The barbs are flying between Ray Evernham and former driver Jeremy Mayfield, and while the two have severed their relationship – both professionally and personally -- and gone their separate ways, the fallout from a recent court hearing promises to keep the split in the headlines for some time to come.
The most controversial testimony to emerge from the hearing – which took place when Mayfield sought an injunction to bar his removal from Evernham’s UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge – came when Mayfield confirmed the long-rumored relationship between Evernham and developmental driver Erin Crocker; a relationship he says hindered the performance of his team.
“For significant periods of time, Evernham has been at best an absentee manager and owner, largely because, at some point in time, Ray Evernham had entered into a close personal relationship with a female driver he engages to drive on NASCAR’s ARCA, Truck and Busch Series,” said Mayfield. “That relationship became a subject of considerable discussion and distraction in the Nextel Cup garage area during the 2006 season.”
While steadfastly declining to comment on his personal life, Evernham said Mayfield had "disparaged the Evernham team and me personally," and accused his former driver of being difficult to work with. "Mayfield has not interacted well with other personnel at Evernham Motorsports, and has had five crewchiefs in five years because of his inability to get along with them,” he said. “We have fought communication and attitude issues all year. When rumors start to get out, and when barbs are being thrown back and forth in the media, that completely breaks down the communication of a team. There's got to be trust, honesty and respect on a race team. I believe a fresh attitude with perspective, a different view on things, can help.”
“I wasn't the one that initiated the decision for me to pursue other opportunities with another race team,” replied Mayfield, “I didn't give up on my race team. That was Ray's idea.”
Court documents revealed that Rick Russell, Chief Financial Officer for Evernham Motorsports, offered Mayfield two options. One was for Mayfield "to walk away and be paid for the month of August." The other involved immediate termination without any further compensation. That ultimatum, said Mayfield, left him with little choice but to go to court and make his case.
"They backed us up into a corner, knowing that there's no ride for me for the rest of the year," he said. "I have to make a living, too. They've tried to set it up to make it look like I was the bad guy. When Ray is done with you, he's done with you."
Evernham accused Mayfield of breaching their contract by "fail(ing) to use his best diligent efforts to compete professionally in the Nextel Cup Series." He pointed to an unexpected pit stop in the final laps at Pocono, where Mayfield complained of a deflating tire, only to discover that the tire was, in fact, holding air. Evernham questioned Mayfield brush of the wall at Indianapolis, saying "I watched Mayfield wreck his car early in the race. He slowed dramatically to let other cars past in Turn One, and then brushed the wall at two places. This was done in a manner to damage the #19 Dodge but not harm Mayfield. Based on my experience, I believed that Mayfield's conduct in wrecking the car was on purpose. Sam Johns, my Competition Director, agreed with my opinion."
Mayfield countered that no driver would intentionally crash a car on a high-speed track like Indy, and said problems with the #19 car goes back well before Pocono. "If I have been 'tanking' the performance of the car,” he said, “it must have started with the first race of the season, because performance has been equally terrible all year. The cars have not been good, and the engines, particularly recently, have been weak."
"If anyone is 'tanking' the No. 19 car, it is Evernham Motorsports. I had no reason to (tank). He and I had already agreed we were going to finish the year out, so I had no reason to do anything to the car. I wouldn't have had any problem if Ray told me, 'Elliott Sadler wants to get in the car, and we've worked that out, so what can we do to work that out with you?' That was all I was asking for, and I figured that he and I were good enough friends that it could have happened.”
Batten down the hatches, put on your flak jacket and hunker down in that foxhole, this one is going to stay nasty for awhile.