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January 19, 2018

Ray Evernham

Jeff Gordon

Charlotte, North Carolina

THE MODERATOR: Please welcome Ray Evernham, NASCAR Class of 2018 inductee, along with Jeff Gordon. Thanks, guys, for joining us, and congratulations.
Ray, can you tell us a little bit about what being inducted into the Hall of Fame means to you?
RAY EVERNHAM: It's really been incredibly hard to describe because I've tried to tell people it's like a firehose of emotions. Normally when something happens, it's one or two emotions, but just about everything that you could possibly feel, whether that's happiness or sadness or pride or humbleness, it happens because when you start racing like I did and like Jeff did, you never really expect to get there. You dream about it and you work hard to get there and the whole time you're doing it you never really think that you could ever make a mark in a sport that would get you at this level.
I can tell you it still really blows me away. To stand up on top of that stage there and look at the banner and look at the people sitting there in front of me and when I turned around people were on their feet and clapping, it was like very surreal. It was just like being in a movie. I thought, man, oh, wow, now I know how Rocky felt.
But I can tell you it's the greatest moment of my career.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, you've played a large role in his career, as well. What does this mean to you?
JEFF GORDON: I think he played a larger role in my career. You know, I'm so thankful to be a part of this. What he's meant to me with my driving career and as a friend because of all we've gone through‑‑ I mean, we've seen one another go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, on the track or off the track. And when you go through that and you have the kind of relationship that we had, the business relationship that then turned into the friendship, you know, when you see somebody honored like Ray was tonight, which is so deserving‑‑ this guy sacrificed‑‑ I think that's why I love seeing people‑‑ listen, don't get me wrong; I love seeing the drivers. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, all of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But to me, the drivers already get a lot of rewards or accolades or written up, but guys like Ray, even though he got his fair share, but it was never enough for the effort, the sacrifices and the things that he did to make that car, the team and me really shine the way that it did.

Q. Both you guys, you started off in 1992 with the first race in Atlanta, then you went to '93, of course, and then the success comes. But when did you both personally know about the chemistry that you had? When did you feel the chemistry come together for both of you?
RAY EVERNHAM: We met in September 1990 and we worked out a test in Charlotte, and I knew it immediately. We just clicked. I liked him a lot. He liked me. We spoke the same language. You know, and he was a kid. I think you might have been 19.
And we had fun, and then when he got in the race car, I had many years at IROC. I had seen the best drivers in the world. I knew talent. What I saw him do that day at Charlotte with the car that we had that wasn't that special, I believe it was a Buck Baker school car we went and tested with, and he was quick, I think second quick overall that day to Davey Allison. He did some pretty amazing things, and the way that he spoke to me and the way that he described what the car was doing and what he needed in the car, I thought to myself, this guy is way too young. That's not experience; that's pure talent and that's ability.
Man, we had a fun time, and we did‑‑ I think we did three or four races in 1990, and we just stayed close.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I would say the same for me. It clicked right away. I know my stepdad is not in this room, but he's here, and he has a better memory than I do, and he and Ray have joked about this before, but I came home from that test, and I just said, you're not going to believe this guy. He had a clipboard. He's writing down every word that I say, and he's like, okay, we're going to do this, we're going to put this spring in. I was like, what's that going to do? I didn't know anything about springs or shocks. I was racing dirt sprint cars and midgets. He said, well, it should do this, and I'd go in the corner, and it did it. I was like, oh, my God, this guy is a genius. So we clicked immediately.

