CONCORD, N.C. – In the 1992 season finale, the crew chief-driver pairing of Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon made its NASCAR premier series debut. Less than a decade later, the pair had won three championships.
And now, Evernham is a Hall of Famer.
Wednesday evening, the three-time champion crew chief was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 alongside Robert Yates, Red Byron, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr., who drove the No. 5 Cup car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2000 as a sub for Terry Labonte and drove the No. 5 truck for six races during the 2002 season.
The main criteria for induction are NASCAR accomplishments and contributions to the sport.
Evernham certainly meets that standard.
One of the most influential and successful crew chiefs of the past 25 years, he not only won, he helped innovate the sport.
The architect of the No. 24 team’s “Rainbow Warriors,” Evernham helped reimagine what pit crews could be. Years ago, they consisted of mechanics that understood the adjustments the cars needed throughout the race.
Then, an idea changed everything. Why not bring in elite athletes and train them year-round to excel at pit stops?
It paid dividends, as Evernham and Gordon earned double-digit wins in three consecutive seasons together, including 13 in 1998 – a feat no driver has matched in a single season since.
“Being the crew chief and having the team to bring that first championship to (Rick Hendrick) is always going to be special to me."Ray Evernham
In all, the duo found Victory Lane a series-leading 47 times in the 1990s, including two Daytona 500s and two Brickyard 400s, in addition to earning 30 pole positions, 116 top-five finishes and 140 top-10s.
And Evernham said he will always hold dear the fact that he helped bring Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick his first Cup championship.
“Being the crew chief and having the team to bring that first championship to him is always going to be special to me,” he said. “Jeff and I together are really proud of the fact that he took a chance on us, he gave us the opportunity, he supported us and we delivered for him.”
Evernham’s impact continued past his time as a crew chief with the No. 24 team – he went on to become a successful team owner, and his “crew chief tree” includes the likes of Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte, Kenny Francis and Keith Rodden.
All of those men learned under the tutelage of Evernham.
Even after such a storied career, Evernham said it’s still easy for him to single out his favorite memento.
“I’m proud to wear a Hendrick shirt,” he said. “When people ask me, ‘What’s the biggest race you’ve ever won? What’s your favorite trophy?’ I tell them that my favorite trophy is my key card that gets me in and out of the gate here. It’s an honor to have that.”