|Browse by Sport
|Find us on
NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 10, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Ray Evernham. Ray, thank you so much for joining us and your time today. To kick us off, I was hoping you could take us back to the start of your time with the 24 team, tell us how long was it before you realized this was going to be something special with that team and Jeff.
RAY EVERNHAM: Oh, boy. Actually started the 24 team I think the day after we won, Jeff and I won the Charlotte race with Bill Davis' car in May of '92. I was scheduled to start at Hendrick in June. I started after that. So it was actually June of '92 that started with Hendrick building the 24 team.
You know, it was special all the time. I knew how special Jeff Gordon was. I knew that Hendrick Motorsports had the resources. I think from the day that I walked in there and realized what we had to work with, that it was going to be good. I mean, I don't think I ever imagined the roll we were going to get on in the '90s, but I certainly knew we had everything we needed to win races.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Ray. We'll open it up to questions.
Q. Ray, you were often credited with revolutionizing some of the modern pit stops with bringing in professional athletes, treating it like a sports team. Since those days, how have you seen things evolve? Next year we'll have one less crewman going over the wall. How do you think that's going to impact things?
RAY EVERNHAM: First, I want to make it clear to everybody on the call, I know you thank me for the time, but it's an honor to be able to sit here and take questions for the Hall of Fame. I can do this all day if you want (laughter).
The pit stuff, I think I was maybe responsible for bringing it to a different level. You've got to go all the way back to the Wood Brothers when you look at the modern day pit crew, the focus on how important it was to shave those seconds off. Those guys started it. Everybody else since then has pretty much just kind of developed it and reworked it.
We had the idea about bringing in professional athletes. The biggest thing I thought of back then is how can I expect a guy to work the way we're working in the shop, at that time 14, 16 hours a day, then be able to pit the car on Sundays, be fresh, be focused. Let's train some people that have skills and abilities and time to do that, that could be faster and we could really gain something.
I think that set the stage for what's happening now. If you look at Hendrick, they've got backup teams, most all teams now have pit crew coaches and trainers. I think we might have been the first to have a set athletic trainer and things like that over at Hendrick.
Without a doubt, it has brought the sport to a different place. I don't want to say a different level, but it's just an area of competition that it created. It's very important to whether or not you can win a race or championship.
It used to be if your car was fast enough, you could pass, you could lose a couple spots on pit road and get that back. It's not that way right now, it's more equal. The more equal the cars become, the more important that pit crew becomes. Certainly the more important the pit crew became, the more money you had to pay them (laughter). It kept going up and up. I think that's what NASCAR and team owners looked at, how do we cut some of that cost. You're going to pay fast gunners, and fast jackmen. The only way to do it is reduce the number of people going over pit road.
That reduces the owner's cost of going to a race weekend, but it also increases the safety on pit road by taking one more person off of pit road. I think it will be a unique situation. People have done that before. We've been down to one tire carrier before. There was a time you could have as many people as you wanted going over pit wall, then they cut it back to seven, then six, and now five.
Someday you may see four.
Q. Ray, I wanted to get your thoughts on if you look beyond the wins and championships, what do you want your legacy to be?
RAY EVERNHAM: When people talk about legacy, I don't know. You think about what do you want to be known as, known for. I think, from my side of things, as much as I feel like I'm a decent business guy. I thought I was okay. I just really want to be known as a good mechanic that loved racing. Because of that, racing allowed me to do things that I would never have been able to do in my life had I not met the people and been involved in cars.
When you say 'legacy', I'd like to be known as a hard working, innovative crew chief that cared about the sport. I'd like to tell you I'd like to be known as a driver, but I didn't have the talent for that. I was okay as a car owner, okay at TV, but I felt like as a crew chief, that was my niche. The fact I brought more of a team perspective, a professional sports team perspective to NASCAR, from the crew chief and the team side, I'm proud of that.
Q. Do you have a favorite moment in your career that kind of stands out from everything else? It could be a race or a season or a championship. Any one particular thing?
RAY EVERNHAM: I think it's when we won the Darlington million in 1997 because we worked really hard for that. We tested the car. I didn't like it. We went home, cut the snout right off it, put a new snout on it. It still wasn't fast enough. I don't remember where we qualified. We hit the wall 52 times during the race. We made 16 or 17 pit stops. We were about out of nitrogen, borrowing tires from the 4 car. Jeff was wore out in the car, we were worn out in the pits. We kept fighting and fighting and fighting.
