There was a time when Ford Pintos dominated on Martinsville Speedway’s half-mile, but until Thursday it had been quite a few years since one challenged the tight turns.
And Thursday the dozen or so vintage Pintos weren’t exactly “challenging” the historic oval. They were cruising at low speed, but the drivers and passengers were ecstatic just the same.
The Pintos, all driven to the track from as far away as a thousand miles, were part of the Pinto Stampede, and the Martinsville stop was to honor the late Richie Evans, who won nine NASCAR Modified championships and 10 Modified races at Martinsville. And most of those wins came in a Pinto.
“We wanted to honor Richie because he’s going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in a few days and he raced a Pinto,” said Norm Bagi, who founded the Pinto Stampede last year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the Pinto in 1971. The 2011 event was supposed to be a one-time affair, but Bagi said everyone enjoyed it so much, it is now an annual tour that also serves as a fundraiser for The Wounded Warrior Foundation.
The drivers took 10 laps around Martinsville Speedway in their Pintos, one lap for each Martinsville race Evans won. All of the participants were wearing commemorative Richie Evans t-shirts donated by Evans’ widow.
While the Ford Pinto was a dominant car in the NASCAR Modified ranks in the 1970s and early 1980s, it certainly never was considered a muscle car like Mustangs, Camaros or Chargers. But it was one of the most popular, economical and functional cars of the era. And that, Bagi said, is the enduring charm of the compact car, and the reason fans drove them from as far away as Kansas City and Milwaukee for the Stampede.
“Everybody that grew up in the seventies has a Pinto story,” said Bagi, who is a building superintendent in New York City. “It’s a neat little car. I grew up in the back seat of one. My parents had Mustangs, got a divorce and then we had Pintos.
“I hadn’t looked at one in 30 years and saw a (Pinto) station wagon with orange plaid seats and orange shag carpet on EBay. I told my wife I had to have it.”
Bagi said everywhere the Stampede stops, people take pictures of the cars and share stories. “It’s not the car guys that talk with us; it’s the regular guys that have Pinto stories.”
The Stampede will cover over 600 miles in two days winding up at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia. But for most, the 600 miles is a small portion of the trip. One couple drove 990 miles from Kansas City to get to Martinsville; another had traveled from Milwaukee. Now they have another Pinto story to share.
Martinsville Speedway PR
Ford Pintos Turn Back Time, Stampede Back Into Martinsville Speedway
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