Tim Wellborn-wing car aficionado extraordinaire-provided historic Dodges for the Talledega
It sounds a long way off, but the clock is ticking.
February 2001 and the Daytona 500 are just over a year away, and while that time continuum seems ample for most efforts, the work that Ray Evernham has before him is daunting even to this modern-day Winston Cup talent.
Obviously, the powers that be at Dodge saw the potential of Ray Evernham, and on a list of potential team owners/managers, the 20-year-veteran of NASCAR competition headed the short list-that's if a list was ever made.
But behind Evernham's goal of fielding a two-car effort at Daytona in 2001 are Your Friendly Dodge Dealers. The dollars behind the effort come from 39 individual dealer advertising associations. Jim Julow, Vice President-Dodge Division, said in his address to the media at Talladega, "The dealer association presidents had an important job to do. They had to go back to 39 individual dealer advertising association boards and get their buy-in. It wasn't immediate and in some cases, it wasn't easy, but I am proud to say that in less than two months we had all 39 associations supporting Dodge's return to the sport. That unanimous agreement is what led us here today and with our partners, the dealers, we think we can really leverage this initiative when we are finally on the track to race."
Ask anyone in Winston Cup racing about the daunting efforts and money will always come to the forefront. We must assume that the dollars necessary to assemble a winning team are there. But there is one thing that money can't buy-time.
Evernham would drive that point home throughout the October 15 press conference. While most of the media in attendance were more interested in who would drive, specifically what kind of driver he was looking for-an experienced veteran or young talent-Ray Evernham made his intentions clear, but quickly refocused. He said, "You'd love to have a 21- or 22-year-old driver with experience. That would be the ultimate. Right now my focus is going to be on building a competitive car and building a competitive race team. If we can prove that we are doing that, that will create a high degree of interest from drivers."
Evernham continued, "We are going to focus on a competitive car and team. Like the Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. If we do that, a driver who wants to win [will come]. The best drivers will race you as hard for $1 as they will for a million dollars. The guys that want to win and be competitive and get with a group of people who are committed and passionate about winning will be interested in this program with Dodge."
Evernham also spoke of the time line. He noted an Intrepid show car will be displayed at the January North America International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, in January 2000, with hopes to begin testing an actual car soon after. In order for that to happen, Dodge hopes to work very closely with NASCAR to make the process of approving a car as smooth as possible.
Currently, development is taking place temporarily at Evernham's Busch Grand National shop. Other forms of racing development are taking place in satellite offices. A permanent shop is hoped to be found in the Mooresville/Concord, North Carolina area.
Because we have speculated in Mopar Muscle about the engine that will power the WC Intrepids, we asked Mopar Performance's Lou Patane if David Rampy's Competition Eliminator small-block-with a sprint car block and NHRA Pro Stock heads-was potentially the package that will be the basis for the Winston Cup Dodge engine. Patane noted that there are several engine programs in place that are working on this effort, however, no one builder has been singled out and no engine has been formally presented for approval to NASCAR.
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As for the focus of DaimlerChrysler engineers, Dodge Motorsports, and Mopar Performance, Patane said in his opening remarks, "We believe racing should give us opportunities beyond the race track. That's why the goal of all of our motorsports programs has always been threefold. To help develop products better and faster. To explore new technologies for future products for our customers. To give our engineers valuable training in the pressure-packed environment of motorsports."
"In meeting these three goals," Patane continued, "our motorsports programs have become an important part of our product development process in Auburn Hills today. Stronger, stiffer platforms; more efficient engines; and improved braking and steering systems are just some of the small things we can attribute [to our motorsports] involvement over the past five years." Patane went on to note that engineers would be involved in the NASCAR effort by evaluating and acquiring data in the fast-paced environment of Winston Cup competition.
As for the question that every Mopar fan is interested in, Evernham showed his enthusiasm and ability to have fun with the press. Evernham was asked if a young driver with a distinct family background in Chrysler racing was being considered as a candidate for a driver spot. Ray respectfully recognized Dodge racing dignitaries in attendance. "Well, I have Buddy Baker and Richard Brickhouse here today and those two guys are first on my list. They both won races in Dodges and they are probably the first two guys I'm going to look at. They are both here and available."
Baker responded, "I'd like to withdraw at this time."
With a more serious tone regarding testing and driving, Evernham said, "As for testing, we don't have drivers lined up for that yet, but then again, driver applications will come in and Dodge already has many very good drivers under their employ in the Craftsman Truck Series. We look forward to get that going and by the time that we have a car we hope to have a lot of resums for drivers."
While speculation about Evernham's drivers was clearly a hot topic, it was also clear that more than one team of Intrepids will be encouraged to participate. Surely, the Evernham team is the first priority, but other Dodge teams will likely be fielded. The answer to whether Petty Enterprises will be fielding a No. 43 Intrepid will have to be answered later-or will it?
"It was a well kept secret. But I tried to give you as many hints as I could. I was dodgin