That day we won $1 million, won that race at Darlington as a team. I think that was one of our better days. That was one of the days that let us know that we didn't have to have the fastest car if we kept working. Everybody gave their best effort that day, I felt like, Jeff as a driver, me as a crew chief, the team, the crew. That was one of the victories I can look back and say we really absolutely won because we had a great day together.
Darlington has always been my favorite racetrack. To have won the Southern 500 under circumstances like that, because I'm going to tell you, when we took that car home, it was basically totaled. He had the front clip bent, the rear clip bent, the right side door bars knocked out of it, the rear‑end housing was bent. It was like no way that car should have finished the race, let alone won a million bucks.
Q. Ray, I talked to Kasey Kahne last week. He said as owners go, you got more out of him than anyone else he had ever worked for. You weren't afraid to call him in at 7 a.m. in the morning.
RAY EVERNHAM: I can't believe he told you that story (laughter).
Q. He's at the point in his career, this is a pivotal year for him. What it kind of led to from the standpoint of ownership, you were a very hands‑on owner. At the level you quickly rose to, certainly Dodge gave you an opportunity to be that guy, but where are we going to get that next generation of owners? Is part of the reason why maybe there's something missing right now, drivers aren't really held accountable, because the guy whose name on the door is not the guy who is the hands‑on owner, such as you were back in the day?
RAY EVERNHAM: Boy, I think some of that comes with a double‑edged sword. Guys like me, even though we could get more out of drivers, we could do more things mechanically, we didn't get the full effect that we could out of the business. I don't think it's the same type of personality.
I have a tendency to be outspoken, be very direct with drivers, crews, people who work with me. That's hard to do sometimes in business. Sometimes you suffer.
You look at guys like Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, they've been really good at balancing both. Richard Childress. Even Chip Ganassi, to a point. I think it's a unique personality.
I think as the business grows, you're going to need guys to be smart in the business area. You're going to have an owner, if he's not a hands‑on car guy, a racer like the guys I just mentioned, he's going to have to give his director of competition or somebody the authority and respect so he can handle the drivers that way, much like the head coach of an NFL team. The guys can't go running to the front office and say that the coach yelled at them and hurt their feelings. Drivers have to be held as athletes, as well as pit crew members, shop crew members, whoever it is, have to be held to a standard that you want that team to race at or to perform at.
You have to have an owner that's going to stand behind whoever they put in charge to make sure that they've got the authority to hold those people accountable. It's tough because it's hard to hold everybody accountable at the same level. Again, I felt like I took pride in doing that. Whether you were a shop guy or whether you were Kasey Kahne, you were all accountable to the same standard of the race team.
Q. Do you have any feelings as to where the next generation of owners might come from, since we have a pretty graying ownership base at this point?
RAY EVERNHAM: I think, honestly, if I were to look out in the future, if you said, Ray, get your crystal ball out, tell us what you think, I think that the owners, again, going forward are going to be either businessmen or a group of businessmen that hire guys like Greg Zipadelli, Chad Knaus, some of the crew chiefs that have excelled from the competition side to actually run their competition.
The business of racing has gotten so big, it can't all come under one umbrella now. It's going to have to be separated, as I said, from the business side and competition side.
The other thing you throw in there that eats up a lot of time that most sports teams don't have is the manufacturing side. Race teams do most of their own manufacturing and development. I just think those three things are going to have to be split up. I believe that the new owners of NASCAR teams eventually will be coming from Wall Street and the business side, the same type of guys that own football, basketball and baseball teams. They'll be wealthy guys that hire racers to handle their stuff. The days of racers like Rick Hendrick, Chip Ganassi, Richard Childress, I'm not sure there's a bunch of those guys out there.
Q. When you had the chance to go with Dodge, was that a no‑brainer for you? Did you assume you would be with Hendrick in some role long‑term?
RAY EVERNHAM: It wasn't a no‑brainer. It was a really, really, really interesting opportunity. It was something that I struggled with because Hendrick was my home. Rick Hendrick has been good to me. I had a lot of my success and things there. It was a tough decision to look at where I really wanted to go, what I thought I could do.
I think at that time Jeff Gordon was thinking the same thing as I was. He was changing. Did he really need or want to have Ray Evernham on the box? Ray Evernham was thinking, Do I really want to be a crew chief every Sunday, or can I take a shot at doing this?
I think, you know, the emotional connection to Hendrick and to Jeff was very, very tough for me. But the excitement of being able to take that challenge, just to see if you could do it. I don't know, it's that Evil Knievel in all of us knowing that if I don't make that jump, I'm going to bust my butt, but I still really want to do it.
