Behind The Scenes With Ray Evernham

By Brian Holly

Did you ever wonder about the preparation involved before the race begins? Here's your chance to go behind the scenes with Jeff Gordon's crew chief, Ray Evernham, on the day before a race. Go behind the pit wall and into the garage area with the DuPont team.

Ray Evernham
Ray Evernham, crew chief of the DuPont Chevrolet.
The alarm clock rings early on Saturday morning; maybe too early. A quick bite to eat and it's off to the track. It's over to the Winston Cup garage upon arriving at Dover Downs. The first hauler in line is the familiar blue, yellow, and rainbow colored DuPont rig. The hauler is lined up first with their garage stall also the first in the garage. Why so many firsts? The Winston Cup champion gets the preferred garage stalls on race weekends. Yes, the title has its perks.

Evernham's preparation for a typical race weekend doesn't begin on Friday; it begins much earlier than that. He doesn't exactly spend his days fishing on Lake Norman near Charlotte. First and foremost, he's devoted to his raceteam. Throughout the race weekend, he's focused on preparation for the race.

Saturday Morning Practice

Saturday morning begins early with a practice session just after 9 am. The race isn't until tomorrow but his gameface is already on. He's busy with the car so we won't proceed further. Like Dale Earnhardt often says, 'The racetrack is my office.' And I can respect that; he's at work. After all, I probably wouldn't want someone coming to my office shortly after my day starts asking me questions and taking my picture. Jeff Gordon arrives later and straps in for morning practice shortly after 9:00 AM. There's no pressure to get ready for second round qualifying because Jeff qualified second on Friday. Other teams, such as the Tabasco and Philips teams, are scrambling to get ready for second round qualifying. A time when some teams will make the race and others will go home. As for the DuPont car, anything learned during this practice session is incorporated on Jeff's car that afternoon before the final practice. After the practice concludes, the driver and crew chief have a brief chat about the session.

Saturday Afternoon

As the Busch Grand National series takes to the track, the air temperature rises. Evernham divides his time between the garage area and the top of the hauler. Chief mechanic Ed Guzzo and the crew begin work on the car. Evernham oversees that and climbs to the top of the hauler to watch some of the Busch race. He watches the leaders and studies the line they're taking around the track. In addition, he might monitor a few scanners looking for some extra information. As the Busch race winds down, the hood goes down on the DuPont Chevrolet and it's rolled out of the garage stall into a line of cars waiting for 'Happy Hour' to begin.

Final Practice

The final practice is known as 'Happy Hour' for the time of day that its usually held. On this day, it comes a little earlier than usual as the Busch race ended sooner than expected. Evernham will spend most of it on top of the team hauler with a stopwatch and headset. He watches Jeff run practice laps. He'll also glance at Terry Labonte and Randy Lajoie to see how the other Hendrick Motorsports cars are running. Besides the Hendrick cars, he'll likely take a look at Rusty Wallace or Mark Martin who always seem to run well. What line are they taking around the track? Are they faster than Jeff taking a different line? Since Jeff reports that the setup feels right, the session is mainly used to check the race motor to see if there are any problems with it.

End Of The Day

The sun begins to set and your one-day-only garage pass has expired. Today's weather was very warm; tomorrow will be more of the same. Evernham will likely contemplate shock changes and the like until the race begins. At that point, the race is in the hands of his driver, Jeff Gordon. There's no indication that the car will be the class of the field when the race starts. Yet, Gordon leads 375 of the 400 laps in the MBNA 400 only to finish third after a late stop for fuel.

Life Of A Crew Chief

Want to know the schedule of a champion crew chief? There's not too much free time in it. Evernham recently talked about his schedule. "I get (to the raceshop) at about 6:45 every morning and I leave between 7:30 and 8:00 at night" Evernham said. "That's Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We're in early Thursday but we normally try and take a couple of hours off Thursday afternoon, but then you're on the road. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you're racing. Then Monday you're back at it again."

A Concluding Anecdote

How thorough is Ray Evernham in his attention to detail and the raceteam? In November 1995, Jeff Gordon won his first Winston Cup title in Atlanta. He coasted to a 32nd place finish to clinch the title. The result didn't matter since the team won the title, but Evernham had to find out why the car performed so poorly. The following morning, Evernham was at the raceshop taking the car apart piece-by-piece.

"I was (at the shop) at about 7:45 am with a slight hangover," Evernham said. "We drank a little bit too much champagne." After scattering parts, checking them one-by-one, he concluded that the steering box was the problem. The steering was giving the wrong signal back to the driver. "We went through a complete front end, rear end and rear end gears," he said. This was done just hours after the team had won the championship. With Ray Evernham, small details are rarely left unattended.

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