Having just marked the 20-year anniversary of his first Daytona 500 victory with Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss his No. 24 memories.
After falling short of the championship (won by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte) in 1996 despite 10 victories by Gordon, Evernham brought in a camera crew to document his team’s preparation for Daytona.
Working with an “impressionable group,” it was a motivational tool to instill belief in winning the season opener.
“Even though we had won the championship in 1995, I felt we were still somewhat fragile because we weren’t that old as a team,” Evernham said on the podcast. “We had won 10 races, almost a third of the season, and still didn’t win the championship, and the guys had their heads down a little bit.
“I thought we’ve got to do something to get the guys to believe we’re going to win right off the bat.”
The objective of the filming was serious, but the approach was lighthearted. Evernham jokingly interviews his own crew (including mechanic Chad Knaus) in an intentional decision to loosen things up after riding the team hard over its first four seasons together
“Things could get tense in that shop,” Evernham said. “Bringing the camera crew in, it felt like we were making a home movie. We thought we’d show this at our Christmas party. We were having some fun.”
The footage was kept before work nearly two decades later began on turning it into a documentary. “Refuse to Lose: 1997 Daytona 500” will re-air on FS1 twice next month (April 16 at 4:30 p.m., April 17 at 7 p.m.).
During the podcast, Evernham also addressed:
–Why his team bought into his philosophies;
–His brief career as a baseball player;
–The games he played in NASCAR inspections and how they’ve changed;
–His thoughts on some of his No. 24 protégées who went on to great success as crew chiefs: Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte and Tony Gibson.
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