Ray Evernham Loves His Ferret as Much As—Maybe More Than—the #24
You probably know Ray Evernham as the three-time NASCAR Cup championship-winning crew chief for Jeff Gordon, a partnership that resulted in 47 Cup wins in stock cars for the pair. But while the #24 Rainbow Warrior Chevrolet is most often associated with Evernham, there is another car that he may love just as much: the Ferret.
Actually, two Ferrets. This is not the semi-domesticated weasel-like creature Mustela furo, beloved by pet keepers and rat removers around the world starting with the ancient Egyptians. No, this Ferret is a race car built by a Chrysler and, later, Ford engineer named Pete Dawson in the 1950s.
Evernham actually showed one of his Ferrets at The Amelia this year. We saw it on the lawn there and stopped to look at it, not knowing who owned it. As we did so, Evernham himself came by to tell us about it. The car was built by racer Dawson out of a Siata.
“The Siata is like a poor man’s Ferrari,” said Evernham. “But they were good race cars.”
Indeed, if you look at some Siatas from the same period they do, indeed, look like Ferraris, somewhat, down to the eggcrate grille. This one was only based on a Siata chassis. It had its own body with a long snout of a front end, a characteristic that no doubt lead to its name after the furry creature it so resembles. But while Ferraris had powerful V12 engines, Siatas were more likely to have far smaller-displacement engines. This one had a 750cc Crosley in front driving the rear wheels. Evernham’s other Ferret, Ferret II, has a mid-rear engine configuration.
“The guy that built that (engine) actually built road race motors in the ‘50s,” Evernham continued. “He was 85 years old and pulled that motor for me. He didn’t know who I was. He said, ‘Son, you’re gonna have to send me a deposit. I don’t know who you are.’ I said, ‘Look, I really need this period-correct.’ And he said, ‘We haven’t built any since 1952. They’re all period correct. What’s the matter with you?’”
By this time the class judges had arrived: David Hobbs, Lynn St. James, and IndyCar team owner Beth Paretta. Hobbs, ever the jokester, asked Evernham’s mechanic who owned the car. “Ray Evernham,” the guy said. “Who’s he?” Everyone laughed, including Evernham, who then went into the same description he’d just given me.
“Peter Dawson’s story amazed me,” said Evernham. “So I started to read about him and when I saw this car I thought, ‘This thing is really, really cool. Hot rodders go to Bonneville, the road racers that really couldn’t afford the Cobras and stuff like that build these things.
“He (Dawson) actually built a Can-Am car. And then he was injured racing. At some point Chrysler assigned him to do the Goldenrod, the Summers Brothers Golden Rod.”
Goldenrod was a four-engine Bonneville streamliner that went 409.277 mph in the summer of 1967, a record that stood for a remarkable 45 years.
“And then he built that ‘65 Dodge that ran the Daytona 24 Hour. And he started a road race program with dodge. This (car, the Ferret) was their part time deal. He and a few other Chrysler engineers, a guy named Sullivan, they would just build these things in his garage.”
He showed the judges photos of the car at Cumberland, Meadowbrook, and the Glen, pointing out the aluminum and magnesium in the build, all still present in the show car. The judges looked impressed, but in case they weren’t, Evernham said, “Hey, can I buy you guys a drink? Some champagne?”
They all laughed.
Later in the day the Ferret won its class. Evernham went on to his next project. Who knows what that is? The Ferret was rolled into its trailer, with another trophy on top, the first in maybe 60 years.