This week they won again.
A coach who might know more than anyone else active in his sport led a star who was once so overlooked that he was lucky at one point to get a spot on any roster have teamed up to win again. They’ve won so many times now that their fans are beyond proud and their critics are beyond fed up. Words like dynasty are being tossed around and there is no end in sight to when their winning will stop. They brought back another trophy to New England just like many times before.
Oh…you thought that I was talking about the New England Patriots? Nope. Wrong sport. The setting for this dominance is the sport of Modified racing where the role of Bill Belichick is played by Phil Moran while Doug Coby is filling in for the part of Tom Brady.
Coby’s victory in the 50-lap Icebreaker race at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC) on Saturday came in an unsanctioned open Modified show. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will get its season started next month at the same track. Coby goes into that race as the defending champion. It is the same position that he has entered the season in for four of the last five years.
Unlike in Tom Brady’s situation, there is no talk of Coby being the G.O.A.T. of Modified racing. It’s my opinion, that there is no Greatest Of All Time here. There has just been too many greats in too many different timeframes, that they cannot accurately be compared. If there was and a name other than Richie Evans was discussed, fans would call blasphemy. They may be right, Evans was a true legend of the sport who accumulated so many points early in the 1985 season that even after his death in a practice wreck at Martinsville Speedway (VA), nobody could catch him in the NASCAR Tour standings. He was honored as the posthumous champion of the Tour that year. Evans defined much of Modified racing through the 1970’s and early 1980’s. There is an excellent book out there by Bones Bourcier titled “Richie! The Richie Evans Story” where all of Evans’ accomplishments can be read about.
I never met Evans, but from what I have read and heard about him, he wouldn’t take kindly to being called a G.O.A.T. He doesn’t seem the type to have enjoyed catchy nicknames, especially one shared with a skinny farm animal. He cared a lot about being the greatest of any given race and had a will to win, but after the victory lane photos were completed, he would be heading on to the next race (often after a bit of a late night celebration with fans and competitors) and just wanted to win again…and again.
Great competitors would take on Evans and sometimes beat him. A rivalry with Jerry Cook was legendary. Geoff Bodine, Greg Sacks, Jimmy Spencer and Ron Bouchard were a few other worthy adversaries. Actually, they were all Hall of Fame caliber drivers. All of those drivers were as hungry as possible every time they hit the track. They were all chasing a victory on any given night though. I think it is safe to say that nobody was chasing an acronym to put in front of their name.
After Evans was gone, Mike Stefanik rewrote the Tour record book in some places. Great? No doubt. But Stefanik was never the type to brag either. He enjoyed a quiet pride in his accomplishments. Later on, Tony Hirschman would redefine quiet pride even more. Despite being unbeatable at times, Hirschman never boasted either. In fact, getting more than a few words out of him after a victory was a challenge. He was too fixated on the next race already.
There were other Modified greats on the Tour through the years as well. A few of them were Jerry Marquis, Mike McLaughlin, Ted Christopher, Steve Park, the Fuller Brothers (Rick and Jeff) and Mike Ewanitsko. Some racers were so great that they only needed one name to be known to fans – Bugsy (Stevens) and Reggie (Ruggiero) come to mind there. Hell, The Reg was so awesome that he is a legend among legends even without winning a championship.
There is no G.O.A.T. in Modified racing with all due respect to every man that I have already mentioned and others that I have left out. Instead, there is a lot of shared greatness.
Still, it is more than fair to say that Doug Coby is the greatest of this time.
Winning 80% of the championships over the past five years is beyond impressive. More impressive though is the fact that so many other competitors define Coby, Moran and their Mike Smeriglio-owned team are the gold standard right now. Eventually, someone will find a way to beat them and start a new run of greatness. It might not be as long or as dominant, but it will come. The success that this team enjoys is a motivator for other teams.
Underdog racer Max Zachem recently told me that the #2 team of Coby and pals is the total package. Every time that Zachem goes into his own shop to work on his car, he knows that he has to try and work harder than that team to catch and pass them. In 2016, Zachem was able to do that for about half of the season. There is no whining here, just motivation. To be the best, you need to beat the best.
There is also a whole group of Long Island drivers and teams ready to step up and challenge for the king’s crown. In the coming weeks, I will have a story on those contenders and a feature on Max Zachem right here at TachNeedle.com so you can see how they hope to battle this season.
All of these teams do share one thing though – an appreciation for the greatness of Coby and his team. But to try to weigh his success against those who came generations before him is a waste of time. Modified racing has had plenty of greatness. The sport’s fans are very lucky in that respect. No observer who I know can point to any “weak” eras on the Tour.
What might be most interesting about Coby is that he almost didn’t get a chance to show any greatness. Coby and his father were standouts in weekly racing at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) before Coby was discovered by car owner Don King. Coby would do a few separate tours of duty in King’s equipment and also enjoyed a ride in the Curt Chase #77 early in his career. But as other drivers brought money to get new rides, Coby found himself out in the cold. He picked up a lot of one or two race deals to stay on the Modified Tour. Sometimes, he couldn’t even do that and ran a SK Modified weekly at Waterford Speedbowl (CT). There were lots of lean years where it looked like Coby might not get his chance. Wayne Darling ended up giving him that chance by selecting him for the potent #52 Modified and the rest turned into history.
Someday, Modified fans will debate how great Coby was. Some of those in the conversation will have seen him race. Some won’t be as lucky. While I wouldn’t expect for Coby to be considering retirement anytime soon, it might be a good idea to check the 2017 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule for a race near you. To see Coby be challenged is going to be entertaining and nobody knows quite where the story will go from here.