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Emanuel Zervakis
Born: January 23, 1930  -  Died June 25, 2003
Home: Richmond, VA

Zervakis: His legacy still glitters   Local legend rode the cutting edge
BY RANDY HALLMAN  -TIMES-DISPATCH ASSISTANT METRO EDITOR

Emanuel Antonius Zervakis wasn't a stock car racing superstar, but everybody inside the sport knew "The Golden Greek." He won two races in 1961 in NASCAR's big-league and finished third in the season point race.

He flirted with greatness as a driver, then carved out a long career as an innovative, eccentric car owner and racing businessman. His advice was sought at all levels of the sport. Car owners, drivers and mechanics alike consulted him. Teams hired him to gain an edge over their competition.

With NASCAR at Richmond International Raceway for the weekend , Zervakis is the missing man. He died on June 25. He was 75 and he had been out of racing's competitive loop since a 1994 stroke severely limited his ability to communicate. But memories of "The Greek" remain fresh.

The son of a Greek immigrant father and a Native American mother, Zervakis was a hard worker from his boyhood - running a paper route, working at his father's restaurant on Midlothian Turnpike, toiling at a junkyard, doing odd jobs at Royall Speedway.


Grand National series 1961 third place trophy

He parlayed his knowledge of cars and his desire to succeed into a racing career. He started racing locally in 1950, was immediately a track champion. Young Zervakis would even show up for dates driving a rumbling race car. His future mother-in-law insisted that he park blocks away so as not to disturb her Chimborazo neighborhood. Zervakis pushed on to NASCAR's top league, then known as the Grand National series and was a champion at short tracks like Southside Speedway.

He finished first in a race in 1960 at Wilson, N.C., but was stripped of the victory after Joe Weatherly filed a protest regarding Zervakis fuel tank, even though mileage hadn't influenced the victory. The tank's capacity was found to be slightly over the legal limit. Weatherly was awarded the victory in the 200-lap race. His fuel tank was not inspected. Contemporaries say that when he was asked how he knew Zervakis' tank was illegal, Weatherly grinned and said, "because I was running the same tank he was."

Zervakis career highlights
  • 1950: started racing in the Hot Rod class at Royall Speedway (later Southside Speedway), won season championship
  • 1959: won Modified season championship at Southside Speedway
  • April 17, 1960: won Grand National (later Winston Cup) race at Wilson, N.C. - disqualified for oversized fuel tank
  • April 1, 1961: won 200-lap Grand National race at Greenville, S.C.
  • June 17, 1961: won 500-lap Grand National race at Norwood, Mass.
  • 1961: finished third in Grand National season standings
  • 1970-80: as a car owner, won hundreds of races and several track championships with Sonny Hutchins driving
  • Early 1970s: fielded a car for Ricky Rudd's first superspeedway victory, a Busch Grand National race at Dover, Del.
  • Fielded successful Busch and Winston Cup cars for a variety of drivers including Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Geoff Bodine, Butch Lindley, Bill Dennis, Ray Hendrick and Ted Hairfield, among others


Emanuel Zervakis # 85 at Yankee 500 - Talking with Rex White, 1960 GN Champion

Zervakis won two races in 1961 - a 200-lapper at the half-mile track in Greenville, S.C., and a 500-lap event at the quarter-mile track in Norwood, Mass. - and finished third in the series standings that year. Surrounding Zervakis in the top eight finishers that year is a hall-of-fame roster of the era: champ Ned Jarrett, Rex White, Zervakis, Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson, Jack Smith, Richard Petty.

Zervakis' oldest son, Butch, recalls how much the sport meant to his father, the driver.

"When he had been to a race, we'd go to the bedroom door in the morning and look in while he was still asleep," said Butch Zervakis. "If there was a stack of money on the table, we knew he'd won. He was gonna be in a good mood."

Butch said his father, having grown up in hard times, was a taskmaster himself. "As a dad he was very hard. . . . There was no praise, not to you. He might tell somebody else he was proud of you, but he wouldn't tell you." The elder Zervakis had been no outstanding scholar, but he put a premium on his sons' education. "I had been skipping a lot of school," said Butch, "and he found out. I'd been coming to the shop to work in the afternoons, and he told me if I wasn't going to school, I'd better get to the shop in the morning and work a full day. "I tried that for a couple of days, and he wore me out. I'd had enough of that. I went back to school." But the tough dad would defend his son, too. "My principal doubted my word about something once," said Butch, "and he called dad. My dad said, 'If he told you what he told you, it's the truth. I'll stand behind that.'"

Butch, 52, and his brother Michael, 50, still run Stock Car Products Inc., the nationwide racing-parts and race-car-building business their father built. Brother Ronnie, 48, is a Philip Morris employee.

Emanuel Zervakis broke his kneecap in a fiery crash at Southside Speedway in 1964. The injury, his business concerns and reluctance of his insurers to underwrite a race driver led to an early retirement from driving. Zervakis became a builder/engineer/owner of race cars.

Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd and Ray Hendrick were among his drivers. His longest-running success was with Richmond restaurateur Sonny Hutchins behind the wheel. From 1970 to 1980 they won hundreds of races and several track championships.

"Emanuel was always experimenting with the car," said Hutchins, 74. "He would try something that nobody else had and we would be unbeatable. We'd win 20 out of 30 races. But he was never satisfied, and the next thing he tried might not work. Then we'd have a hard time winning anything for a while.

Hutchins said he enjoyed tweaking the ever-serious Zervakis. "We'd be running great, out in front, and I'd start singing to him over the radio. He'd get on there and tell me, 'Pay attention to what you're doing before you wreck my car.' "Or I'd brace the steering wheel on my knees and go by the pits with both hands in the air, waving at him. You should've seen him."

In 1979, when Hutchins was ready to limit his driving schedule, he recommended that Zervakis take on a young Modified driver, Geoffrey Bodine. Zervakis and Bodine proved a perfect match with their single-minded approach to the sport and understanding of the subtleties of race car suspensions. Bodine moved to Richmond and lived in his recreational vehicle at Zervakis' shop off Jefferson Davis Highway. "I'd visit my wife and kids in North Carolina when I could," said Bodine, "but I spent most of my time there, working on the car. It wasn't much of a home - an RV parked behind the shop with the smell of the tobacco coming from Philip Morris next door - but it was worth it."


Zervakis had the ear of virtually everybody in stock car racing,
including seven-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty

Bodine was an immediate winner in Zervakis machinery. Driver and owner pioneered power steering in the bulky stock cars, now standard throughout the sport. In two years together they developed a series of chassis and suspension innovations - so successful and so difficult to duplicate and master that some of them were soon outlawed by NASCAR. "He was a great owner," said Bodine. "He'd let me try anything I wanted on the car. He'd let me make mistakes, and after the car didn't perform the want we wanted it to, he'd say, 'Okay, what did you learn?"

 

With Hutchins, Bodine and later Butch Lindley at the wheel, Zervakis made forays into Winston Cup racing. The efforts against NASCAR's elite showed promise - qualifying up front, leading races. Hutchins qualified on the outside front row in a race at Martinsville and out-gunned pole-sitter Richard Petty to take the early lead. In another race at Martinsville, Lindley finished second, narrowly defeated after making an extra stop for fuel.

But the impressive on-track showings never resulted in the major sponsorship necessary to run a first-class Winston Cup team. Zervakis remained a background figure in the sport - constructing cars, offering advice, building a legacy that touched countless teams. "Dad was standoffish. He wasn't an outgoing personality," said Butch Zervakis. "He understood the politics and the corporate side of things, but he didn't want to play that game."

Bodine credits Emanuel Zervakis with opening the door that led to his long career as a Winston Cup driver - 37 victories and more than $12 million in winnings to date. "He took a chance on me," said Bodine. "He didn't know if I could drive those big, heavy Grand National and Winston Cup cars. We both found out I could. "I had two really fun years with Emanuel and his three boys. And the things I learned from them made a big difference in my career." Zervakis' reputation made him an enduring source of information and race car theory.

Alan Kulwicki, a college-educated engineer and Winston Cup champion, called Zervakis nearly every week to consult. Davey Allison was a regular caller. Dale Jarrett made a point of thanking Zervakis for helping him on the way to his first Winston Cup championship.

The sport will long feel the influence of "The Golden Greek."

Randy Hallman covered motorsports for The Richmond News from '72-87.

Sad News: Emanuel T. Zervakis, age 73, died June 25, 2003 following a lengthy illness. He is survived by three sons, Antonious “Butch” Zervakis and his wife, Tracy, Ronald and his wife, Beverly, Michael and his wife, Elva. He is also survived by his wife, Marie Zervakis of LaCrosse, Virginia. Included in the family are three grandsons and two granddaughters. Mr. Zervakis was a Richmond businessman, automobile racer, promoter and fostered the careers of many nationally known racecar drivers. Mr. Zervakis received early fame as a racer, known as “The Golden Greek.” He won his first Winston Cup race in 1961 at Greenville-Pickens Raceway in Greenville, S.C. He established Stock Car Products to build racecars and became a national figure on the racing scene for many years. The family will receive friends from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 27 at the Bliley Funeral Homes’ Chippenham Chapel, 6900 Hull Street Rd. The funeral service will be held on Saturday, June 28, at 11 a.m. in the Joseph W. Bliley Funeral Homes’ Chippenham Chapel, 6900 Hull Street Road. Interment at Dale Memorial Park. Following the funeral, there will be a reception for close friends at Mr. Zervakis’ home.   (Richmond Times Dispatch)(6-26-2003)

 
Cotton Owens in the #6 Pontiac, and Emanuel Zervakis in the #85 Monroe Shook owned Chevrolet are seen here going through the turn in the 1961 Daytona 500. Owens finished 5th, and Zervakis came in 18th that day.

