FLEMKE WALKS TALL WITH A BIG STICK    By Mike Twist
Veteran Has New Outlook on Racing & Heritage
In recent seasons, Eddie Flemke has played a utility role in the NASCAR  Modified Series.  Since 1994, he has won fifteen races and has been a  regular in the top ten of points at the conclusion of almost every season.  He's been a heck of a car builder and is the son of a Modified  racing legend, he's always been quiet and hasn't gathered many headlines.
Crews converge around Flemke's #79 to argue about a late race tangle at last year's North vs. South Shootout in North Carolina.  (51Photos).
That was until this season.  The Connecticut driver is nearing his fiftieth birthday and has gotten off to an impressive start his 2004 campaign.  Flemke has one victory and five top five finishes in the first six events of the year.

"It's not even close - this is by far the best start to a year that
we've had," said Flemke.  "The end of last year, we ran good.  We actually ran well all year, but we had a lot of bad luck.  Stuff was breaking and it didn't matter if it was new stuff or old stuff.  Then, we'd be in the right place at the wrong time all of the time it seemed.  Now the luck is getting better. Last year I think that we were actually faster most of the time, but the rabbit doesn't always win the race."

The bad luck that his Hillbilly Racing team endured last season may actually be a contributing factor in their quick start this year.
"The pressure is off us a little bit after doing so bad," Flemke said.  "I remember the year that (Dale) Earnhardt had a bad season.  They tried all kinds of experiments and the next year he came back and kicked ass.  Maybe that's what we're experiencing right now."

Flemke's driving style has matured as well and his balance of knowing  when to go and when to pull back the reigns a bit is obvious this season.

"On this tour, you have to be aggressive,"  Flemke said.  "When the green flag drops, you have to race,"  Flemke said.  "You ride around to a point, but you need to have controlled aggression to do well."

Sometimes in his career, Flemke's on-track aggression hadn't always been controlled.

"I've always tried to walk softly and carry a big stick,"  said Flemke.  "At times, you've seen that stick comes out though.  Teddy (Christopher) and I have tangled, Mike (Stefanik) and I have tangled.
"I've made some mistakes and I'll be the first to admit it.  I've also been the victim of other people's mistakes sometimes but I don't think that I've ever gotten out of the car and accused anyone of doing
something intentional.  People think that we are so good that we're under control all of the time, but you know what?  It's controlled chaos out there.  I'm paid to go as fast as the car will go and drive it as
hard as I can, not to go almost-as-fast as it will go.  When you slip, you'll make it mistake.  You can condemn me for my actions, but not for my intentions."
Going into this season, Flemke took a hard look at his style and adjusted it accordingly.

"If I was going to be the elder statesman of this series, I needed to start acting like it,"  Flemke said.  "I didn't need to be yelled at and sworn at and get into confrontations.  I needed to remember to walk softly with that stick.

"Last winter, I did some soul searching.  People had been questioning my actions and questioning my integrity.  When things happen, you can only say that it was someone else's fault or that it was a mistake or I was a victim so many times before it really is your fault."

Flemke is a quiet guy and not the type of man that you would expect to be in the midst of any controversy.  His personality isn't well suited for the role of a villain and he doesn't enjoy wearing a black hat.
Eddiie is known for his aggression...but is he too aggressive? (51 Photos)
"I like to be liked,"  Flemke said.  "When I was 13 years old, my father dropped me and my sister off at the front gate of a racetrack because we weren't old enough to go into the pits.  He gave us some money for the day, gave her a hug and put his hand out to me.  He told me 'You're 13 and men shake hands'.  A few days later, he caught me swearing.  He told me that his father worked his whole life to keep his name clean.  'I've worked me whole life to keep our family name clean.  Don't you dare ---- it up.'  That stuck with me.  I don't want to do anything to muck up the Flemke family name."

That Flemke name has always been a motivating factor to
Eddie Jr.  His father was a legend in the Modified ranks and passed away in 1985.

"An interviewer once asked me to compare my career to my father's,"  Flemke said.  "But how do compare us?  At that time, he had over 500  wins and I had none.  We aren't even in the same paragraph or the same  book.  I've got a few more wins now, but I'll never be the driver that my father was and that's fine with me."

Flemke does have the possibility of accomplishing something that his Dad did not this season.  He is currently leading the NASCAR Modified Series points, and winning a title would be a family first.

"I've never won a championship ever in my career," Flemke said.  "My father was never a touring champion.  He won a lot of races and some track titles, but never the touring one."
(Howie Hodge Photo)
Like any other racer, Flemke enjoys the rush of visiting victory lane.  However, he revealed that winning as a chassis builder gives him an even better feeling than winning as a driver.

"None of my wins have ever given me the feeling of either when one of my cars have won or when my father won," Flemke admitted.  "My customers and the people that are in my group are more important to me than my own career.  I don't have any kids and these cars are my children. Their drivers are my adopted children.  They have no idea how proud and happy I am.  I know that I'm not even close to the best driver on the Modified Tour to wear a driver's suit.  But
For Eddie Winning as a driver isn't always the best way to win.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
when it comes to building cars, I don't think that I'm second to anybody.  On that, I will put my chest out and be arrogant about."a title would be a family first.

"I've never won a championship ever in my career," Flemke said.  "My father was never a touring champion.  He won a lot of races and some track titles, but never the touring one."

Flemke's start as a racecar driver was accidental.  He knew that he wanted to be around the pit area, but didn't know that his role would be that of a driver.
"A friend of mine, Tony Alteri (of T/A Engines) and I built a racecar and took it to Riverside Park," Flemke recalled.  "My father had always driven and his father had always built cars.  We put our applications in and had to choose between owner, driver and crew.  I didn't know what to put down on mine.  Tony said, 'You father has always driven - you be the driver, my father always owned cars so I'll be the owner'.  I was 16 and that was how I got started as a driver."

For awhile after that, Flemke got the opportunity to became a teammate to his father.

"My father and I raced together in the 70's and it got too expensive to race both cars,"  Flemke said.  "I figured at
Eddie, Jr. at Riverside Park Speedway (MA) next to the car he built with Tony Alteri.  (photo courtesy vintagemodifieds.com)
the time, he can win and I can crash so it wasn't hard to decide who should keep driving.  I started building racecars instead."

A few years after his father's death, Flemke got back behind the wheel.  He changed his attitude and that changed him as a driver.

"Up until I drove for John Hummel in 1989, I was always afraid to get hurt,"  Flemke said.  "That's why I've always built a safe car.  When I got back into driving, I realized that the cars were the safest that
they could be and that I could get hurt watching them.  You can get hurt going slow, you can get hurt going fast. When I realized this, I turned things around and matured."

Flemke looks forward to continuing momentum the rest of the year and knows that his #79 team is capable of being the best team in the pit area at the conclusion of the season.

"I'm one of the good drivers who has been on the tour, but it is my equipment and my team that make me look tremendous,"  Flemke said.  "I've never finished better than sixth in the points.  It would be great for this team if we can win the championship.  They work so hard and put so much into this.  It would be one of the better feathers in our caps - if you're going to try and win a championship, this is one of the best ones to go for."


Eddie Jr.'s dad,  "Steady" Eddie Flemke, was one of the greatest Mod drivers of all time.