An interview with:
January 11, 2009
RAY EVERNHAM: I really can't answer a lot of your questions about the Petty merger or the Elliott Sadler stuff. So certainly will talk about everything else. But in fairness to Gillett Evernham and Petty Enterprises, wish those guys well, but have stepped out of the day-to-day operations over at Gillett Evernham and will be pursuing some other opportunities, television and things like that. We'll see what comes around.
Q: How is the country music fest going here?
RAY EVERNHAM: Yeah, coming here is always a pleasure because certainly I love country music. Get to see a lot of people that you don't get to see. Just to be invited certainly is an honor.
But to be able to be part of something that is preserving country music through the Hall of Fame, then helping children through the Victory Junction Gang, always proud of that. As I said, it's great to be part of NASCAR because it seems like they're always involved in things like that. There's a lot of charity, a lot of good things going on.
Just happy to be invited and happy that we could be part of it.
Q: Can you tell us your thoughts on the merger and your new role at the team and if you're happy.
RAY EVERNHAM: Well, I can tell you, as I just said, I am really retired from day-to-day operations at Gillett Evernham. I have no involvement in the management of that. I have an agreement with them to continue to consult if they need me. I'm happy for George and for Richard if they feel like the merger will make both teams successful. Obviously the Petty name is something that needs to be maintained in the sport. With Mr. Gillett being the major stockholder, I guess there's going to be a name change of what used to be Gillett Evernham. Really wish them both well.
Am I happy? You know, sure. I knew when I sold the majority interest in my business that my role was going to back off. I enjoy doing TV with ESPN. I enjoy looking at other opportunities. I mean, I'm far from done in this sport. I'm not sure exactly what direction I'm going to be headed in yet. We're just going to take a little break. Trying to do some things with a short track in North Carolina to help a grass-roots program. It's a small track called East Lincoln Speedway. We're going to help keep a lot of kids racing, I hope. I'm involved in a land speed record project with Doug Herbert, the drag racer who will be here this afternoon, too. So I'm excited about that.
But we're going to wait and see. I'm at a point in my life where we're just going to wait and see what happens.
Q: What about consulting Jeff Gordon, helping him win some races again?
RAY EVERNHAM: Well, I certainly have some agreements in place that prevent me from doing that right now. But, I mean, who knows. If I was going to help somebody, for sure it would be Jeff Gordon.
Q: What are your concerns and what are the impacts you've seen, where do you think we're headed in terms of the economy and racing?
RAY EVERNHAM: It's tough. I mean, it's tougher than tough. It's brutal out there. But I do think that the sport, much like the mortgages and lending, credit, all that had gotten a little bit out of control. This will level it out. It will bring some balance back into the sport money-wise.
My biggest fear is while it's levelling it out, it will separate the competition further from the have's and have not's. I still think you're going to have full-fields. Some teams will go away, but some new teams will sprout up. But the level of competition, you know, might end up being just between three or four owners.
It wasn't that long ago we had 18 or 19 different winners in a season. I'm just afraid that that's not going to continue to happen. That's something that I think NASCAR is trying to look at. I still in my heart believe the COT car is the right thing to do to help cut costs. What got out of control or raised the costs were certainly the bidding on driver salaries and bidding on crew member salaries.
I don't know how you control that. I just hope that collectively they can find a way as we get through this tough economy. People always find a way to fight through it. We'll fight through it. But two or three years from now, there's more than three or four teams that can win in the sport.
Q: What about the length of the season and the impact the economy might have had on that?
RAY EVERNHAM: Well, you know, it's a tough season. There's no doubt about it. You can argue from both sides of it that that long season created opportunity and the long season also raised costs. Again, there's got to be that balance. Kin aerodynamics we call it L over D. How much downforce do you want to get for a given amount of drag? It's a matter of they've got to find the proper amount of let's call it L over D, how long the season needs to be, what's that sweet spot so it doesn't burn out the fans, it doesn't burn out the race teams, and the money you spend is valuable.
As the sport is growing, it's hard to turn people down that were crying for dates and wanted more and more and more. As I said, I believe this tough time in this economy will be a levelling -- have a levelling effect on the sport.
So I don't know. You know, it used to be 30, 32 races was nice. 36, 38 weekends, it seemed like it was pushing it, pushing it. So we'll have to wait and see. Somebody in there was talking about $20 tickets. I thought, wow, $26 tickets, it's been a long time. I made a comment, some of it was fun, some of it wasn't, but it was in the mid '80s here that I paid I think about $26 to go see John Connolly at the Grand Ol' Opry. I said, Wait a minute here, that's 20 years ago. So ticket prices were still up then.
The biggest effect that I think this economy is having right now, the sponsors really aren't sure of what their advertising budgets are going to be. And I don't think that NASCAR's really gonna find how hard it's been hit until 2010 because it seems like we're a year behind what really happens in the economy. If the economy's good, we're a year behind when sponsorships go up. When it's bad, we're a year behind. I'm more worried about 2010 than I am 2009.
