Ray Evernham hopes for Hall of Fame: ‘Your place in history is determined by other people’

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In the Hendrick Motorsports shop where he won three NASCAR titles with Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham hung a famous sign on the wall with a list of six boxes.

Nobody. Upstart. Contender. Winner. Champion. Dynasty.

Only the first five descriptors were checked – though you could make a case the sixth is why Evernham is on the ballot for the second consecutive year in Wednesday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame voting.

But the former crew chief and team owner said whether he built a dynasty worthy of stock-car immorality is for 57 voters (including an online fan poll) to decide.

“Your place in history really is determined by other people,” Evernham, also an NBCSN analyst, said in a Tuesday phone interview. “We’d get asked all the time about our checklist, ‘When are you going to put that dynasty checkmark up?’ That’s not really one for us to put up. That’s for the sportswriters and fans to decide. I don’t know that’s not our checkmark to make.

“I think the Hall of Fame is really like that. Are you Hall of Fame material? Everyone is going to say, ‘Hell yeah, I am.’  But you really don’t know until the other people vote for you.”

The results for Evernham and 19 other candidates won’t be known until 5 p.m. when the five inductees of the Class of 2017 will be revealed as joining the previous 35 members of the Hall of Fame.

After attending the announcement in Uptown Charlotte last year, Evernham will be monitoring the results from Indiana (he and his family will be attending the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500).

Though the wait isn’t agonizing, the potential honor will be on his mind.

“Some guys will tell you they don’t think about it, and it happens when it happens,” he said. “But you still think about it. I do think about it. You’re being considered for what I consider the highest honor you can be given in a sport. So it’s extremely important. If you’re fortunate to get elected to the Hall of Fame, it puts a period on a career. It’s the highlight of a career.

“So for me, three championships and a couple of Daytona 500 wins and three (Brickyard 400s wins) is great, but to be elected to the Hall of Fame would be the crowning jewel of that career.”

Of the 35 previous inductees, there have been only four full-time mechanics, which might lessen the odds for Evernham (who did receive a vote last year from this voter).

Voted the best crew chief of all time in a 2006 media poll, the New Jersey native watched last year as Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labtone, O. Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner were voted into the stock-car shrine.

Evernham said it was with the mixed emotions of being honored to make the ballot (which was reduced from 25 to 20 nominees three years ago) but also the competitive disappointment of failing to achieve enshrinement.

“Certainly, I agreed with all the picks that went in there, but you can’t say oh my God, you’re so happy for everybody else that you’re not let down,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. And you should be. Who wouldn’t be?

“You’re amazed when you do get in, and I hope that as people are voting they consider the things I’ve done in the sport, and hopefully it’s worthy enough to get in this year, and if not, I’ll keep waiting and hopefully someday, I get a turn.”

The top three vote-getters who didn’t make the Hall of Fame last year were inaugural NASCAR champion Red Byron, 1973 champion and broadcaster Benny Parsons and Rick Hendrick, the owner whose teams have won a record 11 Cup championships – three with Evernham.

“I’m hoping and pretty confident that he gets in this year,” Evernham said of Hendrick. “I think a lot of people pass him up because he’s still active. But when you look at the numbers of what he’s done in the sport, how can he be denied? He’s made such a huge impact in NASCAR since the mid-80s.”

Evernham has been close to other recent inductees, too, such as Cook, a former Modified champion, and 2015 inductee Bill Elliott, who drove for Evernham from 2001-03.

“I know how much it meant to Jerry; this was the crown jewel for him,” Evernham said. “Bill Elliott is a pretty quiet guy who doesn’t say much, but I can tell you spending time with Bill, getting into that Hall of Fame was really important.

“When Bill and I won the (2002) Brickyard together, I could tell that was important to him because that was one of the things that he didn’t have that he really wanted. When he got elected to the Hall of Fame, it was like a giant sigh of relief or almost peace. The people who do get in, you’ve got a great feeling that your body of work has been recognized and appreciated. In the end, that’s all you get. When you do a lot of things in life, to be appreciated by the sport or the people involved in the sport that you’ve committed your life to, the greatest thing that can happen is that in the end they say that you did a good job. When you get elected to the Hall of Fame, that’s pretty much what they’re saying.”

Evernham, who helped groom a crew chief “tree” that includes Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte, Rodney Childers and Tony Gibson, said he has wondered if he will earn that career-defining validation since he stopped being able to enjoy it on a weekly basis.

“While you’re (racing), you have a measurement all the time in the sport,” he said. “You’re winning, you’re losing, you’re getting better, you’re doing things. But when you’re out of it a while, you’re wondering, ‘Did I make a difference? Was I any good? Where do I stack up in the competition?’ When you’re racing it’s easy to find that out every week. Where your place is in history comes a little bit later.

“I know what I’d like it to feel like, but until it happens, I think only those who have been inducted can tell you. To me it seems more like a quiet sigh of relief that, ‘Yes, I made a difference. Yes, I mattered.’ ”