Where were you in ’62? More importantly, where were you in 1973, the year millions flocked to theaters to see American Graffiti?
I won’t name names, but some of us weren’t even born yet. But no matter your age, if you’re into fast rides and can’t get enough chrome, you can appreciate filmmaker George Lucas’ cultural flashback to the 1950s and ’60s, mankind’s relationship with machines and a coming of age in the classic film.
American Graffiti brought back cruisin’ down the boulevard in some of the coolest cars ever to roll out of Detroit. Suped-up hot rods were the trademarks of every speed buff. Gearheads ruled the road. Car racing was viewed a vocation.
The storyline is as it was a faithful depiction of drag racing and drive-ins, boredom and envy, the anxieties and dreams of small-town America in the early 1960s.
It was a culture of cool cars and mechanical ingenuity, and it endures down to this day through individuals who keep its essence alive.
Ray Evernham is one of those individuals.
Inspired by the 1950s and ’60s Hot Rod era, the former NASCAR crew chief and team owner turned local racetrack owner and ESPN broadcaster is living it up these days as proprietor of a 42,000-sq.-ft. nostalgic slice of American pie.
Tucked in the heart of Race City USA Mooresville, NC sits Ray Evernham Enterprises: 80% museum, 20% race shop, all American Graffiti inspired.
He bought the building that houses Ray Evernham Enterprises in the spring of 2008. His vision: to create a home for the many collectibles he has accumulated throughout his illustrious racing career.
His collection of hot rods is rivaled by none. But Evernham’s hot rod collection is more than just an array of cool classics to look at and reminisce about the good ole days. Each hot rod has a story unto itself and traces the historical roots of both street cars and auto racing.
“We wanted to be able to show some form of movement through automobiles and racing, from the 1940s through present day.”
Circling every wall of the museum are nostalgic pieces that will appeal to anyone with a revved up pulse: classic street rods, hot rods, old-school Indy cars, modifieds and, yes, a couple of history-making NASCAR Sprint Cup cars.
In one corner, sits Evernham’s “rolling trophies” given to him by Rick Hendrick for various accomplishments the 1996 Dodge Viper GTS for winning the Cup championship in 1995, and the 1999 Prowler, a gift for the 1997 Cup Championship. In another, there’s the nostalgic collection of street rods from the late ’40s and ’50s like the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Evernham bought at Barrett-Jackson. There’s also the 1949 Mercury Chopped Top Classic Custom Car.
There are modifieds that Evernham and others have driven. Take the No. 99 Northeast modified racecar built, driven and owned by Geoff Bodine in 1979 and the No. 2 Troyer dirt asphalt modified that Evernham won his last race in as a driver at Flemington Speedway in 1991.
The first two NASCAR Sprint Cup cars Evernham entered into competition as an owner are also on display the No. 19 Motorola Ford driven by Casey Atwood which ran a handful of races in 2000 and the No. 9 Dodge driven by Bill Elliott that sat on pole for the 2001 Daytona 500 marking Dodge’s return to the sport after a 25-year hiatus.
There’s also an exhibit of Evernham’s humble roots. A 1954 black Chevy Bel Air in original condition is parked out front of a 1940s Texaco gas station replica, symbolizing Ray’s first job as a Texaco station mechanic.
“You’ve got to have a 1940s-looking gas station if you’re going to have a cool shop,” Evernham explained convincingly.
Representing the old-school local weekly racing series are a 1946 Pop Dryer and a 1947 Kurtis with V8 60 engines as well as a replica of a 1937 Pontiac Coupe signifying what stock car racing was like when Evernham was a kid.
Lined along a reproduction of “Gasoline Alley” sits Evernham’s antique, Indy-style open wheel collection epitomizing the national touring series from the late ’40s and ’50s. There’s a 1947 completely restored Kurtis-Kraft, two 1950s Indy Roadsters, a 1957 Chapman Root-owned Sumar Special driven by Pat O’Conner, as well as a sleek 1956 Bowes Seal Fast Special driven by Bobby Grim.
But that’s not all. At the heart of the museum sits Ray J’s Diner named in honor of Evernham’s son. It’s a fine imitation of Mel’s Drive-in depicted in Graffiti.
“If you’re going to have hot rods from the ’50s, you’ve got have a diner to park them in,” quipped Evernham.
Parked near the entrance to the diner is a replica of the infamous ’32 Ford Deuce Coupe hot rod from Graffiti. The antique makes regular appearances at Evernham’s East Lincoln Speedway, a 3/8-mile dirt track in Stanley, NC. “It still runs, it still drives and it cruises to East Lincoln Speedway on Saturday nights quite a lot,” Evernham said.
Off to the rear of the museum is a working race shop where Evernham keeps his engineering prowess in tune. Here, he and his “two-and-a-half” employees tinker with modifieds and buy, sell and restore some classics, too.
Currently, they’re restoring actor David Janssen’s 1955 Ford Thunderbird Convertible and plan to auction it off soon. They’re also working on quite a few four-cylinder “speedsters” designed to help young and young-at-heart racers afford to compete in safe, reliable cars. It’s an avenue for Evernham to give back to the sport at the local level and give racers in the Charlotte area access to a low-cost, family-friendly racing facility.
Back in a corner, sits another one of Evernham’s prized possessions his 2,300-lb. dirt late-model stock car which he’ll race in the 5th Annual Prelude to the Dream charity race on Sept. 9 at Eldora Speedway. It’s a brand new car and looks pretty fast, so watch out Stewart, Johnson and Gordon.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Evernham. “Tony Stewart lets me come out and participate and I get to bang into Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick. I get to race with my heroes and it’s just a ton of fun.”
A spacious back room is used for storage and also houses a full-scale boxing ring, as well as various other cars, car haulers, trucks and motorcycles.
And then there are the trophy cases that stretch on forever, chock-full of die-cast cars, old-school photographs, trophies and memorabilia of all sorts.
“After 35 years of racing, you can gather a lot of stuff so you need a little storage area,” admitted Evernham.
Ray Evernham Enterprises is not currently open to the public, but maybe just maybe, one day he’ll let race fans in for a peek. Evernham said he might hold some charity events in the future with all proceeds going to benefit Racing for a Reason, the charity he founded in 1997 after his son, Ray J, was diagnosed with leukemia.
“As we grow, we will probably do two to three events during the year to raise money for charity,” Evernham said.
After years of riding the road of success at NASCAR’s top level, Evernham now excels as caretaker of an inspiring walk down memory lane.
“It has been an amazing journey and this sport has really created all this stuff for me,” Evernham explained. “I believe I should share that with some people.”
On behalf of American Graffiti fans and hot rod lovers everywhere, we thank you.