Ray Evernham justly gets credit for leading a second-stage evolution of the modern NASCAR pit stop. The master wrench and crew chief took the Wood Brothers’ groundbreaking emphasis on planning and choreography from the 1960s and advanced it three decades later, deploying a purpose-built team of specialized athletes to provide over-the-wall service on pit road.
In the years since, the evolution has grown. NASCAR organizations have assembled full-time teams of athletes, trainers and coaches for the purpose of trimming precious seconds from pit-stop times. The next evolution will come this upcoming season in the form of a rules change, limiting the number of over-the-wall crew from six people to five.
For Evernham, it’s just the latest development in a key part of race strategy, an element he helped to shape.
“I think it will be a unique situation,” Evernham said Wednesday, noting the reduction in cost for extra personnel and the safety benefits of one fewer person per team going over the wall. People have done that before. We’ve been down to one tire carrier before. There was a time you could have as many people as you wanted going over pit wall, then they cut it back to seven, then six, and now five. Someday you may see four.”
Evernham is scheduled to be honored for all of his contributions to the sport on Friday, Jan. 19 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM), with induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He’ll be recognized not just as a pit-road visionary, but a championship-winning crew chief and a gifted team owner who helped orchestrate Dodge’s return to stock-car racing.
Evernham won three titles as a crew chief in NASCAR’s premier series, helping guide a young Jeff Gordon to the pinnacle of the sport. Gordon’s talent was undeniable, but so was the contribution of his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 pit crew, a group assembled by Evernham and now etched into NASCAR lore as the “Rainbow Warriors” for their colorful uniforms to match the car’s paint scheme.
Evernham’s approach brought an extra level of professionalism to the sport. His pit crews — now a collection of fine-tuned athletes — were no different.
“The biggest thing I thought of back then is how can I expect a guy to work the way we’re working in the shop, at that time 14, 16 hours a day, then be able to pit the car on Sundays, be fresh, be focused,” Evernham said. “Let’s train some people that have skills and abilities and time to do that, that could be faster and we could really gain something.”
With full-time athletes in place, pit-stop times dropped dramatically and the No. 24 team was first in line to reap the advantages. Other teams quickly followed suit in an effort to catch up.
“I think that set the stage for what’s happening now,” Evernham said. “If you look at Hendrick, they’ve got backup teams, most all teams now have pit crew coaches and trainers. I think we might have been the first to have a set athletic trainer and things like that over at Hendrick.
“Without a doubt, it has brought the sport to a different place. I don’t want to say a different level, but it’s just an area of competition that it created. It’s very important to whether or not you can win a race or championship.”