From Evernham To Letarte: Who Was Jeff Gordon's Real Crew Chief in 1991?
When you look through the short list of crew chiefs who have worked with Jeff Gordon, it's like a Who's Who of the greatest NASCAR personalities of all-time.
From Ray Evernham, who arguably molded Gordon from a checkers or wreckers racer to the calculative driver getting the win from nowhere, to current crew chief Steve Letarte, Gordon has worked with some of the best in the racing industry.
As a Gordon fan, I can name all the crew chiefs who have led the No. 24 DuPont team's efforts on the Cup circuit. However, there's been one thing that's bothering me for the past 18 years.
Call it a Gordon fan's "Unsolved Mystery," with the question:
Who was Jeff Gordon's crew chief in the 1991 NASCAR Busch Series season?
Now, before you say it's Ray Evernham, you might want to read Gordon's autobiography from 2003 called Racing to the Front: My Memoir by the man himself along with Steve Eubanks.
Gordon explicitly mentioned how he did not work with Evernham in his first full season in the NASCAR Busch Series.
Evernham did not call the shots atop the pit box for the Vallejo, Calif. native's first NASCAR start in the AC Delco 200 on Oct. 20, 1990. However, he had some input in the young driver's effort, and it was pretty evident.
Driving for Hugh Connerty's racing efforts in the No. 67 Outback Steakhouse Pontiac Grand Prix, the USAC star qualified on the outside pole—perhaps a future mark of greatness.
However, a mark of impatience cost Gordon so dearly in the race, crashing out of the event after just 33 laps of competition.
Connerty did not have the funds to continue their racing endeavours for the upcoming 1991 season, so the pair parted, along with Evernham.
Evernham would head over as a member for the Alan Kulwicki team, while Gordon was hired to drive for Bill Davis Racing.
As the driver of the No. 1/4 Carolina Ford Dealers Ford Thunderbird, the then 20 year-old rookie had a difficult transition.
Adjusting from the light, open-wheel sprint cars and quarter midgets to the heavier machines on some of NASCAR's finest tracks, Gordon, who went winless in 1991, finished just solidly enough to capture that year's Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
It would be in the garage area of Daytona in February of 1992 when a bit of fate reunited a duo who reshaped NASCAR significantly.
Kulwicki, who would go on to win the '92 NASCAR Winston Cup title, had some personality differences to a certain crew member, who decided to quit the No. 7 Hooters Ford team and NASCAR altogether.
That crew member was a disgruntled Evernham, a 35-year-old mechanic who was set on his way to abandon the sport.
Ford Racing officials would not let the Jersey native go, hoping that he would work alongside this talented, but wreckless racing sensation driving the No. 1 Baby Ruth Ford Thunderbird.
Despite car owner Bill Davis' reluctance for Evernham to work with Gordon as the crew chief of his team, Ford granted the young driver's wish for the man who shaped a future NASCAR legend.
As they say, the rest was history—which leads us to today in NASCAR, where Gordon is still driving in the NASCAR ranks, racing in his 17th full season in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.
Evernham has somewhat bowed out of his car owner obligations from Richard Petty Motorsports, making his presence felt as an analyst for ESPN's NASCAR coverage at the track or in the studio.
Gordon's tenure with Bill Davis Racing is something of a mystery. Finding pictures, moments and video clips with the California native driving for Bill Davis is a rarity, aside from some Youtube clips about Gordon's "defection" to the Chevrolet camp in late 1992.
The oft-told story of Rick Hendrick spotting Gordon racing the wheels off his Ford in the March 1992 race at Atlanta, along with the fact that Gordon won three races, 11 poles and drove without contactual obligations for Davis are mentioned on print and interviews.
We hear much about his Cup career, which includes his championships, the crew chiefs (on the Cup side), and everything pertaining to the Gordon on and off-the-track from 1992 onwards. But what about that 1991 racing season?
As for Gordon's crew chief in 1991, maybe I'm not alone in wondering—who are you?
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