There was shock, maybe even outrage, when David Pearson didn’t make the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
If Pearson felt slighted, he never said.
Pearson made the wait worth it Monday night, headlining the inauguration of the five-member second class. As he did last year, when he was passed over for induction, Pearson called on the voting panel to elect NASCAR’s pioneers before anyone else.
”I’m being honest, none of us should be in it,” Pearson said, throwing his support behind the likes of Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks and Ray Fox.
”I keep going back to the ones that really started it. The older guys ought to go in first, the ones that really started it and even me, I don’t deserve to go in now.”
But Pearson, winner of three championships and 105 races, understood why he was selected. He was introduced by longtime rival Richard Petty and inducted by car owner Leonard Wood, who called Pearson ”the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR.”
Pearson was inducted along with 84-race winner Bobby Allison, Petty Enterprises patriarch and three-time Cup champion Lee Petty, Bud Moore, a decorated World War II veteran and two-time Cup championship team owner, and two-time champion and noted broadcaster Ned Jarrett.
The first class, inducted last May, featured seven-time Cup champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, former driver and car owner Junior Johnson, and NASCAR Bill France Sr. and his son, former chairman Bill France Jr.
While Pearson brought laughter to the ceremony with tales of his storied career, Allison drew tears as he and brother, Donnie, reflected on their family losses.
Bobby Allison was nearly killed in a 1987 accident that permanently erased chunks of his memory. His son Clifford was killed in an accident at Michigan, and son Davey died 11 months to the day later in a helicopter crash at Talladega.
Donnie Allison inducted his brother, and said the toll split Bobby from his wife, Judy. But when 19-year-old Adam Petty was killed in a 2000 accident at New Hampshire, the two reunited to comfort the Petty family together.
”We lost Clifford, we lost Davey, that was just so hard on me and Judy,” Allison said. ”You know, the world I hope never is that cruel to any other family again. But it happened. We survived it.”
Jarrett spoke of the commitment he made to his health when plans were announced to build NASCAR’s only Hall of Fame so that he’d live long enough to be inducted.
”I’ve worked extremely hard on my health the last several years for this purpose,” said the 78-year-old Jarrett. ”I wanted to live for other reasons, too, but that was a big reason I wanted to be around for a while. I am truly honored to be among this class.”
Monday night’s ceremony drew major star power to help with the inductees: Former President George H.W. Bush narrated the video to introduce Lee Petty, while newscaster and author Tom Brokaw narrated Moore’s.
Bush lauded Lee Petty as ”the patriarch of what would be one of the most famous families, not only in NASCAR, but in all of American sports.”
”Lee Petty set a standard of excellence that helped define the sport through the years, a standard few drivers would ever match,” Bush said via video. ”It’s no coincidence that one driver who did was Lee’s son, seven-time champion Richard Petty, my friend.”
Lee Petty, who died in 2000 and is the only deceased member of the class, was inducted by his grandchildren and the honor was accepted by sons Richard and Maurice, who spoke of Lee Petty’s single-minded focus on working hard to provide for his family.
”His big deal was to take care of his own. And if you got in the way, he got you out of the way,” Richard Petty said. ”Hopefully, he’s up there somewhere saying, ‘OK, I knew I’d get there. I might have had to push somebody out of the way to get there.’ ”
Brokaw honored Moore as a member of ”The Greatest Generation,” who was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, earning five purple hearts and two bronze stars during his service. Moore, who was inducted by broadcaster Barney Hall, then told a story of his daughter once asking him how he’d like to be remembered.
”The answer is simple,” he said. ”One who made many contributions to the sport. One who’s firm handshake was as good as any contract. One who always gave a straight answer. Most of all, to be remembered as a man who loved his family, his country and the sport of racing.”
Alabama football coach Nick Saban narrated Allison’s video, closing with ”Roll Tide and Roll Bobby” in a nod to the leader of racing’s ”Alabama Gang.”
Jarrett selected broadcaster Ken Squier to introduce him, and was inducted by his children Dale Jarrett, Glenn Jarrett and Patti Makar. Dale Jarrett is a former Cup champion and current ESPN broadcaster.
The twist was for Pearson, who was introduced by Richard Petty, his longtime rival. The two still bicker about their on-track competitions, and shared a testy moment on stage last week at a nominees dinner over the 1976 Daytona 500 finishes. Pearson passed Petty on the last lap, and as Petty tried to reclaim the lead, they touched and both spun, but Pearson was able to cross the finish line ahead of Petty.
”I’m not going to tell you that David Pearson was the best driver in NASCAR,” Petty said in his introduction. ”But I am going to tell you he was the best driver I ever raced against.”