Ray Evernham loves his ferret as much – maybe more than – No. 24

Ray Evernham loves his ferret as much as #24Marc Vaughn

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 victories in stock cars for the pair. But while the #24 Chevrolet Rainbow Warrior is most often associated with Evernham, there’s another car he may love just as much: the Ferret.

Actually, two ferrets. It’s not the semi-domesticated weasel-like creature Mustela furo, loved by pet sitters and pest control the world over, 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 off 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 it belonged to. While we were doing it, Evernham himself came to tell us about it. The car was built by racer Dawson from a Siata.

“The Siata is like the poor man’s Ferrari,” Evernham said. “But they were good racing cars.”

Indeed, if you look at some Siatas from the same period, they do indeed look like Ferraris, a bit, right down to the grille. This one was only based on a Siata chassis. It had its own body with a long snout at the front, a feature that arguably led to its name after the furry creature it so closely resembles. But whereas the Ferraris had powerful V12 engines, the Siatas were more likely to have much smaller displacement engines. This had a 750cc Crosley up front driving the rear wheels. Evernham’s other Ferret, Ferret II, has a mid-rear engine configuration.

ray evernham's ferret

The ferret is judged.Property of Hearst

“The guy who built this (engine) actually built road racing engines in the ’50s,” Evernham continued. “He was 85 and pulled that engine for me. He didn’t know who I was. He said, ‘Son, you’re going to have to send me a deposit. I do not know who you are. I said, ‘Look, I really need this period correct.’ And he said, ‘We haven’t built one since 1952. They’re all correct period. What is your problem?'”

By then the class judges had arrived: David Hobbs, Lynn St. James and IndyCar team owner Beth Paretta. Hobbs, still the prankster, asked the Evernham mechanic who owned the car. “Ray Evernham,” the guy said. “Who is he?” Everyone laughed, including Evernham, who then went into the same description he had just given me.

“Peter Dawson’s story amazed me,” Evernham said. “So I started reading about him and when I saw this car I thought, ‘This thing is really, really cool. Hot rodders go to Bonneville, road racers who really couldn’t afford Cobras and stuff like that build these things.

“He (Dawson) actually built a Can-Am car. And then he got injured in the race. At one point Chrysler commissioned him to make the Goldenrod, the Summers Brothers Goldenrod.

Goldenrod was a four-engined bonneville that reached 409.277 mph in the summer of 1967, a record that stood for 45 years.

“And then he built this 1965 Dodge that raced the 24 Hours of Daytona. And he started a road racing program with Dodge. This (car, ferret) was their part-time contract. He and some other Chrysler engineers, a guy named Sullivan, they just built these things in his garage.

He showed the judges photos of the car in Cumberland, Meadowbrook and Glen, pointing out the aluminum and magnesium in the construction, all still present in the show car. The judges seemed impressed, but in case they weren’t, Evernham said, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” Champagne?”

They all laughed.

Later that day, the ferret won her class. Evernham moved on to his next project. Who knows what it is? The ferret was rolled into its trailer, with another trophy on top, the first in perhaps 60 years.

Leave a Comment