Racer Ray Evernham Tells Auto History Lessons

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Dec 07, 2014

Ray Evernham spent 40 years working very hard, first as crew chief through three NASCAR championships with driver Jeff Gordon, then as boss of his own Evernham Motorsports. He’s still racing part time, but he’s also  living out a car guy’s dream with his own garage/museum in North Carolina and a Velocity TV show called Americarna (coming back February 17 for its second season).

Ray Evernham previews the second season of Americarna in New York. (Jim Motavalli photo)Evernham's museum is a 50s fantasy featuring a period diner, a vintage Texaco station (like the one where he worked), and incredible cars from his whole life and career, including some he raced himself before an injury in 1991. Every one has a story, and the curator gives a guided tour on video here.

The idea of Americarna, Evernham said during a New York City lunch, is to celebrate the automobile’s role in U.S. history. “The piston-driven engine was involved in everything we did as a people since the 1880s,” he said. “So it’s not just the mechanics, it’s about the emotional connections that I made traveling around the country racing for 40 years. You hear so many incredible stories. And when you look at a car, you wonder what the drivers saw through that windshield over the years.”

The Schultz One is a 50s survivor, even without an engine these days. (Americarna photo)The show’s upcoming season has some great car stories in it, from fiberglass specials to woody wagons to home-made racers. One episode is on a steel-bodied, Cadillac-engined Corvette look-a-like called the Schultz One, made by a very talented fabricator in 1959 to run in sports car races. “He hired none other than Carroll Shelby to drive it for him, and I have to believe that it was the inspiration for the Cobra,” Evernham said. “Shelby won in it against the big European competitors.”

The car, now owned by the grandson of its builder, also competed (now with big-block Chevy power) around Asbury Park, New Jersey and Americarna recruited Southside Johnny to make the “Born to Run” connections. (The Boss wasn’t available.) More stories:

Elvis's car has left the building. (Americarna photo)Elvis’ last car, and the one that took him on his final journey through the gates of Graceland, was, oddly enough, not a Cadillac. It was an incredibly gaudy 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III. A Pontiac under the skin, the car had a 230-horsepower V-8, a red leather interior and “an 18-karat gold trim package.” Elvis loved it and put 8,450 miles on the odometer. Evernham drives the Stutz, and also visited a little-known 1948 GMC panel truck in which Elvis, disguised as a workman, would sneak out of the gates to avoid being seen. “The Memphis warehouse it was in was amazing,” Evernham said. “There were Elvis' clothes, televisions, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with one mile on it.”

Another show is on the fiberglass sports cars that briefly flourished in the 1950s. Glasspar, for instance, was famous for boats, but it also built some cars, including the Glasspar G2, the Woodill Wildfire (Willys based) and the Ascot (built on Studebaker chassis). “The service guys coming back from World War II had seen fiberglass cars and wanted them,” Evernham said. “At one time there were 50 different companies making fiberglass bodies.”

Marty Robbins was a NASCAR driver, and ran this '64 Plymouth. (Americarna photo)The show also explores movie cars, and Evernham got to drive a fantasy of his—the 1958 Chevy Impala from the movie American Graffiti. “I always wanted to drive that car,” he said. “The actual drive wasn’t that great, but I still tried to buy it, even without Candy Clark. For a moment, I was 15 again.”

The woody wagon was closely associated with surfing culture. (Americarna photo)Americarna sat down with one of the original woody wagon guys from the Southern California surfing scene, and told his story—which included being a Vietnam vet, a Los Angeles firefighter, and a still-active woody restorer. The show also featured a 1964 Plymouth belonging to singer/NASCAR racer Marty Robbins. For that show, musical royalty Charlie Daniels, John Hiatt and Brad Paisley were scored.

I couldn’t resist asking Evernham if electric cars would succeed in racing, and he was quite sanguine. “Some of those Formula E cars haul ass pretty good,” he said. “[Drag race legend] Don Garlits is going electric [and recently set a record at 184 mph, on his way to 200]. Maybe we’ll see indoor racing with electric cars.”

And here's one more look at an Evernham project, on video:

 

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