While Jeff Gordon has had many standout crew chiefs over the years, no single crew chief is more inextricably linked with him than Ray Evernham, given the pair’s success together in the 1990s.
But more than driver/crew chief, Evernham and Gordon might as well be brothers.
Evernham reflected on Gordon’s legacy and career in a teleconference Friday morning with reporters, as Gordon is set to begin his final full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in 2015.
“Jeff and I have a relationship that’s more than driver/crew chief,” Evernham said. “He asked me if I could be at the 24 shop when he made the announcement. There are a lot of mixed emotions. I have known that day would eventually be here.
“The reality of time has passed… we started 23-24 years ago. Seeing what he has accomplished, what he has become, is an emotional time for everybody.”
Asked to pinpoint a single favorite memory with Gordon in their run together as crew chief, Evernham couldn’t, because so many stood out.
“That’s the hard part… we had such a good run,” Evernham said. “We have so many great memories.
“It really stems from the first time I met him, when he was in the the Outback Steakhouse car at Charlotte in 1990. He was this young, innocent, tremendously talented young man.
“We had our first win at Charlotte, then the Brickyard, the championships … it’s really hard to pick one. To be part of the ‘Rainbow Warriors’ team, especially the ’98 season, was an incredible time. I’m thankful we could do all that stuff.”
Evernham said he’d love to see the classic 1990s livery return at least once in 2015.
“I’d love to see it, but that would be up to the folks at Axalta,” Evernham said. “They have bought all that legacy, and Axalta is the old DuPont refinishes.
“It would be really cool to see the ‘Rainbow Warrior’ car back on the track. Some of the old team is still intact with them at the 24 shop. To see Jeff and Alan run it one time would be cool.”
Evernham said the legacy of whether Gordon belongs on a “Mount Rushmore” will always be an ongoing conversation. But Gordon’s name will always be part of the conversation as to who some of the best North American drivers are throughout history.
But Gordon’s true legacy beyond the cockpit will endure by his charitable efforts, fan relations and business goals for years to come, Evernham said.
“Jeff Gordon won’t be defined by his championships or wins… that will define his career as a driver. He’ll be defined on what he does next,” Evernham said.
“He has done so much for charity and others in the sport. He’s only 43… he has so many years ahead of him. Unfortunately and selfishly, we won’t be able to see him on the track. But we will get to see him do some great things in the upcoming years.”