The NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony offers a mixture of the sport’s fans and competitors. In the audience, people in suits sat next to those more casually dressed. Young children sat next to the men and women who remembered fondly when these men being honored were racing in NASCAR.
Photos of the 2011 class of the hall – David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Lee Petty and Bud Moore – when they were NASCAR’s new generation, young men full of passion and promise on the cusp of breakout careers, flashed across the screen.
The five represent NASCAR’s present as much as its past. As people gathered to honor those who helped build the sport, these men remembered once more what it was like in their youth.
If they showed people nothing else Monday night in Charlotte, N.C., it was that they are no different than those trying to make their way in the NASCAR of today – or those who will come in the future. They were dreamers and planners as well as men of exceptional talent. They instilled the sport with the spirit it still embraces.
Before they were heroes, before terms like legend were attached to their name, they were just men hoping for glory and trying to pay the bills, ones hungering for success and change.
Each found plenty of the first and was instrumental in crafting much of the latter.
Moore was a hero before he ever even turned a wrench on a NASCAR entry. Long-time journalist Tom Brokaw sent in a video praising Moore for his heroism in both his life and NASCAR. He stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, earned medals for his service and then turned his attention to NASCAR. He won back-to-back championships with Joe Weatherly in 1962 and ’63 as an owner and was the crew chief for Buck Baker’s 1957 title.
Men like Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Bobby Allison drove his car. He earned 63 victories as an owner over 37 years. A loyal Ford man, he still seemed awed by his induction as a member of the sport’s second Hall of Fame class Monday night.
“It’s an honor to be one of the first 10 to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Moore said. “It means a lot to see my contribution as a car owner recognized like this.”
Moore worked closely with both Bill France and Bill France Jr. in setting the rules and agenda in the sport. He ran the first small-block motor, the first two-way radio and worked to build a safer race car.
As he looked back over his career, he said he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. Moore was succinct: “The answer is simple: one who made many contributions to building the sport, whose handshake was as good as any contract, who always gave a straight answer.
“Most of all, to be remembered as a man who loved his family, country and the sport of racing.”
Petty, whom son Richard Petty deems the first professional driver and mechanic in the sport, was NASCAR’s first three-time champion. A hard-working family man, Petty became a national figure when it took NASCAR three days to declare him the winner of the first-ever Daytona 500 because of the photo finish to the event. He won more races than any driver in his day – 54, a mark that stood until it was eclipsed by Richard.
Petty won his titles and races, then turned his attention to Richard’s career. He ran Petty Enterprises for decades, putting together one of the strongest and most admired teams in the sport. But behind it all, Petty was intent on providing for his family.
Four grandsons inducted him Monday night, and then his sons Richard and Maurice Petty accepted on his behalf. His grandson Ritchie summed up what Lee Petty meant to those who knew him well.
“I didn’t know him as a great driver,” he said. “I knew him as a mentor and a good friend. Every day at lunch, he would share his principles and philosophies that were the foundation of our family’s success. These were hard work, beat your competition not yourself, don’t be envious. These were Lee’s core values.
“Probably the greatest lesson that was instilled into all of us, he borrowed from the Bible. Matthew 12:25: ‘A house divided against itself shall not stand.’ Even in Lee’s last days, keeping his family together was the key to his legacy. He was the glue that kept us all together.”
Ned Jarrett changed the career path a NASCAR driver could enjoy.
He enjoyed racing from a series of angles, as a track promoter in North Carolina, as a championship-winning driver and as a broadcaster. Jarrett won a pair of NASCAR titles, in 1961 and 1965, and 50 races. He also netted a pair of titles in NASCAR’s Sportsman Division.
He retired from racing in his early 30s and crafted a stellar second career as a broadcaster, both in radio and on television. Through it all, he was known as a gentleman and a class act. It’s a reputation he holds to this day.
As his son Glenn participated in inducting him, he made it clear that the Jarrett family always felt it came first.
“He has received more than 100 awards from charities and civic groups over those years,” Glenn said. “He has been elected to 15 different halls of fame. Count ’em, 15. But there’s one more that we, his children, also are sure that he is in, and that is the hall of fame for the best dads in the world.”
