50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Ed Flemke, Sr. 1930-1984
“A Modified Legend in His Own Time”
Eddie Flemke was never a track point champion at Stafford, but in the eyes of his fellow competitors, fans, and the media, he was a true champion.
Flemke never raced on Stafford’s dirt surface, but when the track re-opened as a paved oval on June 2, 1967 Flemke was first in line driving the Bob Judkins 2X and Flemke won his first of 23 career races at Stafford. Pete Hamilton, who would eventually move onto the Grand National ranks (WINSTON CUP) and win the 1970 Daytona 500, finished second and was followed by Dick Watson, Bob Santos and Fred Harbach.
When Stafford opened as a paved oval, Flemke had already established himself as ‘the guy to beat’ wherever he ran. Never running for points, Flemke was a money racer. During the early 1960’s, he led a band of drivers that raced from Massachusetts to Virginia, running six to seven nights a week. It was during that period that Flemke amassed over 400 victories and the group was tabbed as ‘The Eastern Bandits’.
Flemke was an innovator and one of the great thinkers in the sport. When Modifieds were running a single, transverse, front spring suspension, Flemke devised a semi-independent front end using the conventional straight axle with separate leaf springs on each side. Flemke would also spend hours studying the competition, looking for their trends and weaknesses. He credited many wins to the fact that he could out-think the competition.
In addition to winning the first asphalt event at Stafford, Flemke also won the first event promoted by Jack Arute on July 11, 1970. Ironically, Flemke drove the Garutti Brothers #14, which was co-owned by Arute. Flemke was also responsible for the successful careers of others. During the late 1960s he took Pete Hamilton under his wing and also took a shine to a ‘wild kid’ from upstate New York by the name of Richie Evans. In later years, it would be Ronnie Bouchard who would come under his wing. Those he helped never forgot. He was the master!
Although he never officially retired, Flemke’s last big year was 1977 when he won the Labor Day 200 at Stafford and one week later, the Thompson 300. In his honor, a section of the main grandstand at Stafford is named after him and he was posthumously inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame on February 1, 1998.
By: Phil Smith