Emanuel Zervakis / Butch Lindley History

Butch Lindley in 1977 - From the Dave Westerman collectionIn 1982, Butch Lindley drove Emanuel Zervakis’ #01 Buick with sponsorship from Miller in 4 events. In their first outing together at North Wilkesboro, the Buick lost its engine after only 65 of the events 400 laps. But in the team’s second outing, in the Virginia National Bank 500 at Martinsville, Lindley qualified 14th and finished second to Harry Gant, who won the race by lapping the entire field. Lindley would suffer engine failures in the team’s other two events during the season.

Lindley and Zervakis also campaigned a NASCAR Busch Series car during 1982, the #81 Pontiac at the season’s 3rd event at Bristol, where they were sidelined with a rocker arm failure, and then the #01 Pontiac. In the third Busch Series event of his career, Lindley won the Spring 220 at Richmond. He then scored a 3rd place finish at Dover and then sat on the pole and won the Roses Store 200 at South Boston. When the Busch Series returned to South Boston for the Lowes 200, Lindley qualified on the pole again and finished 4th. When the Series returned to Bristol in August for the Pet Dairy 150, Lindley finished 2nd. At Richmond, in the Harvest 150, Lindley qualified 7th and won the event. He qualified 6th for the Autumn 150 at Martinsville and finished 2nd to Sam Ard. When the series returned to Martinsville for the Cardinal 250, Lindley qualified 6th and scored the win.

In 1983, Lindley started in only 2 NASCAR Winston Cup Series events. He finished 11th in Zervakis’ #01 Miller Time Buick at Richmond, and 25th at Martinsville driving Bill Terry’s #32 Buick. He competed in 25 of the year’s 35 Busch Series events driving Zervakis’s #01, Dana Racing’s #36 Pontiac, Kerry Bodenhamer’s #01 and #36. Lindley scored poles at South Boston and at his home track in Greenville, South Carolina. He won the Goody’s 200 at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, North Carolina after qualifying 2nd, and he won the DAPCO 200 at Greenville-Pickens from the pole.

Emanuel Zervakis / Rick Rudd


Ricky Rudd / Zervakis (r) Busch Win


Ricky Rudd # 01

 

Emanuel Zervakis Grand National DRIVER Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn Miles
1956 26 6 of 56 0 0 0 0 772 0 475 81 25.8 26.7 826.8
1957 27 5 of 53 0 0 0 0 1032 0 675 140 18.0 22.0 738.5
1958 28 6 of 51 0 0 0 0 457 0 465 161 12.5 32.8 377.7
1960 30 14 of 44 0 2 10 1 3382 0 12,124 8 11.0 12.4 3457.0
1961 31 38 of 52 2 19 28 1 9198 386 27,281 3 10.7 7.8 6663.9
1962 32 11 of 53 0 0 2 0 2151 5 4,545 27 13.1 19.1 2357.1
1963 33 3 of 55 0 0 0 0 436 0 1,400 54 26.3 27.0 585.9
7 years 83 2 21 40 2 17428 391 46,965   13.2 14.8 15006.9

Emanuel Zervakis Grand National OWNER Statistics

Year Driver Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn Miles
1956 Emanuel Zervakis 6 0 0 0 0 772 0 475 81 25.8 26.7 826.8
1957 Emanuel Zervakis  2 0 0 0 0 140 0 675 140 16.5 19.0 70.0
1962 Emanuel Zervakis  11 0 0 2 0 2151 5 4,545 27 13.1 19.1 2357.1
1963 Jack Anderson 3 0 0 0 0 532 0 475 98 18.7 20.7 231.4
1963 Emanuel Zervakis  3 0 0 0 0 436 0 1,400 54 26.3 27.0 585.9
1974 Sonny Hutchins 1 0 0 0 0 150 79 590 132 2.0 21.0 78.8
1981 Geoffrey Bodine 3 0 0 1 0 678 14 15,000 45 12.0 20.0 821.2
1982 Butch Lindley 4 0 1 1 0 1020 165 16,695 42 12.8 20.0 547.3
1983 Butch Lindley 1 0 0 0 0 396 7 3,535 56 21.0 11.0 214.6
1983 Mark Martin 1 0 0 0 0 279 0 99,665 30 20.0 29.0 418.5
1983 Morgan Shepherd 1 0 0 0 0 8 0 287,325 20 15.0 32.0 4.2
1984 Sam Ard 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1,100   27.0 31.0 .5
1984 Dale Jarrett 1 0 0 0 0 641 0 7,305 72 25.5 25.5 410.3
9 years 39 0 1 4 0 7204 270 438,785   17.5 22.2 6566.6


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