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It's all about family in NASCAR
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From the beginning, the Frances have been the dominating force in NASCAR. Bill France Sr. crafted the sport from a grass-roots favorite noted for its ties to moonshiners and racing on the beach to a national entity with drivers growing in popularity. His son, Bill Jr., continued the trend, gaining a national audience and moving the sport across the country and farther from its Southern roots while maintaining its flavor with that audience.
Bill Jr.’s son, Brian, entered during the sport’s heyday and introduced a landmark television contract followed by creation of the Chase format for determining a championship. Under his leadership, the sport also has created a Hall of Fame and inducted its first class of five, including both Bill Sr. and Bill Jr.
Meanwhile, Lesa France Kennedy, France Jr.’s daughter, took the helm of International Speedway Corp. and altered the landscape of tracks hosting dates across the country. And Jim France, Bill Sr.’s other son, has long played a pivotal role in the direction of both NASCAR and ISC and now helms the Grand-Am arm of the sport.
While many credit Richard Petty’s tenacious driving and graciousness with fans for helping the sport’s explosion in popularity, the Petty family’s role in NASCAR actually began with his father, Lee.
Helping NASCAR grow from its humble roots, Lee Petty won three championships and 54 races over the course of his 16-year career. He was followed in the sport by Richard, who became the first driver to win seven championships and the only one to win 200 races — a mark most expect to stand the test of time. Petty was not only a formidable competitor on the track but also a fan favorite off of it. As a co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, he will still sign autographs endlessly.
He was followed in the sport by his son, Kyle, who won eight races before moving into the television arena. These days, Kyle remains popular with fans and media like his father. His son, Adam, was set to carry the Petty name into a new era but was killed in a crash during practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2001. His legacy lives on through the Victory Junction Gang Camp for chronically-ill children that his family created in his honor.
It seems they have always been known as the Wood Brothers, first Glen and Leonard, then Eddie and Len. Glen and Leonard Wood competed in NASCAR in the days when competitors drove their race cars to the tracks or hauled them with simple equipment. Glen was the driver, Leonard the expert when it came to building bodies and engines. Glen won nine races in the Cup and Convertible series, then settled into the ownership role with his brother.
Glen’s sons, Len and Eddie, and their sister, Kim, eventually took over. The Wood Brothers organization has been one of the longest-running and most successful in the sport, competing for 60 years and earning 97 wins with the likes of Wood, Curtis Turner, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Buddy Baker, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Morgan Shepherd. Eddie Wood’s son, Jon, and Len Wood’s son, Keven, have also competed in NASCAR in recent years, carrying the family name into a new decade.
While they may not surpass the France family in impact, the Earnhardts certainly supersede them in popularity.
Ralph Earnhardt broke into the sport in the 1950s and was considered a genius when it came to building cars. He passed his love of the sport on to his son, Dale Sr., who claimed an era when NASCAR had reached a national audience, winning seven titles and the nickname “The Intimidator” for his aggressive driving style. His No. 3 Chevrolet remains one of the most recognizable cars of all time.
Personable and charming with fans and media, Dale Sr. went on to form his own team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., with his wife, Teresa, and field cars for Dale Jr. Earnhardt died in the 2001 Daytona 500, but his legacy continues with his son.
While Dale Jr. has carved his own niche in NASCAR, he’s been successful both on the track — he has 18 career Cup wins — and as a businessman developing sponsor relationships. He, too, has started his own team, the Nationwide Series JR Motorsports. It’s run by his sister, Kelley Earnhardt, one of the most powerful women in racing. A team co-owner, she’s helped build JRM into one of the powerhouse Nationwide-only organizations in the sport. Kerry Earnhardt, Dale Sr.’s other son, also carved out his own racing career. Now it is his son, Jeffrey, who is trying to establish a NASCAR career.
Perhaps no NASCAR family enjoyed so much success marred by such overwhelming tragedy.
Bobby and Donnie Allison dazzled NASCAR fans even before the sport was a national entity but were perhaps best known for their participation in a fight on national television following the 1979 Daytona 500. In the '70s, they were both highly competitive in the sport and made names for themselves. Bobby enjoyed the most success in the Cup ranks, winning 84 races — tied for third on the all-time list — and the 1983 series championship. He also survived a horrific crash at Pocono Raceway in 1988. Donnie won 10 Cup races and is widely credited with more than 200 short-track victories.
The Allisons were known as members of the “Alabama Gang” because of their hometown roots. Bobby Allison’s sons, Davey and Clifford, also became racers. Davey won 19 Cup races before he was killed in a helicopter accident. Clifford ran three limited schedule seasons in the Nationwide Series before he was killed in a crash during practice for a series race at Michigan International Speedway.
Ned Jarrett has long been viewed as a gentleman both on and off the track and was a tenacious competitor who left the sport in his prime. After winning a pair of championships, he retired in 1966 at the age of 34 and moved into a new arena as a race commentator loved by fans. His sons, though, followed him into racing — Dale as a driver and Glenn in his father’s second love, broadcasting.
Dale Jarrett won his own title in 1999 and was part of one of racing’s most emotional moments when he won the 1993 Daytona 500 with his dad calling the final laps. Jarrett, like his father, left driving but not the sport and is now also a commentator. Dale’s son, Jason, carried on the tradition and competed in Nationwide Series races for a time.
The city of St. Louis produced more than its share of talent when it came to the Wallace family. Russ and his wife, Judy, instilled a love of racing into sons Rusty, Mike and Kenny. Rusty was the most successful of the trio, winning the 1989 Cup championship and 55 races in his Cup career. He remains actively involved in racing as both a television analyst and owner of Rusty Wallace Inc., the team for which his son, Steve, drives in the Nationwide Series.
