By BILL FOLEY
Hall of Famer Steve Paine was in a rather unique place as the Super DIRTcar Series Modifieds rolled into the Weedsport pits on Tuesday night.
Less than 24 hours after being inducted into the Hall of Fame Paine was back racing, but it wasn’t in his familiar yellow 7x.
There in the pits parked on the grass was the Matt Sheppard 9s. However, on the side the 7x was in place of the usual numeral and Steve Paine was going to be behind the wheel.
This was one of the major stories surrounding this year’s Hall of Fame induction and 100-lap main event.
For long time fans seeing Paine alongside Alan Johnson on the Weedsport surface was something that has been missing for quite some time. Both men were inducted into the shrine for dirt racers on Monday night and they drew a tremendous amount of attention all night long.
Attention was on Paine throughout the night.
As he said, “They tell me I am in the best car on the circuit.”
This combination actually came out of nowhere.
Steve explained, “I broke a rocker arm in my car on Saturday night and ruined a valve. Matt asked me if I wanted to run his car at Weedsport and I accepted.”
Matt and Steve have a long relationship as the driver of the 7x explained, “Stu (Sheppard) and Matt had a car and I think they had motor trouble one night. I had bought a used motor from Jerry Haers and Matt ran it.”
Paine knew Matt was going to be one of those drivers at that moment as he exclaimed, “Matt instantly was real good.”
For Steve Paine it had been a humbling couple of days.
Reflecting on his induction into the Hall of Fame he said, “You really don’t ever think that you are going to be honored like that. I am just a racer and that’s what I’ve done and have been doing. All of a sudden all of those years have snuck up on you and you don’t think you are that old to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
Throughout the night Steve was accompanied by his proud sons Billy and Tommy. They had nothing but smiles on their faces as they watched media, fans and other drivers come over and shake their dad’s hand.
Billy said, “This is pretty cool” while his brother said that the past 24 hours had been “fun.” Though fans of their dad they haven’t gone racing yet. However, that appears to be near an end as Billy said, “We just bought a microd and will start racing this summer.”
Standing pit side early in the evening he said, “This is going to be something. It will be a learning experience for me. I haven’t driven a car at Weedsport in 15 years and I’ve really never even seen the track. This is going to be interesting. This is nothing like the track that I drove here for years.”
Paine started out racing in 1979 in a Street Stock and in 1981-82 he was a Late Model driver and would compete at Weedsport regularly.
Looking back he said, “I started to run a Modified at Canandaigua in 1982 and in ’83 I ran a used Troyer that had been Fred Tanners that had been driven by Johnny Podolak. It was when Troyer first started building dirt cars and it was the 14th Modified to come out of the Troyer shop.”
He raced on his own for most of the time, but noted, “In ’95 to ’97 I had an arrangement to run for an owner in Quebec and I would run their on Friday and Saturday night and then come back and run my own car at Weedsport on Sunday. In those days we ran 100 times plus a year.”
On Tuesday night he was anxious to get in the car to go racing.
Looking ahead he said, “I have three goals for tonight. First to qualify, second bring it back in one piece and not wreck and third run good. I think we should be okay.”
Paine grabbed off the fifth spot in the third heat to achieve his first goal to qualify.
Ironically, in the feature event he lined up alongside fellow Hall of Famer Alan Johnson.
At one time late in the race fans turned their attention from the tremendous three car battle for the lead to witness a moment that will linger in the minds of veteran race goers. There wasSteve Paine, Alan Johnson and Brett Hearn, three of the greatest names in dirt car racing, battling for positions. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t for a top ten position, but it was one of those memorable moments.
Paine finished 12th to accomplish goal number two and three.
Steve later said, “The track didn’t work out the way I thought it would and I guess we were just a little too tight out there tonight. I really felt that about 50 or 60 laps in we were able to start racing safely. I didn’t want to take any chances out there and Matt had said just to go out and race hard and the car could be fixed if it needed to be.”
Of being behind the wheel of the potent 9s (but 7x on this night) Steve said, “It is different and a little tighter than mine, but it is a great car.”
Standing pit side after a night of racing with sweat pouring off him Paine stood patiently giving interviews and accepting the congratulations from fans on what was a very special night.
Summarizing the Hall of Fame experience Paine said, “I enjoyed it, but it was a one shot deal.”
With a smile he said, “At least I don’t have to work on it, wash it or fix it.”
The surprise appearance in the Matt Sheppard car by racing legend Steve Paine just added something special to an already special event.