Ray Evernham

Ray Evernham’s Ghost: A Frightening Blend Of Old And New

“Building this car was something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid,” Ray Evernham begins. A child of northeastern NASCAR racing, Evernham absorbed everything New Jersey’s car culture offered in the ’60s and ’70s, which naturally led to him developing a taste for Modified sedans. Unfortunately, by the time he’d grown old enough to peer over the dashboard and have a shot at driving one himself, people had moved onto racing Pintos and Cavaliers. Thankfully, the dreams we hold dear as children rarely fade entirely from our minds.

As it happened, Ray moved into NASCAR and made quite a name for himself, so building his dream machine in that classic style was something he had to put on the back burner for a few decades. Yet, he never stopped dreaming. Through 20 years working at the top of American stock car racing, Evernham learned how to build a racing car a hundred different ways, and in doing so, he gleaned some of the best bits of different designs and stored them in the back of his mind for a later date. Several years ago, he ceased dreaming and commenced the build that would please both his inner engineer and his inner child.

The result is a chimera dubbed “The Ghost” for its pearl white paint. It blends bits of a NASCAR Modified, a Cup Series machine, a Trans Am monster, and even an IndyCar. Of course, the car which it most resembles — visually, anyways — is a ’36 Chevrolet sedan, though few ’36 Chevy sedans sport a flat underbody!  “We decided to build a car we could actually road race using new-school technology,” Ray elaborates.

Photo credit: Ray Evernham

Setting the Stage

In addition to having all the right hardware underneath its classic curves, Ray had to be able to race it ten-tenths in a variety of circumstances. This was not a vehicle designed for quick processional laps; it had to be safe, it had to be reliable, and it had to be situated in the right environment.

“The problem is so many vintage modified classes are really dangerous to run in. There’s too much disparity and most of the cars just aren’t meant to take that sort of abuse,” Ray notes. After experimenting in several SVRA races, where the rules are relatively calm and the atmosphere is cordial yet competitive, he realized this series would allow him to explore the limits of his creativity.

After sourcing some rectangular and round steel tubing, Ray then brought on two longtime business partners to Big Iron Garage: Eddie Bohn, a gifted mechanic, and Dan Baker, a wizard with metalwork and shaping bodies. In building the car, they avoided using CAD or any other modern approaches; it had to be crafted in the way the cars which inspired it were.

Crafting an Aerodynamic Body by Hand

With the help of Robert McCarter, a local automotive designer, they produced a digitally-rendered image of tweaked, chopped, and trimmed version of the Chevy body, like a tattoo artist might use as a reference. When the team was satisfied with the proportions of the image, Baker then began emulating the actual body; doing all of the work by eye.

Somehow, the modern aerodynamic additions complement with the classic lines and produce a good deal of downforce at the front axle.

The hand-formed body was subjected to a 2-inch chop off the roof, then fitted with a comprehensive roll cage. They removed 1.5 inches of metal from the cowl, and trimmed 1.5 inches from the side windows. This way, they were able to retain the stock front and rear glass, while attaining that windswept look. Further forward, they extended the car’s nose to accommodate an ’80s IndyCar-inspired front splitter with canards. The nose becomes a flat underbody, which extends all the way to the rear of the car, where the real gains in aero grip are found.

At the end of the cab sits a massive APR wing, which somehow complements the classic, curved lines. However, it’s the diffuser underneath that makes the bulk of the aerodynamic grip. Measuring 30-inches long and 42-inches across, this item plants the rear perfectly, which helps when administering some 800 horsepower. The Ghost produces an estimated 3,000 pounds of downforce at 180 miles an hour — something they determined with minimal wind tunnel work, as seen below:

In trying to make the most of the aero grip available, they found that the ideal aerodynamic platform entails a slightly raked stance; the front and rear frame heights are 1.25 inches and 2.75 inches from the ground, respectively. Not only does this stick The Ghost to the pavement, but it evokes the shape and stance of a classic dragster. Somehow, that’s fitting.

The split-body color scheme is a reference to the styling common during Ray’s youth. Photo credit: Ray Evernham

Getting Under the Skin

Ray wanted the car to have progressive transitions, predictable responses, and a generally neutral setup without much understeer or oversteer. In order to make The Ghost a “happy car”, as he puts it, he designed the rear end with 36-inch radius arms, as well as a 36-inch single-adjustable Neuline torque arm mounted far forward to ensure forward bite. Up front, the suspension is similarly lengthy. The uniformity of length, as Ray puts it “is to make sure everything moves at the same angle.” This helps make The Ghost benign, predictable, and “controlled by the driver, not the suspension movement,” he elaborates.

Up front, unequal length a-arms and a Sweet Manufacturing rack-and-pinion steering setup provide wonderful compliance, response, and confidence behind the wheel.

