Skip to main content

Ray Evernham dishes on IROC, split from SRX

The Hall of Fame crew chief wants to slowly revive International Race of Champions

There were always parallels between Superstar Racing Experience and IROC: The International Race of Champions but to hear Ray Evernham tell the story, the parallels would have been far greater had his particular vision come to fruition.

Speaking as the featured guest on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast, the Dale Jr Download, Evernham detailed the genesis of SRX, why he parted ways with series ownership after just one year and how everything came full circle with his acquisition of the IROC branding in January.

SRX was announced over the summer of 2020 as the conceptual brainchild of Evernham, fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, former NASCAR executive George Pyne and sports television agent Sandy Montag.

“The first year, I was the creative control, right,” Evernham told Earnhardt. “I designed the car, right down to drawing the bodies and working with Tony Eury and the folks over at FURY Race Cars, taking one of their chassis and modifying it. The actual look of the car, the racing, the television format, all of that stuff, I was really the creative control running the competition side.

“Then, the partners from New York, Sandy Montag was TV and George Pyne was sponsorship and investors but as far the track format, choices and drivers, all that stuff, did that and loved it. Loved it.

Evernham said he worked on the television minute-by-minute with veteran motorsports producer and director Pam Miller.

“I wanted it to be a mini IROC for drivers like you (Earnhardt,” Tony, Jeff (Gordon) — guys who were retiring younger and younger who didn’t want to race full-time but wouldn’t mind something like that. It was safer, fun and a made for TV type of series.”

Syndication: The Tennessean
Credit: Alan Poizner / USA TODAY NETWORK

The first year, which aired live on CBS on Saturday nights, was a modest hit in terms of television ratings that averaged over a million viewers that first season. A veteran cast of characters like Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Paul Tracy, Marco Andretti and Willy T. Ribbs raced against a local ringer at venerable grassroots tracks like Stafford, Eldora, IRP and the Nashville Fairgrounds.

That was Evernham’s call too.

“I wanted to keep it on a smaller track because of the speeds,” Evernham said. “We didn’t want these guys doing 180 miles per hour. It didn’t need to be at Talladega and Daytona but they easily could have been at Martinsville or at the Charlotte Dirt Track.

“We absolutely looked at (running it alongside a NASCAR weekend) or on a short course at a place like Sonoma but not the whole track. We had conversations with NASCAR, IndyCar, people like that and we were on our way with that.”

Then came the second season, also on CBS, but Evernham was no longer part of the day-to-day operations. He was still legally associated, having something best described as an associate producer credit, but longtime racing everyman Donald Hawk joined the group as CEO.

Evernham said he couldn’t agree with the rest of the ownership group about the creative or financial direction of the series.

“When, as with anything, there’s partnerships and when you have a dream and you all agree, this is the direction this is going to go on, and this is the funding that it’s going to take to do it, (or) here’s my job, here’s your job, and here’s his job,” Evernham said. “At the end of the year, when there’s no moving forward, financially or things like that, you have to have a hard conversation with the partners.

“Like, wait a minute, this is what we agreed on. This is what I think it’s going to take to be successful. And at that time, it didn’t (and) the other partners felt like it was going to take something else for it to be successful, or they could be successful a different way.

“So, I said ‘okay, well you probably need to have somebody else run this then, because I don’t believe that that path that you’re going will be successful’ so I stepped aside. Unfortunately, the it’s not been successful, right and the loser is the fan.”

SRX, after announcing five of six races, and a second season on ESPN announced it was ceasing operations in January.

“The idea was good,” Evernham said. “The drivers supported it. They did. The drivers supported it, they were having fun, they had all those things but unfortunately, the business case or the business plan that they used was not successful.”

Evernham said his version was never going to make use of more than one or two active NASCAR drivers at a time, where the second and third years had numerous. The third season featured Brad Keselowski and Hailie Deegan running a full schedule with Kyle Busch also running multiple races.

The series ditched the local ringer concept come year three, a role filled by the likes of Doug Coby, Bubba Pollard, Kody Swanson, Peyton Sellers and Bobby Santos.

“I’d like to use (Cup) drivers once in a while, you know, same with the IndyCar people but it was really about bringing in the superstars that weren’t racing anymore and then mixing them with a local short track hero, which I think is really important,” Evernham said. “Your local short track hero. …

“That got turned off base there and I can’t really comment, or I don’t know whether that had any problems or not … But I think, once it got off to being a bunch of current Cup guys, it became something much different than I started it to be.”

Evernham said his separation from Stewart, Montag and Pyne was pretty seamless.

“As you know, knowing me for a long time,” he said to Earnhardt. “Sometimes I say what’s on my mindset pretty quickly. Yeah. That was basically a phone call where I had given all I could give. And you know, deep down when you give all you can give and somebody’s telling you ‘that just ain’t right,’ well I said ‘you know what, you all have a nice day (and) I’m going to build old cars.'”

Evernham said watching the series in its second and third sesons was like ‘watching your old girlfriend go on a date with someone else.’ He said it bothered him seeing some of the changes that were made.

“It was becoming what we never intended it to do, and I watched some of the turns they made and thought to myself, that’s not going to make it, and unfortunately they didn’t.”

Evernham says he doesn’t know if SRX returns someday but believes there is a place for a series like it — something that was more motorsports entertainment than pure motorsport.

Which leads to IROC, which Evernham actually wanted to call SRX when he first started it with Stewart, Montag and Pyne.

“I wanted SRX to be IROC,” Evernham said. “The other partners didn’t think that was something they wanted to do because they wanted to create their own brand and didn’t think IROC was a big enough brand.”

Evernham was at a car show with Kauffman when he brought up IROC.

“Rob got involved,” Evernham said. “He has legal people, trademarks, this and that. One of the guys that helped us a good bit was Bruce Canepa. Bruce knew the guy that had the (trade)marks and we were able to put a lot of things together. We got the rights to use the name and we want to do some more.”

For now, Evernham just wants to put old IROC cars on the track with those who drove them from the 70s to the early 2000s. He called it a IROC reunion.

“We’re shooting for the fall,” he said. “If there’s interest in this thing, where do we go from there? Our goal is to get those cars back on track and then see how popular it can get.”

Like SRX, Evernham doesn’t believe IROC cars need to be going 180 mph on superspeedways but probably be a short track exhibition.

“I feel like we can (go) 150 (mph) on a small track, bumper to bumper and put on good racing.”

Does Everham want to promote a series one day under the IROC branding?

“Oh my god yes, that’s my dream,” he said. “I want to make sure that I’m staying in my lane. I always want to be an asset, not only NASCAR but IndyCar because those are our two American series, right? IMSA is getting really strong now too.

“I think there’s a place for IROc, as I see it, to fit in with any of those. I’ll look you in the eyes and say, my dream IROC is to be able to have this thing grow to have country against country compete. A standard car  …

“How cool would it be to someday see Lewis Hamilton versus Josef Newgarden race Kyle Larson or someone like that in a completely different thing.”

But first comes the reunion event and hoping there is an appetite for more.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter. 

Mentioned in this article:

More About: