Ray Evernham on Jeff Gordon: “I knew he was special”

Ray Evernham’s first race was on an asphalt track – He used dirt tires

Jeff Gordon introduced Ray to the stage at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday night. Before giving Ray the microphone, Jeff recalled a moment from their history.

In 1995, Jeff Gordon won the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship after taking 7 race wins. But, they finished 32nd in the final race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“It wasn’t the best of days, we didn’t preform very well but we did win the championship. To tell you what kinda person Ray Evernham was… I think he enjoyed that championship for maybe a split second before he started thinking about, what was wrong with that race car?”

“He showed up at the shop, the next morning. The day after we won that championship, to figure out what was wrong with that race car. And, he found it.”

That 1995 run was the first of 3 championships that Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham would collect together. They took the title again in 1997 and 1998.

The next trip to Atlanta, Jeff Gordon finished 3rd.

Watch the Ray Evernham NASCAR Hall of Fame induction video below.

CHARLOTTE, NC – JANUARY 19: Jeff Gordon, introduces Ray Evernham after Evernham is inducted during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Charlotte Convention Center on January 19, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Ray Evernham
NASCAR Hall of Fame Speech

“I don’t know if I can get through this without crying. I know that’s normally Jeff’s gig but,” Ray Evernham opened up his speech at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “It is just impossible to find the words to express while standing up here.”

“I’ve seen the toughest and most articulate men that I know, stand on this stage and fight to hold back tears while they struggle to find the right words. I think that’s because when you look back at your career, you realize there’s so many people that helped you.”

“I want to thank the France family and NASCAR. For having the vision, to build a sport like this.”

“You know, a young boy, playing with toy cars in a stone driveway at the Jersey Shore, could only dream of a moment like this. With the support of family and friends, those dreams can come true.”

Ray Evernham is a legendary crew chief and race car designer. He’s known for pushing every line in the rule book. After all, that is certainly the job of every crew chief in the garage area. But, he didn’t start out with ‘genius’ before the word car chief.

“We’re going. 1975, I took a 1962 Chevy Nova to Wall Stadium in Bellmawr, NJ for my first race. It was on dirt tires, it was a paved track. I had a lot to learn,” Ray Evernham explains over a crowd of laughter.

In 1978, with the help of the Baldwin family, I got the chance to race modifieds. Man, I raced with the greats. I should have picked an easier division. But, man I learned a lot with them guys.”

“In Roger Penske’s culture, we learned that the unfair advantage was simply — Working harder than your competition.”

“I also got the chance to work with Goodyear, testing radial tires. I had no idea, how important that was going to be, to what was going to happen.”

Goodyear brought the first radial tire to North Wilkesboro in 1989. It soon became the only tire, used at the NASCAR level. For 2018, the NASCAR K&N Series will move to radial tires, I believe they are the last NASCAR series to run bias-ply tires.

CHARLOTTE, NC – JANUARY 19: NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ray Evernham (right) poses for a portrait with former NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Charlotte Convention Center on January 19, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon

“Between racing Iroc and and racing modifieds, Andy Petree calls me. He says, ‘Hey! Will you help this open wheel racer kid?’ So I did that.”

“And then it gets really interesting. After knocking the wall down one night with my modified. The doctor says, ‘You probably need to go get a real job.’ Norman said I was good enough to get a job in Cup. I didn’t think so. But, Mike Joy did. He called Alan Kulwicki and talked him into giving me a job.”

“That didn’t go real well and I ended up out of a job. But, the Ford people liked me. And they put me over at Bill Davis Racing with this kid that Andy introduced me to. I had a lot of fun with Bill Davis and we won some races. And that got me my dream job.”

“A place that became my family and my home, and always will be, Hendrick Motorsports. I’m so honored and so blessed to be part of that team. I love everybody there. Especially, the engine shop. It’s a lot easier to pass those guys on the straight-away than it is in the corner.”

“Rick Hendrick, you saw more in me than I saw in myself. You believed in me, I was a young unorthodox crew chief. You were the first person to stay on my side.”

1998 Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett
CHARLOTTE, NC – JANUARY 19: Jeff Gordon, introduces Ray Evernham after Evernham is inducted during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Charlotte Convention Center on January 19, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“The rainbow warriors, man they are the greatest ever. I loved leading that team. I’m going to tell you, we had to race the best; Dale Sr, Rusty [Wallace], Mark [Martin], Terry and Bobby LaBonte, Dale Jarrett. If you were off, even a little bit, those guys would beat you like a drum.”

After his job with Hendrick Motorsports, Ray Evernham partnered with Dodge to form a team of his own. Evernham Motorsports went to victory lane many time and brought Kasey Kahne into the sport.

“It’s been a great ride. But, it may not have ever happened, if it wasn’t for that kid that Andy Petree called me about. Jeff Gordon, we’ve been friends since the first day that we met in September 1990.”

“I knew he was special. The first time I saw him make a lap, it was unbelievable. He had an uncanny ability to tell you exactly what he needed in a race car. And he could keep more in reserve, than any big game player, in any sport, ever.”

“When it came time to go, he went. I called him ‘The Money Man’ because I knew when the money was up he was going to get it done.”

“I promise you, as a crew chief, there’s no better feeling than to know that no one else on the planet could drive that car any faster than the guy that drove it today. Jeff gave me that feeling, every time we raced.”

Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham ran 216 races as a driver/crew chief pairing. The first laps were turned in 1992, the last in 1999. Along the way, 62,777 laps were led by the #24 car.

The Rainbow Warriors went to victory lane 47 times. They won 21% of the races they entered together in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Jeff Gordon 1995
Jeff Gordon 1995

Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham

Ray Evernham
NASCAR Hall of Fame speech


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Ray Evernham | Jeff Gordon | Hendrick Motorsports | NASCAR