Mike Wallace, the second brother in the family line, also has carved out a successful NASCAR career. He’s won four races in what is now the Nationwide series and four in the Camping World Truck series. Mike’s daughter, Chrissy, also has competed in the Nationwide and Truck series in an effort to build a racing career. And youngest brother Kenny has nine Nationwide wins as well as eight top-10 season finishes in the series.
The Flock children were all pioneers in NASCAR’s early days with Tim, Fonty, Bob and their sister Ethel Mobley all competing in races. Tim was the most successful of the crowd, winning 40 races in what is now the Cup series and the 1952 and ’55 titles. Fonty won 19 Cup races in 153 starts and finished a career-best second in the 1951 standings. Bob earned four Cup wins and finished third in the 1949 standings. And Ethel became only the second woman to compete in a NASCAR race, running two races in ‘49.
Bob Labonte instilled in his sons a love of all things racing and even guided Bobby to his first Nationwide Series title, working as his crew chief. Terry and Bobby Labonte put Corpus Christi, Texas, on NASCAR fans’ map. Both were exceedingly successful in NASCAR racing and are the only brothers to have both won Cup championships.
Terry won two Cup titles, in 1984 and ‘96, and 22 races (as well as 11 Nationwide and one truck race) in his career. Bobby won the 2000 Cup title and 21 Cup races as well as 10 Nationwide and one truck race and is still competing full time.
Like their dad, they’ve passed on their love of racing. Terry’s son, Justin, has competed in Nationwide races while Bobby’s teenage son, Tyler, has competed in various divisions.
Darrell Waltrip has been a pivotal figure in NASCAR history, stirring up competitors with his fiery racing and outspoken nature and continuing that relationship with fans as a broadcaster. He’s a three-time Cup champion and winner of 84 Cup races and 13 Nationwide ones, a former truck series team owner and a spokesperson at various events each season.
The outspoken Waltrip nature also is evident in his younger brother Michael, though his career has been marked more by his comedic comments than anything else. Michael won four Cup and 11 Nationwide races in his full-time driving days and then launched a second career in the sport as a team owner. He brought Toyota into NASCAR and has moved to a part-time driving role as he focuses on Michael Waltrip Racing.
Like his brother, he is a member of several television programs as well.
Clifton Marlin, known as Coo Coo to his legion of fans and family, was a Tennessean who grew up racing against the likes of the Allison brothers and Red Farmer. A popular competitor, he spent 14 years competing in the Cup series. His brother, Jack, also ran a NASCAR race after racing with his brother at the local track in Nashville.
Coo Coo’s son, Sterling, followed his father and crafted a career in the Cup series. Sterling Marlin continued the family racing plan, competing on at least a limited schedule for 33 years and earning 10 NASCAR victories. He came close to winning the title in 2002, leading the points and still being in the hunt late in the season when he was sidelined with a broken neck.
Sterling passed on the love of racing to his children. His son, Steadman, has competed in NASCAR races and his daughter, Sutherlin, also has planned to race.
Buddy Parrot and his sons, Todd and Brad, have long been the men behind the men. The trio of successful crew chiefs has worked with some of the best in the business.
Buddy was the crew chief for Jeff Burton’s first win and Richard Petty’s 200th. He won the Daytona 500 with Derrike Cope and worked with Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace among others.
His sons followed him into the crew chief business. Todd also found significant success, winning the 1999 Cup championship with driver Dale Jarrett. Now working with Matt Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing, he has 29 career wins, third among active crew chiefs. Brad has crafted a career focusing primarily in the Nationwide Series, in which he has worked with Roush Fenway Racing and Ganassi Racing. He was also the crew chief for Jarrett at Robert Yates Racing and is now working in the Nationwide ranks with Brendan Gaughan at Rusty Wallace Racing.
The Pemberton brothers have long labored behind the scenes, but their impact has been felt by NASCAR fans. Robin Pemberton was the long-time crew chief for Rusty Wallace and also helmed teams for Bobby Allison, Greg Sacks, Mark Martin and Kyle Petty for a total of 23 wins as a crew chief. He was vice president and general manager of Petty Enterprises, moved into a role as field manager at Ford and is now serving as NASCAR’s vice president of competition.
Like his older brother, Ryan opted for the crew chief route as well. He’s worked in the sport since he was a teenager and says he can’t really remember any other job. These days he’s the crew chief for Red Bull Racing’s Brian Vickers, who he led to a Chase berth last season. Randy Pemberton has been involved in the television side off and on for years, most recently with Speed.
The Bodine brothers brought NASCAR to New York in a big way.
Geoffrey, Brett and Todd, natives of Chemung, N.Y., have all been competitive racers and each has run in the Cup series. Geoffrey began racing in 1979 and enjoyed a career in which he won 18 races, including the first ever for Hendrick Motorsports. He survived a horrific crash in the truck series and also won six Nationwide races. Most recently he has crafted the BoDyn bobsled, which led the U.S. team to a medal in the recent Winter Olympics.
Brett Bodine was a team owner and competitor during his racing days, winning one Cup and one Nationwide series race before moving into a role in research and development and as the pace-car driver for the sanctioning body. Todd still competes and won the 2006 Camping World Truck Series championship. He has 17 truck and 15 Nationwide wins in his career.
Several other families have helped build NASCAR to its level of success: the Bakers, with dad Buck and son Buddy, the Parsons, with brothers Benny and Phil, and currently the Buschs, with brothers Kyle and Kurt. All have caught the imagination of fans and helped keep the family influence in the sport over the years.
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