Q. There was some thought that maybe you should go in together, and with Jeff being eligible for next year. First off, could you guys have handled that emotionally if you both were in the same class, and Jeff, were you watching at all thinking, man, if I'm in that position next year, how am I going to do it?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I'm going to ask Dale Jarrett to read my speech if that happens. (Laughter.)
You know me, I'm just‑‑ I've learned over the years it's a combination of nerves and the way that my emotions‑‑ I get very passionate and emotional because it means so much to me. I mean, listen, I was sitting behind Ken Squier. He's over there like, oh, my God, I've never been so nervous, and he got up there, and I was just like, oh, my God, that's not nerves. I'll show you nerves. No, I saw a little‑‑ when I see somebody that means a lot to me that I'm close to, like Ray, start to show a little emotion, that's when it gets me. Then when I hear him say some of the things about me, then‑‑ so I don't know how he did what he did. He did amazing. I'm just terrible at those types of things.
I really‑‑ yeah, I don't even want to think about that.
RAY EVERNHAM: It's hard. It's hard. It's been emotional to me. I mean, certainly you look at this as a cap‑off on your career, and you look back, as I said‑‑ I meant it when I said I've seen some of the toughest, most articulate guys we know stand on that stage and be emotional. Tonight it's very special to me because Ray J was up there, Jeff was up there and Ben Kennedy, again, because his dad Bruce and I were close, to have all three of them up on the stage. When I walked up there, I said, I hope I can get through it without crying, but that's normally Jeff's deal. But I get it.
It's a tremendous, tremendous honor, and when you start to‑‑ when you realize that it really is all about the people and the relationships that you've made‑‑ because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies, man. The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people.

Q. You guys won so much through the '90s, late '90s; did you ever sit back and savor the moment when you had that much success at your hands?
RAY EVERNHAM: I can tell you that from my side, it was difficult. It was our job to win races, and we just‑‑ Doug Yates and I were talking about that a lot tonight, about, man, it's hard to appreciate those things, and that's what's really special about the Hall of Fame, because this is forever. When you win at the Cup level, you get to enjoy it for four days, and then there's 39 more guys trying to knock you off that pedestal. They're not going to let you have fun.
Friday morning, it's back to square one.
I wish that I probably would have savored some of those things a little bit more, but I'm really thankful and I feel blessed that I'm still surrounded by many of those people and then have the opportunity to do it now, and as I said, people ask me all the time about our relationship, and I tell them, look, we didn't hang out. He's 14 years younger than I. But come Friday to Sunday, our communication, you know, we were just inseparable, and we still are.
We sometimes get together and start laughing and giggling, and people with like, what the hell is up with you two? We've got our own little private language and jokes and things that other people just don't get. But the fact that I got to do it with him and with Rick Hendrick and the Rainbow Warriors I think makes everything more special.

Q. And you alluded to something about going into business with Bill; are you bringing Dodge back to NASCAR?
RAY EVERNHAM: Yeah, Bill Elliott, if he's going to take questions later on, you just need to ask him, because Bill could easily be that stand‑up comic. He's the guy that in class‑‑ he'd say something, and you would laugh and get in trouble, but he would be the guy that started it. Bill comes up with a lots of different things that he and I can partner on. So I think you guys should all ask him about the last two businesses he came up with for he and I to tackle. I'll let him handle that.
JEFF GORDON: One of them you're going to latch on to one day.

Q. Ray, other than maybe banging your head a few more times, what would have happened if you had stuck with the driving course? Could you have been a driver?
RAY EVERNHAM: No. I mean, I loved to drive. I still drive for fun. But I'm going to tell you straight up; I believed‑‑ even though I got hurt, I still believed that I could drive good enough to be at this level. He ended my driving career, not the head injury. I thought to myself, there is no way in the world I could ever drive as good as that guy.
JEFF GORDON: You mean when we were running those Saturns that day in the infield?
RAY EVERNHAM: Yeah, that's correct. We don't have a good record running together. We wreck a lot of stuff racing each other.
JEFF GORDON: No, he wrecks a lot of stuff when he and I are driving.
RAY EVERNHAM: He wrecks me. He turned me right over not that long ago. But I really found a lot of peace because, as I said, when you build a car, there's no better feeling than to know that nobody can make it go faster than the guy that's driving it, and I knew I was never that guy. He was. And it brought me a lot of peace when I started working with him.

