MODIFIED COMMUNITY REMEMBERS TOM BALDWIN by Mike Twist
Fallen Racer is Still Close to the Hearts of Many
It’s been nearly a month since the death of NASCAR Modified Series driver Tom Baldwin, but his memory is still fresh on the minds on everyone in the Northeastern racing community.
Baldwin was killed in a lap 10 wreck at the Thompson Speedway (CT) on August 19th.
Less than a week after his death, competitors had to
assemble for their next scheduled race at the Stafford Motor
Speedway. Baldwin was on everyone’s minds during the entire
race event and was honored during pre-race festivities. A
video tribute narrated by ABC Sports personality Jack Arute
was played to the crowd over a video monitor before drivers
fired up their engines. During pace laps, the seventh place
car of Donny Lia held back to create an empty spot in the
starting field as a rememberence to Baldwin’s #7NY.
The fact that Lia earned the pole position and then redrew
the seventh positions was a meaningful coincidence to the
young driver. Lia is a long island native and had grown
close to the racing legend from nearby Merrick, New York.
The larger than life character of the Modified pit area
still lives on. Stories of his adventures have been told
throughout the past several weeks and fundraising efforts to
benefit a charity close to his heart, the Victory Junction
Camp for terminally ill children, have been in full gear.
When the teams of the Modified Series returned to Thompson to continue the remainder of the race where he was killed, volunteers set up a card table outside the pit area selling shirts and decals with Baldwin’s #7ny. The shirts were a success - nearly every crew member was wearing one of the shirts during practice and before they needed to change into their own team’s uniform for the race.
“I was definitely thinking of Tommy for this race,” said Lia. “I pictured his car right there. It meant a lot. I’m sure that I would have liked to have picked the pole, but given these circumstances, I would have picked seventh all night long. Seven was a good number.”
Lia is not the only driver who feels Baldwin’s loss. Since his passing, several racers have shared their stories of the man. Some are funny, some are touching but all are colorful.
Meanwhile, another display was set up inside the track for the fans. A restored vintage racecar of Baldwin’s was on display and the shirts sold like hotcakes. The proceeds from each set-up were sent to the Victory Junction camp.
Tom Baldwin was most at home behind the wheel of his famous #7ny. (51 Photos)
At Thompson, funds were raised for the Victory Junction Camp by selling Baldwin decals and shirts.
“I’ve known him a long time and when he died, it was
probably the saddest day of my life,” said Charlie Pasteryak
who along with his brother Carl, frequently raced against
Baldwin for years.
“When Carl and I first started, we used to always go to
Martinsville,” said Charlie Pasteryak. “Back then, we used
to go four times a year. For whatever reason, we always
ended up with Tommy in our room or us in his room with
Tommy, Jr and Jamie (Tomaino). We would talk until three or four in the morning about racing. Tommy was from the old
days. He could really tell a story. I’m going to miss that
more than anything in the world.”
Baldwin races with Donny Lia's #18 at New Hampshire earlier this season.
“Everyone’s got a favorite Tom Baldwin story,” said John Blewett, III. “Probably the biggest thing that sticks in my mind is him coming over and telling you that he was 2/10’s faster than you and he should have won the race.”
Russ Dowd, the track announcer at Thompson Speedway shared his favorite Baldwin memory with the track’s fans when teams returned to the track after the crash.
“Back at the old Islip Speedway, they had a promotion where the top guys ran either black or white cars,” said
Dowd. “The good guys drove white cars and the outlaws drove black cars. Tom ran a black car and stuck with it for a long time. One year, he told everyone that he was going to be a new Tom Baldwin and he switched to a white car. That only lasted for one season!”
Despite these stories, Baldwin was very humble and
respectful of the sport’s past and showed that emotion when
he was able to drive the car of another fallen driver earlier this season.
Charlie Jarzombek was killed in a Modified wreck back at Martinsville in 1987. The five-time Riverhead Speedway (NY) champion had plenty of battles with Baldwin through the years. When one of his old Modifieds was recently restored, Baldwin jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel.
“The happiest that I saw Tommy this year was when they
resurrected Charlie J’s coupe,” said Pasteryak. “Tommy got
to drive it at Riverhead for about 20 laps. Tommy brought
me pictures of that and we sat and talked for a half hour
about that. All of the old boys from that era stuck
together - Tommy, Wayne Anderson and those guys. As much as they hated each other, they loved each other. He was really thrilled to do that and was only about a tenth off of the good cars with that old big block in it.”
Baldwin raced against many generations of drivers through
Competitors in the Modfied Series have remembered Baldwin by displaying his number in recent events.
A restored Baldwin Coupe was on display for fans at Thompson.
“My uncle raced with Tom back in the 70’s and my family has known him forever,” said Greg Shivers. “I guess my funniest story with him is when I was running Late Models on Long Island. We were running for the championship and we were parked next to the car that was running second in points for
the season. Tom was with them and came into my pit. He walked over to my car and said, ‘the set-up you’ve got here will never do a thing. It’s all wrong.” I went out that night and won. Later he walked by and said, ‘I told you it was half-assed.’ and laughed. Stuff like that was funny.”
Baldwin was respectful of racing history - one of his proudest moments was getting the chances to drive a restored car that was raced by his fallen friend Charlie Jarzombek. (Bob Woodford, LongIslandJam.com Photo)
Numerous drivers pointed out that Baldwin was very quick to
lend a hand to his fellow competitor.
“We are all going to miss Tom,” said Blewett. “He was a
good guy. If you could cut through to the real Tom Baldwin,
which not to many knew, he would give you the shirt off his
back if you needed it. Anytime that you needed anything
whether it was a part or advice or anything, Tom Baldwin was
there for you. It’s a shame that we lost him but in another
sense we still have his memory.”
“Being from Long Island, we had something in common,” said Shivers. “I could always walk up and talk to him. He was very good like that.”
Although he was far from one of the polished and coached “young guns” that are popular when it comes to filling open seats in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series these days, that didn’t keep Baldwin from trying to get to the top level of the sport.
“Probably the wildest thing that Tom Baldwin said to me was a story that he told,” said Mike Stefanik. “He was looking for a ride with Richard Childress and they had a little
meeting. Richard thought that Tom was too old. Tom told
Richard to get his three best guys and meet him back behind the trailer and he would show them how old he was. I thought that was pretty classic of Tom Baldwin. That’s a
perfect Tom Baldwin story and it’s true.”
As drivers, crew members, family and friends try to cope
with Baldwin’s loss, a few ideas have come up about ways to remember him.
“I’d like to see in the future maybe a race named in his honor,” said Blewett. “He’s such a big part of this series and although you hate to lose anybody, you sure as hell hate to lose Tom Baldwin.”
For more on Baldwin’s life, there are a few websites that you can visit. Speed 51’s Matt Dillner has created a webpage with a few of his favorite Tom Baldwin photos. It can be found by clicking here.
Baldwin’s family and friends have set up a memorial website to honor his memories. It can be found at