Inside, the cabin is all business. Though spartan, the few items present contribute to a unique sense of occasion. Few racing cars have quite the room The Ghost provides, and yet all the familiar race car accouterments are there. In the footwell, Tilton 800-series pedals provide Ray with the ultimate in feel and feedback, as does the custom MPI-GT-13-A wheel from Max Papis Innovations. A custom carbon racing seat from Kenny’s Components keeps Ray safe and stable, as does the Schroth Racing 5 Point Harness. Additionally, a Safecraft’s AT10 Dual Hose fire suppression system is fitted. No stone was left unturned in making this car as safe and confidence-inspiring as possible.

The Tilton 800-series pedals relay all necessary information to and from the driver. Photo credit: Ray Evernham

Fancy but Familiar Footwork

JRi coilovers, Hyperco springs,  FK Rod Ends, and off-the-shelf PFC Brakes help to fulfill another aim of this build. “We wanted to use widely available pieces, so people could replicate the build if they wanted,” Ray adds. However, these are all tailored to the weight of the car, and fine-tuned to provide the balance he was after. The performance of these quality pieces, which has been maximized by capable people, prove bespoke items aren’t always necessary — even for custom builds like this.

The balance and traction is boggling. One would imagine a front-engined car with this much power couldn’t deliver the grunt without turning the rear tires into clouds of smoke, but The Ghost hooks. Some of the remarkable traction can be attributed to the Wide 5 wheels shod in Goodyear Eagle Racing D1751 tires, as well as the ATL 22-gallon fuel cell, filled full of VP Racing Fuel, which sits above and plants the rear axle. Yet, for all the mechanical grip available, some of the way The Ghost fires out of corners without fuss is due to a stellar engine with silky-smooth power delivery.

The broad diffuser is integrated so well into the classic body that it takes a moment to notice. Photo credit: Shawn Brereton

A Ferocious Powerplant

The current engine making its home in The Ghost’s engine bay is a 377ci SB2, built by Dennis Borem of ProMotor Engines. This all-aluminum engine makes 850 horsepower and 570 lb-ft of torque thanks to a Bryant crankshaft, Carillo rods, Mahle pistons, T&D rockers, and a Kooks exhaust. It drives that power through a custom Jerico Performance Solutions 4-speed, mounted centrally and specially designed to keep the center of gravity as low as possible. The thrust is carried via a custom carbon driveshaft to a Winters Aluminum Center Section Quick-Change rear.

Previously, The Ghost had used a 410ci engine, but Borem decided a car with The Ghost’s aptitude would benefit from something a little different. “The old motor had more stroke and low-end torque,” begins Borem. “We looked to move the powerband up higher and make it rev a little faster.” So, with a 4.180 bore and a 3.45 stroke, the new motor may sacrifice a little pulling power at the bottom, but it compensates with the way the revs climb all the way to the stratospheric 9,000-rpm redline.

The engine is fed by a retrofitted Kinsler mechanical injection system, hewn from magnesium, which once fed a BBC in a vintage Trans Am car. Gutted and fitted with Bosch injectors, an AEM electronic fuel injection system now meters out the fuel, courtesy of an AEM Infinity ECU. Most importantly, it keeps with the build ethos: underneath the vintage exterior, modern technology provides the performance.

Keeping the high-revving mill cool are C&R Racing radiator and oil coolers, as well as motorsport-grade plumbing from Brown and Miller Racing Solutions. Since Pikes Peak was on Ray’s to-do list from the start, he knew he would need the utmost in cooling and fuel delivery; the air gets quite thin at 14,114 feet.

Spooking the Competition

Cresting the top of Pikes Peak back in 2018. Photo credit: Larry Chen

At his Pikes Peak foray this year, Ray nabbed a time of 10:11.334 — winning the Exhibition class with a bit in his pocket. Few competitors have placed so well with something that analog — or stylish. Note how composed and reassuring the car is; Ray has no problem threading the needle through high-speed sections, nor does he have a problem administering the grunt in the course’s many hairpins. It’s no wonder he went as well as he did.

That wasn’t the only outing where he raised a few eyebrows. During his foray at Virginia International Raceway, Ray posted a 1:50.10 without pushing too hard. That time would put him squarely in the middle of the pack in Trans Am TA1. A testament to the incredible balance, grip, accessibility, and stability of the car.

The Future for The Ghost

In coming months, Ray plans to run this beauty on the high banks of Daytona, attend a VMAX event in Charlotte, and considering a standing-mile/stop speed event elsewhere. The gearing, drag figures, and power indicate that The Ghost should be able to hit 240-250 miles an hour. He may also return to Pikes Peak and compete in the Open Wheel Class.

Wherever The Ghost goes, it draws a massive crowd. Photo credit: Shawn Brereton

The car has also stirred up so much commotion that the good folks at Goodwood have invited Ray to bring it to next year’s event. Quite an honor — but perhaps not as exciting as the endless build requests this car has drummed up for Ray’s shop. “We’re backed up two years with customers asking for their own version of  The Ghost!” he relays gleefully.

In the coming weeks, the car can been seen at SEMA, where it will be featured at the Valvoline booth, and later on at PRI, where it will be the one of the main draws at the JRi booth. Keep an eye out for this beauty — everyone who’s seen it in person has attested to it being frighteningly gorgeous in the flesh.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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