Throughout the year, Continental Tire will focus on celebrating the fans, media, drivers, and teams and their contributions to sports car racing, including a weekly trip down memory lane in Sportscar365’s Continental Tire IMSA Reflections series.
This week, HART driver Ryan Eversley reflects on his time racing in Continental Tire Challenge and Continental’s involvement in his popular Dinner With Racers podcast.
You spent a significant portion of your career racing in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge’s ST class. What is the significance of that series and class for you?
“The Continental Tire series was extremely instrumental in my career becoming what it is.
“If you look at the options for young, beginner pro’s trying to make a name for themselves, the Continental Tire Challenge classes were where that happened for a lot of American drivers.
“I needed that class structure for it to be possible because I don’t have any personal funding.
“People like Bob and Zach Lutz, Mike Pickett, and Keith Carroll all believed in what I was trying to accomplish plus they needed co-drivers and that was how I made a name for myself.
“I’ve never spoken to Jim France before but if it wasn’t for that class which was formerly called “Grand-Am Cup” I don’t know if I would be a pro race car driver today. I’m thankful to Jim France and Grand-Am for that.”
What memories stand out of your two runner-up finishes in the ST championship in 2011 and 2013?
“They’re both interesting stories. 2011 was a crazy situation. Right before Daytona, Keith Carroll who was signed to be my teammate for the year, was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“They caught it early and he is totally ok today but that meant he was going to miss a lot of the races. Keith being the kind of generous person he is, he didn’t pull the car or the entry and funded as much as he could.
“Meanwhile, Karl Thomson also wanted to make sure I could stay in the No. 75 Honda and paired me up with several drivers who could raise some funding or would be helpful in securing a result.
“Karl and I got to drive together as well and we managed to win VIR. It was a really interesting season but thats when Honda really started showing faith in me and had Simon Pagenaud come drive with me at Laguna Seca.
“I still use lesson’s learned from that weekend to this day and knew then that Honda was genuinely a good partner to work with and we’re still working together to this day.
“Karl and Keith are the good people this sport needs more of and without them keeping me in the seat, Im not sure if I’d be racing right now. It was nice to repay everyones faith in me with a lot of podiums and a runner-up spot in the championship.
“2013 also started out really strangely. At the end of 2012 I had signed a contract with Kia to drive alongside my friend Andy Lally in the No. 10 car.
“It was a really cool opportunity and also difficult because Honda and Compass had done so much for me but it was a factory ride and I had to take it.
“A few months after we signed everything, the entire deal fell apart with Kia and almost all the other competitive seats in Continental Tire Challenge were taken.
“I knew Kyle Gimple and his parents really well from being around the paddock and heard they weren’t sure on who to pair with Kyle so I called them and Karl from Compass and we had an agreement to drive the No. 75 together in about 35 minutes from when the Kia call came in.
“We went on to have two very successful seasons together and thats when the Acura program came together.”
Continental has also been a longtime supporter of your popular Dinner With Racers podcast. How instrumental has their support been in telling the stories of the racing community through the podcast?
“When my partner on DWR, Sean Heckman, and I decided to pull the trigger on the podcast, we knew we wanted Continental Tire to be a part of it.
“They were very supportive of the racing series and we knew they’d be good to work with based on how well they treated the IMSA teams.
“Sheri Herrmann at the time was our contact at Continental and she loved the idea and championed it and got us the funding.
“If she didn’t think we had something worthy she wouldn’t have stuck her neck out, and that was something we will never forget.
“I’ve heard stories of sponsors being very difficult to work with and we’ve never had anything like that to worry about. In fact we would go to Continental and make sure if it was OK for certain things.
“For example, we interviewed Derrick Walker who was the Falken Tire-sponsored GT team owner and they didn’t care about that.
“We DID, however, bleep Falken and some other tire manufacturers at times but that was just to be funny. We’re happy to be partnered with them and happy that the show has sold a lot of tires thanks to the fans supporting us.”
What do you remember of your initial pitch for Dinner With Racers to Continental?
“How responsive they were to the idea! We put together a proposal explaining what the money would be used for and they responded in about five minutes saying yes.
“Thats not normal and usually takes a lot longer to get an answer for something when actual money is involved.”
How will you remember Continental’s involvement in sports car racing?
“I can say you’ll be hard pressed to find a partner that this sport has had where the people involved are as passionate as the folks at Continental.
“Most of the drivers know the Conti reps on a first name basis because they really cared about being a good product for us and would come talk to you about it.
“I was standing with [Continental Tire Director of Marketing] Travis Roffler at a race earlier this year and he said to me, ‘I’m really sad we won’t be in this paddock next year.’
“They didn’t just support the drivers on track they were also really good about getting us products to use for our personal cars.
“I remember and old series sponsor from years back that I reached out to about getting some products for my street car and they sent me an invoice!
“I think the fans enjoyed them as a part of IMSA as well, they gave away a lot of hats, t-shirts and coozies as well as sponsored some of the races.
“They might not be in IMSA next year but I don’t think their sports car racing days are anywhere close to done. They’re hooked like the rest of us!”