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Moody Blues lead singer Justin Hayward literally sat down in a field and wrote a song for the band called, "Tuesday Afternoon." Yes you guessed it, it was on a Tuesday that he wrote it.
Well trust me, that song went to the very top of the DW Hit Parade this week when on Tuesday afternoon in the NASCAR Hall of Fame my name was announced as being one of its five newest members.
That was a Red Letter Day in my career and my life. It is the absolute pinnacle that every stock-car driver strives for. It is such a humbling honor. Myself, Dale Inman, Glen Wood, Richie Evans and Cale Yarborough were selected as the third class and we will be inducted in January 2012.
The Voting Committee was made up of a 55-person panel. There are people on there that I have worked for or driven for or even driven against. There are NASCAR officials, there are media representatives, there are track promoters, etc.
Even the fans have a voice and a vote. There were folks on there that liked me. There are folks on there that didn’t like me.
This panel doesn’t look at any one thing. It is the sum of all the parts of your career. It’s your full body of work, as I like to put it.
Sure, my 84 NASCAR Cup wins and three championships were a factor, but those were only part of the equation. It’s also based on what you’ve done to help grow and promote the sport. What you have given back to the sport is equally as important as what the sport has given you. I take so much pride in being a great ambassador for NASCAR regardless of if it was when I was behind the wheel or now, for the last 11 years, up in the TV booth.
Sure when you walk away from this sport, you might have trophies and rings and money in the bank. Those are just things. What is really important, especially to me, are the life-long relationships you’ve made and knowing you have the respect of your competitors.
Being selected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a confirmation of all those things.
There are lyrics in the "Tuesday Afternoon" song that go:
"I'm just beginning to see,
"Now I'm on my way,
"It doesn't matter to me,
"Chasing the clouds away."
Well the clouds were chased away and I am on my way. Come January 2012, the five of us will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I really love this class that I am a part of.
Dale Inman, probably our sport's greatest crew chief, has been a friend to me since back when I first came into the sport. I probably had more conversations and confrontations with Dale than I ever did with his boss, Richard Petty. Dale was never afraid to come find you and tell you exactly how he felt. That’s what I always respected about him.
What can I say about Richie Evans. I used to stand on top of the hauler and watch that man win race after race in the Modified Division at Martinsville Speedway. He is a legend in the Modified Division. It is truly a well-deserved honor for him to be included. I think it also sends a clear signal to everyone that this is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, not the NASCAR Sprint Cup Hall of Fame.
Meet the 2012 HOF class
Richie Evans changed racing with his dominance.
Dale Inman's decision-making skills put him atop all crew chiefs.
Waltrip backed his talk with titles, wins.
Wood impacted NASCAR first as an driver, and now as owner.
If there was a finish line, Cale Yarborough was going to win.
Just like Dale’s selection opens the door now for all the other crew chiefs, Richie’s selection shows everyone how diverse our hall can and will be as we move forward. I love the message that it sends to all those hard-working guys and gals out there in all our other NASCAR series that you don’t have to be a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to dream about one day hearing your name called.
If it weren’t for people like Glen Wood when I first came into this sport, goodness knows how I would have ever made it. He and his brother, Leonard, and all the Woods, for that matter, were just so kind to me. If my car wasn’t running right or I had a question about something, they were always willing to help. Their legendary driver, David Pearson, was the same way.
And then there’s Cale Yarborough. Boy, did we have our battles on and off the track. Yes, he was the one that dubbed me “Jaws” because he said I talked too much. Well imagine that, huh? But here’s a little-known fact. If it wasn’t for Cale, I might not have 84 wins and three championships.
It was during the 1980 season that Cale came to me and told me he was leaving Junior Johnson's team and cutting back on his racing schedule. Now, you have to remember, Cale won three consecutive NASCAR Cup championships in the 1970s for Junior.
I mean that was the team of teams back then. People would have killed to be offered that No. 11 car. So for Cale to come to me, of all people, after all the battles and tell me he was leaving and that Junior wanted me to be his driver was huge. That’s H-U-G-E.
So to go in with these four other legends is, again, just incredibly humbling to me. I am so proud to be a part of it. Our NASCAR Hall of Fame is relatively new. There now have been three classes selected. So come this January, there will only be 15 of us inducted to date.
I just have to tell you that I got tickled when they mentioned I am now the youngest member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I think that’s pretty cool.
In that same Moody Blues song there is another lyric that goes:
"I'm looking at myself, reflections of my mind,
It's just the kind of day to leave myself behind."
As I went back and sat down after they acknowledged my selection, I did reflect back. How in the world did this kid from Owensboro, Ky., who basically conned his dad into buying him a go-kart so he could race, now end up with the greatest stock-car honor there is?
As I was thinking about that, I looked to my right and there was my wife, Stevie, and Jeff Hammond. It meant so much to me that they were by my side. Both have experienced the highs and lows of the DW Fun Ride. It was only appropriate that they both were with me.
Looking around the Great Hall inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame, memories just flooded back. I just don’t have the words to explain what an honor it is that I have received. It’s so special.
It means so much to all of us. It’s the culmination of all our careers. It’s a confirmation from your peers that you made a difference in the sport of NASCAR. It truly is the greatest honor anyone in NASCAR can ever receive.
I am grateful. I am humble and I am so thankful. Thank you to NASCAR. Thank you to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Committee. A huge thank you goes out to you, the fans. This is the second year in a row that I received one of the five fan votes.
From the days of when I was booed at driver introductions to the days when I was winning so much people would wear T-shirts that simply said, “Anybody but Waltrip,” to be honored by you, the fans, means more than words can describe.
I realize it’s only the middle of June, but I can’t wait until January when I am presented my NASCAR Hall of Fame jacket and ring and am officially inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.