Q: What is your current relationship with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and what are your thoughts on the merger with Petty Enterprises? How is that going to affect Gillett Evernham? Will it be beneficial? If so, how?
RAY EVERNHAM: I basically retired from Gillett Evernham. I have no input in day-to-day operations there at all. I do still have a consulting agreement. I do still have an ownership stake in that, a minority ownership stake. I am basically retired from day-to-day operations. I am still under a consulting agreement with them. I was not involved in the Petty merger or the Elliott Sadler incident.
I don't know. It looks good. I think that George and Richard can do a lot of things together marketing-wise. I hope they both find what they're looking for to get their performance up where we originally thought it could be.
The name Petty needs to be in our sport. If he and George can find a way to get the Petty name back to Victory Lane, I think that will be a really, really good thing for NASCAR in general.
Q: Do you think there will be more mergers like this one coming up in the next year or so?
RAY EVERNHAM: You know, if you look out there, it's hard to say because there's not that many teams left that haven't really merged. Rick doesn't need to merge with anybody. Joe Gibbs doesn't need to merge with anybody. Jack Roush already has. Now Gillett has. Ganassi and Earnhardt have. So there's just not that many opportunities left.
The smaller teams I think unfortunately, you know, even if they merge, they're still going to be in trouble so they might go away.
What you might see are probably some outside companies putting forces together to start new teams. As I said, there will be some new teams sprouting up. It will just be a level of how good do you want to run. If you want to run for the championship, well, you're going to have to put $30 million a year in your car if you want to race against Rick Hendrick. If you just want to go to the racetrack and qualify every week and hang around that top 35, you can probably sell a good program to somebody for $8 or $10 million.
Going back to what I said, what I'm afraid of is that two years from now, about 2010, there will only be 11 cars that have a shot at winning.
Q: Can you talk about if you're going to enjoy your kind of new role away from the day-to-day operations and focusing your efforts on the track, with your new shop, anything you plan to do? How are you going to enjoy that role more, if so?
RAY EVERNHAM: Well, you know, Darrell made a good comment up there: Guys like us, we enjoy stuff, but just not for very long. I'm looking forward to getting life in order. I've built a shop in Moorseville that's kind of a little museum for all the memorabilia and things I've collected over the years. It's kind of a fun place. We've got a little race shop there. We're restoring antique cars. I've got some antique racecars. I bought that there track really to try to keep it going. I didn't want to see another dirt track or short track wiped out.
The business plan, even all my tax guy will tell me is it's a good write-off because the business plan for short tracks aren't that great right now. I told him, Look, I just want to keep this thing going so these kids have a place to race.
I'll have fun doing that. I enjoy, really, really enjoy working with Allen, Brad and Rusty when we do the shows. It's a great group of guys.
As I said, I'm not done in NASCAR. I'm not done with NASCAR. I know some people have said that I'm burned out or I was soured on NASCAR. That's just not true. When I sold my team last year, I knew I'd taken it as far as I could take it. I needed some help to win a championship. Hopefully George Gillett and Richard Petty together can continue on that path and win a championship.
There's still plenty left for me to do. Just not sure a hundred percent what it is. I've committed to help my good friend Doug Herbert try and break that 500-mile-an-hour barrier with that land speed record car. Doug will be here later. Make sure you talk to him about it because we're going to just try and fire him down that salt flat at 500. He said he's driven 300 a lot, but I told him I'm going to make him turn at the end to see if we can really do good.
I've got projects like that. Will I be happy? Sure, I'll be happy for a while. The biggest thing I've got to do, I've gotten to know my son again. My son is 17 years old now. We're pretty good friends. So that's meant a lot to me.
Q: Another Jeff Gordon question. How do you rate his prospects for the coming season? Do you think he's got another championship in him?
RAY EVERNHAM: Championships are tough. Championships are tough. Really hard to predict. In the beginning of the year, we were sure Kyle Busch was going to win it. Then when the Chase started, we were sure Greg Biffle was going to win it. Darn, five races into the Chase, we're sure Jimmie Johnson is going to win it.
It's tough to predict the championship. Jeff Gordon will win races in 2009. I'll guarantee he'll be a factor going into the Chase and he will win races.
Q: Were you surprised at the story about this merger for a while there and the talk about it became a lot about you clearing out your desk? You had always intended to back off from the team. Was this kind of overblown, portraying Ray as packing up boxes, being angry?
RAY EVERNHAM: I saw that thing. They said on the ticker going across the ESPN thing, Evernham cleans out desk. I just thought it was that my desk was so dirty, that I finally cleaned it out.
I don't know. It was anything that was mad. It was something planned. I had planned for a long time to move my office down to my new facility, Ray Evernham Enterprises in Moorseville. My moves haven't come because of any blowups or anything like that. This is something that I planned with the Gillett's. As I would back off, if things were going down this path, here is the things I would do, move into consulting. So this is not something that happened because somebody was mad. It was planned.