For more than three years, Evan Evans has been paralyzed from the chest down, sentenced to life in a wheelchair after a freak motorcycle accident that left him in a crumpled heap on a dirt road near his home in the rural Woodcrest section of Riverside.
During those three-plus years, Evans, 27, has dreamed and schemed and planned for a way to resume the off-road racing career he had assumed for years to be his rightful heritage. After all, his father is Walker Evans, perhaps the greatest truck-racing driver in desert racing history, and until that accident in July of 1989, Evan was being groomed as his successor.
After four months in a hospital and a year of rehabilitation, Evan spent $120,000 to build a race vehicle--equipped with hand controls--out of a Chevy Blazer that his mother had been using for trips to the market. He raced it last year in the SCORE and High Desert Racing Assn. off-road seasons with moderate success, but when he was unable to find a sponsor to finance him this year, it looked as if the dream had ended.
But Ken Hodgdon, a neighborhood friend of Evans who took a fling at stadium racing last year and found he wasn't cut out for it, had a Jeep Comanche and a burning desire to stay in racing one way or the other.
And so, Hodgdon will furnish the truck and do the mechanical work, and Evans will drive in the high-profile Grand National truck class in the eight-race Mickey Thompson Off-Road Gran Prix series, which will start next Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium.
"I've never driven in a stadium race, but I went to a lot of them with my dad, so I know what to expect," Evans said while taking a break from working on the Jeep in the racing garage next to his house. "The stadium should be much safer and much better for me than racing in the desert.
"In the desert, if I crashed and got injured, I could be 100 miles from help with no one around but Paul
Farieo, my co-driver, to help me. In the stadium, there are course workers at every corner. If I flip, or get knocked around, someone will be right there to assist me. I have no feeling from my chest down, but I have 100% use of my arms and shoulders, and when you spend all day in a wheelchair, you develop some pretty strong arm muscles. I'm really looking forward to it."
One of Evans' biggest disappointments when he returned to racing in the desert last year was that his father, instead of encouraging him, tried to discourage him.
"I could see his point, that he didn't want me in the truck if I got re-injured and he might feel responsible for it," Evan said. "And from a business point of view, he didn't want to take a chance on me not being able to run a full season for one of his sponsors.
"But I couldn't understand why he couldn't know how I felt, how much racing meant to me. He knew that's what I'd done, and planned on doing, all my life. He was training me to take over his program when the accident occurred. I was on his team at the time, and when I recovered I still wanted to be a part of it, but he said no. I know how much he loves racing, so I thought he should have known that I felt like racing was in my blood."
Evans' switch from the desert to stadiums might help put father and son back on the same racing plane.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him in the stadiums," Walker said of his son. "I thought that's where he should have been in the first place. It's a whole lot different, running 10 to 15 minutes three times in an evening, compared to eight to 12 hours, or longer, out in the desert. That was not a good place for him to race."
Stadium events for trucks consist of two eight-lap heats and a 12-lap main event.
"I wish him all the best and I'll sure do what I can to help, to give him any tips or assistance," the elder Evans said. "He'll be in my old truck, and I'm looking forward to Anaheim to watch him drive it. Of course, I'll get an awfully up-close look at him."
Hodgdon, who owns an auto body shop in Riverside, bought the Jeep from the Evans Motorsports team two years ago with plans to drive it himself in the Thompson stadium series.
"I ran it last year at Anaheim, but I didn't have the aptitude for it. So I had a couple of other guys (Scott Douglas and Jimmy Nichols) drive it," Hodgdon said. "I'd known Evan for some time and knew he was having trouble getting money enough to run in the desert, so we decided to pool our resources and put him in my stadium truck this season. We didn't get started until around Christmas, so we're a little behind, but thanks to some help from American Racing Wheels and Goodyear, we're going to be at Anaheim."
The Anaheim race won't be the first time father and son have raced against one another, although in their first meeting seven years ago, Evan was riding with Steve Kelley in the Mint 400. Walker was the favorite.