Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy TV Trails To Ray Evernham

Tuesday afternoon Ray Evernham made official what many already knew. He was going to partner with Rick Hendrick on a project involving high-end autos.

Here is the official information from the media release:

Ray Evernham Enterprises (REE) has been retained to consult for the Hendrick Companies, a management company formed in 2005 to oversee strategic initiatives for chairman Rick Hendrick.

Founded in 2008 by successful auto racing crew chief, team owner and broadcaster Ray Evernham, REE will consult on special projects related to Hendrick’s core businesses. In that role, REE’s initial focus will be development of the Hendrick Performance retail brand of high-performance parts, vehicles, products and related services.

While this release did not specifically indicate that Evernham was done with TV, these tweets came shortly after the announcement from various members of the ESPN Motorsports team.

Andy Hall (PR Rep): Congratulations to Ray Evernham - we'll miss him at ESPN.

Jamie Little: Congrats to the great Ray Evernham. New opportunity! Your ESPN family will miss you!

Allen Bestwick: My friend has some great things ahead. Thanks for bringing it! We'll keep that song going for ya...

Marty Smith: Huge congratulations to Ray on the new gig at Hendrick Performance, but dang we'll miss him on the television. That dude is great on TV!

Ryan McGee: Congrats to Ray on new consultant gig w/Hendrick!. Will he still take me to the Knoxville Nationals this summer?

The choice that Evernham made has already brought plenty of comments and email related to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his struggling fortunes in the Sprint Cup Series. While no public statement was made on that topic, the media release indicated that Evernham would be working in a non-racing role for a different division of the Hendrick organization.

Still, the words "initial focus" in the release leave the door open for Evernham to have flexibility in the overall organization. We all know that successful owners exhaust every resource when they are trying to get a major team back on track.

In the short term, it's the fans and TV viewers who are going to take a step back. Evernham settled into his role in the ESPN studios on Monday as a part of NASCAR Now quite well. He and Ricky Craven partnered up to present a formidable studio pairing that really clicked on the air.

Allen Bestwick hosted the programs and when a character like Randy LaJoie was along for the ride it made for a fast-paced and informative hour. Bestwick drew a lot of NASCAR knowledge from Evernham, who switched hats between analyst, owner and former crew chief in the blink of an eye.

ESPN also used Evernham in the field, but with less success. The infield duo of Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace often spoke over top of Evernham when he joined them on race telecasts. While Bestwick as host tried to keep order, the enthusiasm level of Daugherty and Wallace often eclipsed their level of knowledge. It was clear where Evernham should have been from the start and that was up in the TV booth.

Andy Petree has been ESPN's primary NASCAR analyst since the new TV contract in 2007. Petree's role was not going to change and ESPN needed only one former crew chief in the TV booth. Evernham was the odd man out. Although his relief appearances in that role worked out well, Evernham was not going to replace Petree in the ESPN package.

Since this situation has been playing out, there has been a senior management change at SPEED. Patti Wheeler, Humpy's daughter, is a veteran TV executive who lives in the same area as Evernham. She now runs SPEED's programming and production divisions. In the blink of an eye, she can offer him a role on Race Hub that involves only a short drive to the SPEED studios from his home or job.

Also right down the street is the Sirius NASCAR studios. Evernham has a regular weekly role on Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody, so it should be interesting to see if Sirius tries to get him more involved on the satellite radio side of the business.

On a personal note, Evernham has been supportive of this website and it has been very pleasant dealing with both Ray and his wife over the past several years. Even if he drops from sight for a while, keep an eye out for Evernham to resurface in either a media or racing role. You know what they say, it's in his blood.

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