Ned Jarrett was clearly awed by the experience of being inducted into the hall.
“Finally, I’m humbled by this huge honor,” he said. “I don’t take it lightly. I am so pleased the voting panel looked at all the various things I was privileged to do in this sport. I’m proud of my driving career, what we were able to accomplish on the racetrack in a relatively short period of time.
“I’m equally as proud to have been able to get on the ground floor of broadcasting races and cherish my time as a promoter at the Hickory Motor Speedway for nine years. I am thankful for all three of those distinct careers.”
Bobby Allison represents both the triumph and the tragedy NASCAR can bring to a family. He’s a champion and a winner of 84 – well, he still claims 85 – races in NASCAR’s top level of competition. He won three Daytona 500 titles, the last in 1988 as he just beat his son, Davey, to the line. He also won two Modified championships and two Modified Special Division titles.
Allison also suffered through harsh times as his son Clifford died in a crash during practice and, 11 months later, Davey was killed in a helicopter crash at a track.
He was inducted by his brother, Donnie, who documented both Bobby Allison’s passion for racing and also what it had cost him.
“A lot of people ask Bobby, ‘Why didn’t you let Davey win, he’s your son?’ Well, I’m here to tell you, he wouldn’t have let his mother win,” Donnie Allison said.
“Injuries Bobby suffered in Pocono in ’88 ended his racing career and almost ended his life,” Donnie added. “It was as devastating to him as anything because he didn’t have any control over the rest of his future. The wreck happened just a few months after the historic Daytona win. . . . They lost their son Clifford in a race accident and practice at Michigan in 1992. Then 11 months to the day they lost Davey at Talladega in a helicopter crash. I don’t know how standing here he took it, or (his wife) Judy.”
A popular driver, the mention of his name was met with cheers and loud applause during the hall ceremony.
“I did win 85 times,” Allison said, referencing a long-disputed victory that he feels should have counted toward his tally. “Scout’s honor, 85 times. But just to try to put that into perspective a little bit, that was in nine different brands, the cars for 14 different race teams. Now, the way I look at it now, I did drive pretty good most of the time. But, boy, I couldn’t keep a job.”
He said that while he went through a lot of things in his career, he still cherishes it.
“The bottom line, it was just an incredible career,” he said. “This involved so many people.”
Pearson is a man who most NASCAR fans felt should have been a part of the opening Hall class. He won a trio of championships in a career marked by the fact that he never ran every race in a single season. Still, he tallied 105 wins in 574 races, a stunning victory percentage of 18.3 percent.
He was perhaps best known for driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing entry, a Ford that he took to victory lane 43 times in his career.
The way Leonard Wood, who worked with him for years and inducted him Monday night, sees it, Pearson has it all.
“He had so much talent, takes the perfect line, knows when to back off, knows when to get on the accelerator to bring him off the corner with the most speed and carry him down the straightaway,” Wood said. “He had such a great feel for what the car was doing. . . .
“He had more self-confidence than anybody I’ve ever seen, extremely determined, looked, almost could sense danger, raced smart, easy on the brakes, never gave out, always had his competitors guessing, not letting them know what to expect until it was too late. If the car wasn’t running, you better work on it because it sure wasn’t the driver. “
Pearson is unquestionably one of the best ever to race a stock car and forever will be a part of the debate concerning who is NASCAR’s greatest driver. He delighted fans Monday with his stories of his racing days, including a trip when he and the crew left the track to run an errand and came back to find that owner Cotton Owens had left with the car thinking the team had abandoned them.
And then he gave a nod to the man whose name often comes up in the same conversations as his, Richard Petty. After Petty said that Pearson was the best he ever raced against, Pearson pointed out that his fellow Hall of Famer made him the driver he became.
“He’s probably the one that made me win as many as I did,” Pearson said. “I run hard because he’d make me run hard. Sometimes he would make a mistake and I’d pass him. Of course, I didn’t never make no mistakes. Always accused him of having big engines when he passed me.
“But he’s a good sport. Like I say, I’ve had more fun running with him than anybody I ever run with ’cause I know if I ever went to a racetrack and he was there, if I could beat him, I’d win the race. So I appreciate it, sure do, everything you’ve done, Richard.”