NASCAR’s Ray Evernham Leaving Team To Become Dirt Track Owner

Jack BentonContributor INovember 24, 2008

The next career moves for Hazlet, N.J., native Ray Evernham, according to two Lincoln County newspapers, are to retire from NASCAR car ownership and run East Lincoln Speedway here in 2009.

Friday’s “Lincoln Tribune” carried a photograph of Evernham addressing the the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce at the county’s economic development association the night before. Evernham suprised the business after hours audience that he and RPM Group Holdings’ Bob Mack are negotiating to purchase ELS from current owner Ralph Nantz.

Evernham, now of Cornelius, did not get into specific plans for the three-eighths-mile clay oval but told the “Lincoln Times” that he had sold off most of his intrest in Gillett-Evernham Motorsports. The former Wall Township (N.J.) Speedway winning driver and three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion crew chief said that he had attended and tested there earlier this year.

“I want to get back into grassroots racing,” said Evernham. “It’s a nice Saturday night place. That’s my plan - to keep it a nice Saturday night place. First thing
we’re going to do is see what everybody needs.”

Mack, of Cornelius, added that safety and family entertainment are among his and Evernham’s goals for ELS.  Nantz, when called by the “Lincoln Times” Friday, also chose not to get into details due to the negotiations.

“You might say he’s showing some intrest,” said Nantz. “If things go as planned, a lot of people are going to be really excited.”

ELS’s Late Model Modified Sportsman Champion and titlists from ELS’s other six divisions were hailed during the track’s awards banquet at Dino’s at nearby Gastonia

What opened as East Lincoln Motor Speedway in 1991 included Open Wheel Modified, Micro Sprint, Street Four, Rookie Four, Stars of Tomorrow and GASC as its other regular divisions. ELS has also hosted the USAC Carolina Ford Focus Midget Series and local INEX Legends Cars among its recent visiting groups.

ELS and Stanley are in southeast Lincoln County. The track is about 14 miles northwest of downtown Charlotte and about eight miles southeast of Lincolnton. 

Evernham’s career, should he buy ELS, would bring him full circle. He started racing at New Jersey’s Wall and Flemington speedways in the late 1970s.

Evernham won seven modified stock car and 10 sportsman/pro stock/modern stock features at Wall 1976-81. “Hollywood” became the first driver of the paved,
banked one-third-mile oval to win a feature in the above divisions plus at least one American Three Quarter Midget Racing Association main and, in 2007, a RMP Modified Affordable Division match race.

Evernham traded his driver’s helmet for a tool box when he was hired by Jay Signorie and Roger Penske as a mechanic for the International Race of Champions
series in 1983. Signorie, of Point Pleasant, N.J., and Penske, then of Red Bank, were reviving the all-star series that pitted some of the world’s best drivers against each other in identically prepared Chrysler Daytonas.

Evernham left IROC’s Tinton Falls headquarters to team up with Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports in 1992. Evernham and Gordon together won 47 now-Sprint Cup races, including the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and two Daytona 500s. They, car owner Rick Hendrick and “The Rainbow Warriors” team won the 1995 and 1997-98 Cup titles.

Evernham then formed his own team in 1999 to help Dodge’s re-entry to NASCAR cup racing. Kasey Kahne, Jeremy Mayfield and former Cup champ Bill Elliott won seven races for Evernham, including a second Brickyard 400 and Pocono International Raceway’s Pennsylvania 500.

Evernham also fielded Dodges in NASCAR’s Busch/Nationwide and Craftsman/Camping World Truck series plus the ARCA RE/MAX tour. His engine program included supplying Mopar-backed USAC Silver Crown series drivers.

Gillett Evernham Motorsport, according to its Website, employs 300 people. Evernham welcomed Wisconsin meat packer and sports businessman George N. Gillett, Jr. to a majority share of his company Aug. 6, 2007.

Evernham, at the after hours meeting, expressed his concern about the decline of operating short track ovals. He said that he had heard about his native New Jersey being down to New Egypt and Bridgeport speedways.

Wall Township Speedway co-owner Tim Shinn, of Wall, said that he had approached Evernham about becoming an operating partner around Aug. 1, 2005. Shinn’s proposal including the new partner’s option to buy him or any of the other four co-owners out.

Evernham won his MAD match race against Kahne, Elliott Sadler and Elliott during their “Racing fo a Reason Night” Aug. 4, 2007. The foursome and development driver Erin Crocker also signed autographs during the fundraiser for childhood Leukemia research, treatment and education.

Shinn eventually hired Jim Morton as operations manager in 2006 but decided to end regular racing March 14 before the 2008 season’s start. He did allow Morton to lease the track and promote Turkey Derby XXXV Nov. 27-28.