Mike Evans looks up from working under the hood of one of the cars in his shop.
by Dave Warner
Little Falls native Mike Evans has racing in his blood, and has from his early childhood days in Little Falls. Evans went to Little Falls High School, then Herkimer County Community College.
“I had a lot of odd jobs growing up and really liked carpentry,” said Evans.
However, Evans was always fascinated by cars and built model cars during his childhood.
He was also into sports, but “I got a job in a NAPPA parts store in Little Falls, and then went to work at Dr. Schmidt’s Incredible Car Care in the Dolgeville/Salisbury area,” stated Evans.
It was at that job that he learned a lot about working on cars, which caused him to move on to be the service manager at the Chrysler dealer in Little Falls. He didn’t like that, but one day got a call from a friend who had moved to Florida who told him he ought to move down there because there were all kinds of good things to do.
“I told him I needed a job if I was going to move there, and he called me back 20 minutes later and had me all lined up with a job and everything. So, I hung up the phone, went in and gave my notice and two weeks later, I was on my way to Miami Florida,” Evans said.
That was in 1980 and Evans stayed there for a couple of years before going up to Orlando where two years later he had his own business fixing high-end German sports cars. Evans stated “Mercedes, Porches, even some Ferrari’s – I worked on all of them.”
One day, one of his customers came in and asked him if he wanted to get into sports car racing. “And I said, yeah, that sounds like fun. He said, you build the car and I’ll pay for all the expenses, and we took turns driving the car.”
The car was a Datsun 280Z and Evans was hooked. “We had a ball doing it,” he said.
Evans took his drivers test to race cars at Daytona. One thing led to another, and “pretty soon I had people bringing me race cars to build and maintain,” said Evans.
That turned out to be so lucrative and exciting to him, that he sold his business in 1993 and went racing full time in 1994.
“In 94 when I went racing full time, I was just building cars, not racing them. I went to work for a professional race team as a mechanic, but ended up running the whole deal. I was with them for 14 years,” Evans said.
“I oversaw the pit crew, the preparation of the cars….I did everything. Built transmissions, the wiring, and electronics. I learned about deadlines and the fact that you had to meet them and do whatever it takes to be ready,” Evans stated.
Evans and another individual on the team made sure that they learned every job on the team so that if someone got sick, hurt, or left, they’d be able to fill in on a moments notice. Evans said “Nobody could hold us over a barrel. I even got a license to drive a tractor trailer. Anything that needed to be done, I needed to be able to do.”
The team did very well Evans said. “We won Daytona once…the 24 hour race, we won the 12 hours of Sebring seven times, we won the 24 hours of Le Mans a couple of times. When I left that team, we had 49 professional wins.”
Evans said he loved the racing and traveling all over the world. “My youngest son, when he was 14, was at an age where he was not behaving that well. So, my wife said you can’t do this anymore and she expected me to go get a normal job and stay home. However, I went down to the school and took him on the road with me.”
“I home-schooled him and he got his diploma and he graduated from school,” said Evans.
But, when his son joined him on the road, Evans gave him work to do as part of the crew. “He started taking care of all the tires and wheels for the team. That was a major deal. Before that, I had two full-time guys taking care of them and when we went to the track, each one of them would get an assistant. But, my son said that he could take care of it, so he took the place of four people.”
When his son reached 16, he was allowed to go into the pits. “At that point he said he could do a better job changing the tires that the guy doing it, so he starting changing tires at Sebring at 16 years old and we won the race. Then we went to Le Mans and that was our first year there competitively and he took care of all the tires and wheels for the whole month there,” Evans said.
“We won that year as well – that was 2003, and then we won again in 2005.”
Evans moved on to another team and stayed there for three years, mostly doing electrical work and race strategy. “Making decisions about what to do during a race. I kinda have a knack for that and most people don’t,” said Evans.
“We won a lot of races without the fastest car. They saw what I could do, so they hired me as team manager and I stayed there for two more years,” stated Evans.
He was between jobs after that and came back to Little Falls for Canal Days in 2010. “I’d never been to Canal Days. I’d been gone for 30 years and went to it and had a great time, so here I am.”
“When I moved back here, I didn’t have a job, but I wasn’t worried. I knew I could find one,” said Evans
While here, he got a call from a race team. They wanted to run Daytona in 2011. “They’d made a deal to rent the car that won in 2009 from the team that I worked for before. I was more familiar with the car than anyone else, so that’s why they wanted to hire me,” said Evans.
“We sat on the pole that year and led the race until the owner got in the car and crashed it. We had won with that car in 2009 and again in 2010 with its sister car,” Evans stated.
Evans worked with that team for six years and his last race with them was the 25 hours of Thunder Hill, in which they finished first and third.
He started with another team in 2017 and did a few races with them before deciding to leave and work full time in his garage.
“There was this doctor out of Utica that had a Subaru and he was doing rally racing. He wanted to build this kit car, but he wanted to build it as a race car and he was going to do it himself. I ended up with the project and it gave me something to do,” Evans said.
“I started to build this car and it’s still not done. We’ve taken it to Daytona and driven it around the street. It’s licensed and all that stuff, but it still doesn’t drive the way it should, so I’ve got a list of things to do in the off-season this year.”
The doctor also bought a 2015 Mustang that Mike is working on. “We raced that in 2018 and he drove it and won a northeast championship with just me. I load the car, drive the truck make the hotel reservations, take care of the car at the race track…just myself,” Evans said.
As to the future? “We’re all squared up to do 2019, but I’ve gotten three calls to come work for other teams. The first two I turned down, but the third one sounded really interesting.”
Evans stated “They did the world endurance championship series. That was four races. This year it’s going to be five races, all around the world. The first one is in Australia, and then there’s a 24 hour race at Mount Fuji in Japan, 24 hours of Spa in Belgium and then the final race last year was Monterey California. This year, they’ve added South Africa.”
They want Evans to be involved in all five races, plus four North American endurance championships – Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Atlanta. “He wants to do those and the 24 hours of Le Mans, so he’s looking for a team manager.”
“Ten years ago I’d have jumped on it, but the stress and the physical demands are tough. The last 24 hour races I did, I had a hard time staying up for the whole 24 hours,” stated Evans. “So, I’ve decided to stay home.”
And Evans is not worried about staying busy while he’s home. “There’s a lot of money in racing – a lot of people with money out there who are interested in it.”
Photo by Dave Warner – Mike Evans spends a minute checking out the interior of one of the race cars in his shop.