Coby at North Carolina's North South Shootout one season and they were greeted New Hampshire's Andy Seuss with open arms. Seuss, now a regular on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, remembers that show of Southern hospitality well.
“Brian, his whole team and his whole family were very inviting to us,” recalls Seuss. “They were some of the first people that came over and talked to us. He told me that I was really going to enjoy racing down South.
“On the track, he was the same way. I remember at Motor Mile a few years ago, we had a really good battle. We were side by side and he ran me amazingly clean. It's a tough loss for all of motorsports. He was always there joking around with everyone and having a good time. He'll miss missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Drivers that have raced with Pack over several years agree that he had a big heart.
“My fondest memory of Brian happened just a couple of years ago,” said Tim Brown. “For my birthday he dyed me an egg the color of my racecar and put my number on it. It was cool. He told me he wanted me to put it in his racecar. He was a fan. It really touched me at the funeral home (for Brian's wake) they had a video playing of pictures of him. Of those fifty or so photos there were probably five photos where he had my T-shirt on. I thought the world of him and he was a great friend and a great guy.
“I am hoping it makes people open their eyes and pray for the family because at a time like this that is all that is left.”
Pack is survived by his wife Julie and his three children, Zach, Brandon and Austin. He also leaves behind a loving sister Joni, mother Lynn and stepmother Michelle.
Brian was a fan-favorite wherever he raced with the Mod Squad. That was partly due to the fact that he took the time to apply special themes to his racecars, making them instant classics. A few of the themes that Pack used on his cars through the years included Sponge Bob Square Pants, The Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee and a Pac-Man paint scheme - and all three themes had stories behind them.
Brian's relationship with David Sells, a great friend and graphic artist, led to the creation of some of Pack's schemes.
“He was always saying he wanted to get more fans and he was concerned about if people would like him,” said Sells. “When we were doing this new body he said 'what can we do for the kids and the fans?' That is when we came up with the Sponge Bob idea. That was a popular cartoon. I had kids and he had kids and they all loved Sponge
That's the type of guy he was. He was fun to be around and full of life “
In a touching tribute at Bowman Gray Stadium last Saturday night, drivers and teams lined the front-stretch of the track as Pack's crew pushed his #81 down the front-stretch and across the start-finish-line one last time. His children sat on the car as it rolled under a waving checkered flag.
Touched by the moment, Burt Myers knew he had to win the feature event that night for his fallen friend.
“I said to myself, 'Lord if I can win this race tonight so that I could mention it and dedicate it to him, it would be real special.' It was special to win it for him,” said Myers.