Q. Jeff, Ray was with you for three of your championships, and really the very, very first part of your career. How much did he shape you both as a driver and as a person during your earliest career in NASCAR?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, I mean, there's just no words to describe it because‑‑ and honestly, when he and I separated and he started his team and then I stayed at Hendrick, I'd never realized what an impact he made until then. And we joke about it now because it was hard on him because I went and won the next race‑‑
RAY EVERNHAM: The next two.
JEFF GORDON: Sorry, the next two. But I truly just like that the team recognized at the time that was a team still and a car that Ray touched and put his heart and soul into, and that's why we went and won those races.
You know, but I realized years later what he taught me as a leader. Like he was a very strong, powerful leader that had the people, had their attention. They could be down and out, and he had this way of bringing them up. And I didn't have to be a leader. I had Ray. I just drove the car. I just did my job.
And so probably took that for granted a little bit, too. But when he left, then all of a sudden it kind of shifted, and more people started looking at me as, okay, well, who's our leader, are you our leader, and so I had to step up, and it made me a better person, made me a better race car driver, made me appreciate him a lot more, and you know, listen, we can have the great debate forever if Ray and I could have stayed together, what would we have gone on to do. And I think about that every once in a while because I know we would have won more races. I think we'd have won more championships.
But at the same time, I couldn't be more proud of what he did as an owner. I'm proud of what I did as a driver, but I'm even more proud of who we are as friends today because of that ride that we went on.

Q. Ray, when you drove yourself, do you think it was an advantage as a crew chief to have more technical understanding compared to other crew chiefs?
RAY EVERNHAM: Absolutely, there's no question in my mind that someone who's driven a race car can understand a little bit more‑‑ I could understand more about what he was saying, which was very important to setting the car up. But I think the problem with people who haven't driven a race car trying to communicate with a race driver, in the back of their mind, they don't ever really believe 100 percent that, okay, this guy is doing this or doing that. I know how incredibly hard it is to do that, to drive like these guys drive, and to not ever question that you could do it better, oh, anybody could do that. Let me tell you, what these guys do out there is incredibly hard.
So it cleared my mind up to listen to every word he was saying, and as I said, the great thing about our relationship is he didn't come in like a lot of drivers and say, I need more wedge or raise that panhard ban‑‑ actually he would say don't touch that panhard bar. But he wouldn't say that. He would give me explicit like lap for lap‑‑ he could give you a lap like any computer, and it was easy to fix his car. And I think that pureness of he didn't try to do my job, I didn't try and do his job, and together, we'd get that car right more often than not.

Q. When you set up your own team with Dodge, part of the Chrysler group, and Chrysler at the time was owned by Mercedes‑Benz or Daimler Chrysler, was there at any time involvement from the headquarter in Germany management or technical wise?
RAY EVERNHAM: Let me tell you something, Dieter Zetsche was one of the greatest mentors and people that I ever really worked with. He was an amazing, amazing man. As I said, I've been so lucky to have worked with, as I said, with Mr.Penske, with Rick Hendrick, and with Dieter Zetsche, and I felt like it was a huge blow to our program when Dieter went back to Germany.

Q. Putting on your crew chief hat right now, how would you approach this new rule of five members over the wall?
RAY EVERNHAM: Oh, man. Honestly, I hadn't even thought about it. You know, the first thing that I would do is just take a look at every step, everything that could go choreography to take time because the biggest changes since I was a crew chief is the way we measure things. Used to measure with a tape measure, now you measure with a laser. Where we were looking for tenths of a second on pit road or a couple steps here and there, those guys have got to look at hundredths. If you're two tenths of a second off on a pit stop you're done any more because the cars are all so close. Whenever NASCAR would make a change, we would work as hard as we could to get to the edge of the envelope quicker than anybody else. I'd be running through tons of different choreography right now, and I'd be looking for some pretty strong guys that could carry those tires.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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