If there is one “local-boy-makes-good story” that just about everyone knows it is that of Ray Evernham (August 26, 1957), a local short-track racer from Hazlet, New Jersey, who through hard work and always trying to make things better became a highly-regarded and multi-time-winning NASCAR crew chief and car owner.
Evernham’s early auto-racing experiences included family trips to the Dirt-Track Modified Stock Car races at the old 5/8-mile Flemington (N.J.) Fair Speedway where he was a big fan of the legendary Al Tasnady.
However, in 1975 as a long-haired 18-year-old with a desire to start racing, he built a Modern Stock and went off to one-third-mile-asphalt Wall Stadium. In 1976, he was named Wall’s Modern Stock Rookie of the Year and then in 1977 at the age of 20, he won 11 races and claimed the track’s Modern Stock Championship. Plus, he also won a Modern main event at the old quarter-mile-asphalt New Egypt (N.J.) Speedway in 1976.
A desire to progress as far as possible as a racing driver then found Evernham having some success in Sportsman and Modified Stock Cars with his low-slung Wall Stadium Modified carrying the No. 19 in tribute to one of his other boyhood heroes, dirt-track ace Kenny Brightbill.
But he also had something else to keep him busy as he had been hired by Roger Penske associate and International Race of Champions president Jay Signore to be the chassis specialist (1983-1989) for the cars in the old exhibition series.
While working at the IROC headquarters in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, Evernham ran the shop and also did a lot of testing of the equally-prepared Chevrolet Camaros that were in his charge at the Daytona and Talladega superspeedways and on selected road courses. And some of the finest racing car drivers in the world were quite impressed with how Evernham could prepare those cars and also translate what they were saying about each car’s handling into the proper technological adjustments.
Then, after his IROC tenure, the talented set-up man operated his own shop – Race Prep in Manasquan on the Central Jersey shore – where his reputation found him doing chassis jobs for the NASCAR Cup and Busch Grand National entries of Harry Gant, Alan Kulwicki, Phil Barkdoll and Jeff Gordon. And during this time he was still racing in such first-class rides as Jim Bauma’s No. 19 Asphalt Modified and Tom Park No. 2p DIRT/Asphalt Modified.
Evernham, though, had a bad crash at Flemington’s now-5/8-mile-asphalt layout on May 18, 1991, that rendered him unconscious and hospitalized and out of action for over two months. Yet while he returned to that fast and demanding track on June 29 and won an emotional 30-lap victory in Park’s white and red entry, he eventually went to NASCAR’s team center of Charlotte/Mooresville, North Carolina, and soon began his long association with Jeff Gordon – first with the Bill David No. 1 Ford Thunderbird in NASCAR’s Busch Grand National Series and then as crew chief for Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports/DuPont Chevrolet Luminas (1992-1994) and Monte Carlos (1995-1999).
While with the Gordon/Hendrick operation, crew chief Evernham won 47 NASCAR Cup Series races (including the 1997 and 1999 Daytona 500s and 1994 and 1998 Brickyard 400s) and three (1995 and 1997-1998) NASCAR Cup Series Championships. And the Hendrick Motor-sports No. 24 was the dominant team in NASCAR Cup Series competition during that time.
Evernham was also responsible for creating the “Rainbow Warriors” pit crew – a group of former athletes with job-specific duties that did their assigned tasks with strength and agility and reduced the average four-tire-and-gas NASCAR cup Series pit stop from 20 to 15 seconds.
When the 2000 NASCAR season came around, however, Evernham took up the role of team owner at the behest of Daimler Chrysler and led an unproven Dodge operation back into NASCAR Cup Series racing. And at the first race for Evernham Motorsports Bill Elliott won the pole for the 2001 Daytona 500 and from 2000-2007 the team won 13 races with Elliott (four), Jeremy Mayfield (two) and Kasey Kane (seven); including Elliott’s 2002 Brickyard 400 victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After his car-owner tenure, Evernham opened Ray Evernham Enterprises in Mooresville, North Carolina, where he and his talented crew restore historic race cars. He also branched out into a successful television career and has hosted such programs as: AmeriCarna on the old Velocity Cable-TV network (2014-2017); Big Iron Garage on the Internet where he and his crew built “The Ghost,” a high-tech version of a 1936 Chevrolet Sedan Modified Stock; and, NBCSN’s Glory Road which deals with NASCAR history.
In addition, from 2009-2011 Evernham owned and promoted the 0.3-mile-dirt East Lincoln Speedway in Stanley, North Carolina, and along with Keith Frye started the low-budget Carolina Race Saver Sprint Car Series. And he also provided winning Winged Sprint Car rides – the red No. 98 Ray Evernham Enterprises/Hendrick Performance entry (2010-2011) – for his talented racer-wife Erin Crocker.
Evernham – who serves in an advisory capacity at Hendrick Motorsports – has also received other distinguished honors. In 2006 he was voted by the media as “The Greatest NASCAR Crew Chief In History” and in 2018 he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Furthermore, in November 2018 he purchased JRi Shocks and not only serves as the CEO but is also heavily involved in all areas of JRi’s business, including marketing and sales strategy, new product design, and operations.