Looking back at the history and chemistry of the ‘Rainbow Warriors’

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Rick Hendrick, Alan Gustafson, and Ray Evernham talk with Adam Alexander and Shannon Spake about the history and the chemistry of the 'Rainbow Warriors'.

[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Bet you can't name the Rainbow Warriors, now. Perhaps you couldn't then either. But you knew Jeff Gordon couldn't do all he did without them. Jeff has 93 wins at four championships to his credit, but really, we should say to their credit, too.

- Welcome back to this very special edition of "NASCAR Race Hub," where we are honoring Jeff Gordon's induction into the Hall of Fame. And now, this is probably going to be my favorite segment, because really, they were the most colorful pit crew in all of NASCAR.

- Literally.

- There has never been a team like the Rainbow Warriors. And of course, we have some key players here, as well. I'm going to start with you, Andy Papathanassiou.

- Wow, nice.

- That's the last time we'll say that.

- 100%.

[LAUGHTER]

- We'll call you Papa from here on out. Pit crew coach, we, of course, have Ray Evernham, who was on top of that pit box, and Rick Hendrick, who was the team owner. Just the colors-- I mean, it speaks for itself.

- Where did this foundation for the Rainbow Warriors come from? And Rick, I want you to share a story of when you came in one day over the hill, and all these guys are out here working out. Is that where it began?

- Well, I came down the hill, and there were no buildings on this side of the road. And I see these guys in a line, running through the field. And I didn't know if something had happened, what they were doing.

And it was Andy working the guys out. And I'd never seen that before with pit crew. And it was amazing to watch the development of the Rainbow Warriors.

- So when you guys got together-- I know you were at Stanford, and you brought over this theory of being an athlete and really revolutionized the pit crew-- what was that like? Like, whose idea was that to start that?

- I think it was both of our ideas. When Mr. Hendrick gave me the opportunity to become a Crew Chief, I realized that-- I watched a lot of film and I watched a lot of races, and I thought, how can these guys be so focused on a car and work on the car as much as we were working?

And we worked a lot.

[LAUGHTER]

You know, like, a lot.

- That's an understatement.

And how could they be ready to pit? And I thought, let's leave the mechanics and the fabricators working on the car and bring in other people, athletes, to pit the car. And we could gain a lot of time, we could gain a lot of spots.

I'm not athletic. I didn't play in the league either, as we were talking. But I knew this guy who was really good, who I had met while I was at Alan Kulwicki's, and he had some really great ideas about a pit crew. So I went to Andy and said, look, I need you to build me a pit crew.

- And in an effort just to keep my job, so I could pay my rent, the athletic mentality was born. And I know the visual is that-- well, we got big, strong guys, and they worked out, and pit stops got better, and you know, we became the Rainbow Warriors.

But it's really the mentality that athletes bring to problem solving, OK. It's the fact that it's practice and repetition, coaching and mentoring, overcoming adversity, eliminating distractions.

Those are things that you learn that are very common in an athletic world. And we just brought that sort of common sense athletic mentality and applied it to pit stops.

- How hard was Jeff Gordon on you guys?

- I'd love to sit here and tell you that he was a problem child. But you know, I can tell you that when I look back-- you know, there were times that Jeff spouted off on the radio, and we'd have our little discussions about it and stop.

But for as good as that guy is and what he did on the racetrack, he was a pleasure to work with most days. If he was complaining, and he'd always complain, he'd be leading by two or three seconds, running 2/10 or 3/10 of a second per lap faster than the field, picking the car apart.

But I think he realized early that if he stayed off of us, we could do a better job. In 1995, he should have won the Daytona 500. And we dropped the car off the jack in the pits.

And we were waiting to get blasted and should have gotten blasted-- because it was purely a mistake-- and he came on the radio and said, guys, look, we're going to be doing this for a long time, we're going to race next week, we'll get it back, don't worry about it.

And I think right then and there, the team, the Rainbow Warriors got so much behind him that we just went on in that '95, our championship season. And I'll never forget his poise and calming the guys down on the radio, I really think what just a vaulting point for us winning that '95 championship.

- You know, I think Jeff had just tremendous respect for Ray. He counted on Ray to have everything right, the cars right, assemble the right people, and he-- it was like big brother-little brother kind of a relationship.

But they leaned on each other. But Jeff, he just did his job when he got in the car. And he counted on Ray to get everything prepared and get the best people that he could find in the right positions.

And like Andy said, the three of them, I think, really revolutionized the sport. Because Ray didn't just want to hire somebody he knew, he had a chart with the description of the job. And then he would pick the person that would fit that description.

And he had a very detailed way of going about it. Now, I remember when I first got started, there were guys changing tires, smoking cigarettes.

[LAUGHTER]

And we had big guys that worked in the shop, and they'd be down on one knee with the gun, and practice was nothing that happened. So to see this new way of thinking, the new way to prepare, the new way to train-- you know, again, it just-- I was amazed.

I enjoyed watching it, because you could see the effort that was put into selecting the right people. And I don't care what you're in, you were in the people business. And you got to get the right group that had the talent, but they can work together.

And Ray was a great leader, and Jeff knew what he had to do in the car.

- It's been so wonderful to take this trip down memory lane with you guys as we discuss Jeff Gordon's past. Thanks to each of you for being with us. And once again, Mr. H, thanks for letting us come out to your place to do this.

- Honor to have you here.