It was not an easy decision. The people at Dodge really stood up and took away a lot of the risk for me, gave me the support. That helped me make that decision.
Q. You're married to a racecar driver. Let me ask you about this. Danica made a lot of noise in NASCAR, a lot of news, but she did not get that win. What has to happen to put a woman in a situation where she can win Cup races?
RAY EVERNHAM: They're getting closer. I think they're getting closer. They just have to keep giving them opportunity. Every lady that comes along I think does a good job. I think Danica, had she stayed in the XFINITY Series, absolutely would have won a NASCAR race. I think she can still easily win in Truck or XFINITY. Cup is just a tough level.
Spending some time winning in Truck, winning in XFINITY, then moving on up to Cup, there's no guarantees. I've seen some guys that I thought were great drivers win in Truck, they win in ARCA, win in XFINITY, and they never win in Cup. I think that we've got to keep providing opportunities for girls to get that experience.
Now with the technology of the cars, the way they're doing the setups, things like that, it will make it a little bit easier for newer people to come in. But we've just got to continue to provide an opportunity or a path for ladies to get experience.
As I said, I think Danica, my wife, it helped, all the way back to Shawna Robinson, Louise Smith, if you want to go that far. Every time a lady comes, I know it stinks that so many people are so critical of lady drivers, much more critical than they are of a male driver of the same performance. Each time one of those girls weathers that storm, gets a little bit further down the road, gets some credibility, it gets a lady closer to Victory Lane in NASCAR.
I think Danica did a really fantastic job when she drove in the XFINITY stuff, then when she came to Cup. I think she opened up a lot of doors that will help other ladies.
Q. This year is going to be the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's lone Daytona 500 win. I know in that race, you finished 16th. You had a cylinder go down. You weren't able to compete for the win at the end of that. I'm curious, knowing how much of a competitor you are, what do you recall of that race? Could you grasp maybe the significance of Earnhardt winning? Was it as much the competitor in you was more upset not having the success, trying to resolve what happened? Did you go out onto pit road and be one of the ones that congratulated him? What comes to mind about that race?
RAY EVERNHAM: Well, first of all, I don't think it's any secret that I was a Dale Earnhardt fan even before I came to Cup. It was always mixed emotions every time we were racing with them.
I remember probably busted up a stopwatch or clipboard when we busted that cylinder because we were running third with three, four laps to go. It was right there towards the end. We were going to be in the mix because our car was really good. Think I think we broke a valve spring or something like that. It was about finishing, not getting way behind in points.
The old points system, gosh, if you came out of Daytona in 40th, it made for a tough three or four weeks before you got back up.
Honestly, I don't remember what happened at the end of the race. I realized when it was over that Earnhardt won it. I started to walk back to the pit area. I saw everybody lining up. I jumped in line with them to shake his hand.
Again, an honor to have raced against him, just an honor to have raced against him. To be there, shake his hand, be part of that line, definitely did that. Don't remember a lot about the race other than the fact that, as I said, I felt like we were right in the mix there. Broke with just a few laps to go.
When I look back on it now, I know how important that was to Dale. I actually just read something yesterday, I believe, on one of the social media things, when he talked about, hey, he's got to admit that he had water in his eyes, a tear in his eyes as he was coming to the checkered. When you try to explain to people how much some of these things and milestones mean to some of the toughest guys you know, it just lets you know how hard it is to do it.
Really happy that we were there that day. As I said, I did get to shake his hand.
Q. In your career, you worked with a lot of guys. You're essentially the first crew chief to get in the Hall of Fame since 2013. What does it mean? Obviously your selection is worthy with all you accomplished, but what does it mean to be one of the few crew chiefs, to go in before some of the other guys?
RAY EVERNHAM: It blows me away. When I look at the guys that I'm in there with, blows me away. When I look at the guys that are nominated, people that I still look at as mentors. You always picture yourself, it was like going to the guru on the mountain, going to speak to Smoky, sitting in [Banjo Matthews]' shop while he was in the barber chair, [Herb Knapp] being up with me at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning at Banjo's stringing IROC cars, showing me how to set a front end. To be able to talk to Glenn, Leonard Wood. It blows me away. It amazes me.
I have been for months struggling to find the right words to describe it, which I still haven't, and that will be a problem, I guess, next Friday night if I don't get those words completely.
