CONCORD, N.C. – I didn’t expect to see him at all, but there he was: Ray Evernham was in attendance at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual Media Tour.
However, it was in a much different capacity than in earlier years. In the past Evernham was a media target as a crew chief or team owner.
This time he was on board simply to help the speedway celebrate the 30th year of the Media Tour’s existence. He provided his share of memories – something also done by others, including many veterans in the media.
Evernham certainly remains a familiar and respected figure in NASCAR circles. But he’s not nearly in the limelight as much as he used to be.
That’s because he’s no longer in the competitive arena, where he could easily be found at work in any garage area. Instead he has several ongoing responsibilities to occupy his time. Most of them let him fly below the radar.
“My biggest customer is Hendrick Performance,” Evernham said. “I do a lot with them in parts and pieces development.”
And what is his job title?
“Global director of …. ” he slowly answered. “Uh, I’ll have to look at my card … What the hell is my title? Let’s see … Oh, yeah, global director of product development. It’s all pretty much Black Ops.”
Perhaps, today, Evernham’s most public profile has been provided by television. For several years he was an analyst for ESPN before he severed the association to work with Hendrick.
“I still stay away from the motorsports side over at Hendrick,” Evernham said. “The less I know about what is going on in motorsports there, the easier it is to keep potential conflict out of it in regards to TV.
“I never want the teams to worry about what I might say on TV after I might have seen what they were working on. The best thing to do is keep that separate.
“Hopefully we’ll announce a new TV package in a little bit,” Evernham added. “I’m going to do some TV stuff again.”
Evernham is naturally comfortable in front of cameras but for many years his numerous appearances had very little to do with analyzing current events.
Instead, he made current events.
Evernham, a former Modified driver, began working for the International Race of Champions at age 26 after a severe injury in a crash at Flemington, N.J., in 1993, ended his racing career.
He did a stint as crew chief with Alan Kulwicki, which did not last long, and then moved on to work for Bill Davis’ Nationwide Series team and its fledgling driver, Jeff Gordon.
Evernham and Gordon found an almost instant rapport.
Evernham then moved with Gordon to Hendrick Motorsports’ Winston Cup team for the final race of the 1992 season and remained through 1999.
The 54-year-old Evernham made – to say the least – his indelible reputation during those seven seasons.
In a short time he helped shape for Gordon what became one of the most incredibly successful Cup careers in NASCAR history.
Gordon and Evernham won 47 races and three championships in 1995, 1996 and 1998.
Gordon, nicknamed “Wonderboy,” and Evernham helped Hendrick Motorsports become one of the most dominant teams in Cup competition at the time.
Incidentally, it remains so.
In 2000 Evernham formed his own team with, at first, drivers Bill Elliott and Casey Atwood and which spearheaded Dodge’s return to NASCAR.
Seven competitive yet sometimes tumultuous, controversial years later, Evernham sold the majority share of his team to George N. Gillett Jr.
Various name changes and corporate mutations later, the team emerged as Richard Petty Motorsports and merged with Roush Fenway Racing. Evernham sold his remaining shares in the operation in 2010.
“I think everybody has their turn when everything fits,” Evernham said in reflection. “It’s like there is a gear that comes around and there’s a time when you fit. I was fortunate to fit in at the time I did.
“I don’t think I’d fit in now because to be an owner you have to become more involved in the business end of racing. That’s just not my forte.
“I’m a field man. I’m better with a small group of people. I can do the big business thing but it’s not what I enjoy most.
“I’m think I have been fortunate. In my time I had the right fit. I wouldn’t even attempt it now because it is something that doesn’t fit me.”
Evernham is keenly aware of how circumstances have changed for NASCAR’s team owners today. A struggling economy has made it difficult to keep teams operational, largely because adequate sponsorship is so scarce and thus tough to acquire.
While he does acknowledge the situation, Evernham contends there is evidence things may be changing – if slowly.
“Yes, it’s pretty difficult right now,” he said. “But look at an owner like Tommy Baldwin. He’s a got a relatively small operation but he’s making it work. That indicates to me it’s easier for guys like him to survive.
“We were at the Barrett-Jackson auto auction last week and what goes on there is pure emotion. People are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars – maybe millions – on cars just because they want to.
“So I think that guys like Tommy have a shot because people are starting to free up their money a little bit. And those who are into cars could put some money into NASCAR.
“It’s not going to be $30 million, but it will be $1 million here and another there. It’s enough to keep a team like Tommy’s growing.”
In addition to his tasks with Hendrick and potential television responsibilities, Evernham is involved in a few other projects – all of which he obviously enjoys.
“I still own East Lincoln Speedway (in Stanley, N.C.), but I’m not going to promote it this year,” Evernham said. “We’re going to let other people promote it. I just don’t have the time to be there.”
Evernham has also hooked up with CMS President Marcus Smith to promote the U.S. Legends version of dirt cars.
And he has a car restoration enterprise.
“We have restoration stuff but we don’t do work on race cars, “ said Evernham of his shops in Mooresville, N.C. “Every car we have is an old one. I think the latest one we have is a 2001 model that won the pole for Daytona.
“We have that and our Indy car, the one with which we won at Indy. Everything else is old.”
Perhaps it can be said that Evernham’s accomplishments on the track, as noteworthy as they were, are now old.
But what is new is Evernham’s NASCAR presence today – it’s not only new but different.
And Evernham, whose place in NASCAR lore has long been established, appears to relish it.