CONCORD, N.C. – Ray Evernham’s credentials shout NASCAR Hall of Famer.
But even as he was named a finalist for the class of 2018, the three-time champion crew chief still never expected his name to be called Wednesday night.
But it was.
“I was out to dinner with my wife and my baby,” Evernham said on NBC Sports Network after he was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2018. “I’m not prepared for this! I never in a million years thought that it was going to be this year. So, wow.”
As the honor began to sink in, the crew chief said there was a mix of emotions flowing through him.
“It’s a huge sense of relief, but it’s also a very, very humbling feeling, because there’s so many of my heroes that are in the Hall of Fame and so many of them that are nominated,” he said. “When you have your name even mentioned in that, it’s really incredible.”
Together with driver Jeff Gordon, Evernham accumulated 47 wins as a crew chief – which led the NASCAR Cup Series in the 1990s – including double-digit victories in three consecutive seasons. The pair’s 13 wins in 1998 is a feat that has yet to be matched.
Then there are his three NASCAR Cup Series championships, beginning with Hendrick Motorsports' first in 1995.
And the crew chief was quick to credit Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick for cultivating that success.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, we were just winging it,” Evernham laughed. “You try and do things differently but that’s one thing that I will always give credit to Mr. Hendrick about is he gave Jeff Gordon and I and the Rainbow Warriors the space, the ability to go and do things that were different at that time and not all those things were successful. He didn’t micromanage us, but he saw stuff in us that we didn’t see in ourselves and he let us grow. We bounced around for two or three years, when Jeff hit a lot of walls and I made a lot of bad calls, but then we got it going about ’95.
“If he hadn’t given us the space to be ourselves, I don’t know if we could’ve accomplished the things we did.”
One mark of Evernham’s success – and tremendous influence in the sport – is the “crew chief tree” that has continued in the Hall of Famer’s footsteps.
The likes of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion crew chief Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte, Kenny Francis and Keith Rodden all learned under the tutelage of Evernham.
“I’m really proud of being part of that tree and being able to pass those things on. But I look back to a lot of people that helped me and taught me,” he explained. “So, to be able to pay that forward to guys like Steve and Chad and people like that, it feels really good.”
The Hall of Fame election is the culmination of a lifelong passion for racing.
It made for a special night for Evernham – one that he will never forget.
“This sport has been everything to me,” he said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s all I’ve ever done. Then, to be even mentioned or now put into the Hall of Fame with people that have been my heroes for so long, it’s a very humbling experience.”