I can tell you that it really, truly just amazes me because I have never held myself in the same light as I hold a lot of those people. When you're growing up, you're thinking, Man, if I could only be as smart as that guy, if I could only ever be as good as that guy. Now going into the Hall of Fame with some of them, ahead of some of the others, it just totally blows me away.
Q. Earlier Ken Squier was saying one of your biggest strengths was your ability to manage people. That was something that was needed as the sport grew. I'm curious if you enjoyed managing people. How much did the challenge or the importance of managing people change throughout your career?
RAY EVERNHAM: I appreciate certainly Ken saying that. By the way, again, it's an honor for me just to be going in with this class with the other folks that are in it, Ken included, because I've been a huge fan of him long before I ever even got to come to the sport.
You know, there's a big difference in what I call coaching and managing. I don't like to be a manager. I don't like to be a business‑type manager where you're just directing people. But I really enjoyed the coaching, working with people together, solving problems, being part of a team, you know, that kind of environment.
I think, unfortunately, because it's just evolution, the way the sport has gotten now, the teams are so big that it's gotten almost impersonal. They have to be managed like big businesses rather than smaller sports teams.
I know, again, the NFL, NBA, they've all got teams, but they're still, what, 50, 60 guys. They've got a roster, right? In my shop, I had 25 guys. When you go to Hendrick, Penske, Childress, you're talking about 400 or 500 people. It's just gotten so big, that brand of coaching.
Whether I should try to think that I deserve to be even mentioned in a Lombardi style or not, that's kind of who I patterned after. Tough on people, drive them hard, but cared about them. You've got to be able to have that compassion along with determination. That part I enjoyed. I loved working down on the floor with the guys. I loved being at the racetrack.
But as far as the actual, you know, managing, without the personal touch, is just something I didn't enjoy. I really believe that's why I didn't enjoy being a car owner as much as I did a crew chief, because we got so big so fast that I had to act more as a CEO and manager rather than one‑on‑one digging down with the guys coaching.
If I were in the military, I'd be much better as the guy that's down on the ground leading a small company of men than I would be up directing something from Washington, D.C. I like to be in the middle of the fight.
Q. Dale Inman, one of the guys you're joining in the Hall, tells people in the garage, Hey, it didn't used to be this easy. What about that? Can you compare the crew chief position when you can it to what you know about the guys back in the '50s and '60s? Was it harder when you were doing it? You think it's harder when they were doing it?
RAY EVERNHAM: I think it's a mixture of both. I think when Dale Inman and those guys were doing it, the crew chief was really kind of the chief mechanic, and his crew was maybe three or four guys. They built everything. They drove the trucks back and forth to California. They didn't make any money. They worked around the clock, did it with pure passion, again, because they wanted to.
Physically demanding, family sacrifice, not a lot of return for your time. Money‑wise, absolutely harder when Dale Inman did it. When I was coming along, crew chiefs could still work on the car. Mark Martin and I talked about this the other day. I've talked about it with Rusty, Bill Elliott, everybody else. We saw the best of it. We got to do everything. Technology was coming in, TV was coming in, we made money. We got to fly on airplanes. We got to stay in motor coaches. We got to drive company vehicles. We were working hard, but you know what, we weren't driving the hauler, we weren't doing all the work. We had 15 cars, not three or four. We weren't running a hundred races, we were running 30, 35.
I don't know that mentally the job was any easier. I think the competition was tougher. It was tougher to win. Again, that part of it easier? We were rewarded. Crew chiefs nowadays, I think that they have a lot less out of their control than Dale Inman and I did in our time. I think there's a lot of things that are done for them. I think the rules are a lot harder. The competition is a lot harder.
These guys are making money. Their travel isn't as demanding. Straight up, they don't put in the hours we used to have to put in. I can remember working 16, 18 hours a day, seven days a week, period. That's just the way it was. A lot of these guys now don't have to go through those things.
By the same token, they have less that's in their control. They're scrutinized a lot more. A guy sitting up there in that box right now, there's a lot of shuffling that goes on out there if you don't produce. There's a lot of data that gets thrown at them that they have to process. Again, the machine is such a big, big part of it now, that a lot of it is out of their control. Even though they may have it a little bit physically more easy, they're probably rewarded as well.
I think we did pretty darn good in the '90s, some of the crew chiefs that I worked with. These guys are still rewarded pretty well.
Mentally, I think mentally they're under a lot more pressure than we were because there's just so much out of their control.
THE MODERATOR: Ray, thank you so much for your time. Really great answers today. Thank you to the media for joining us.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports