Mike Neff · Thursday January 30, 2014
NASCAR has been around for over 65 years. It has seen nearly 3,000 people race in just the Cup series. Add in the more than 1,000 who have run Nationwide Series events and nearly 1,000 who have taken the green flag in the Truck Series, there have been over 5,000 people who have run in the sport at the national level. If you then think about all of the people who have supported them as engine builders, crew chiefs, spotters and crew members in addition to the hundreds of thousands who have raced and supported drivers at the local short tracks and in regional touring series, the number of people who have the potential to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is enormous. After Wednesday evening, the number of people in the Hall has grown to 25. To say it is an exclusive club is an understatement. The ceremony Wednesday was a celebration of the lives of five very special men and their accomplishments that have helped shape the sport that so many love and care for.
Fans of NASCAR know that Richard Petty has the most wins in the Cup series as a driver. However, as an engine builder, crew chief and lead mechanic, Maurice Petty notched 212 victories, 12 more than the King, with six different drivers in his career. The younger brother of Richard and second son of Lee was known in the garage area as “The Chief”. He was a self taught mechanical wizard who managed to milk horsepower out of engines more than those around him while making them last when pushed to the brink for extended periods of time. Maurice is the last member of the “Four Horsemen of Level Cross” that made up Petty Enterprises to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The royal family of NASCAR has now all taken their rightful place in the pantheon of the sport.
Dirt racers are famous for having nicknames. In the asphalt world the nicknamed drivers are few and far between generally because the nicknames are only given to the ones who succeed more than most. Fireball Roberts was one of the first in the sport to have one and it was because he was not only a winner but he was a personality that was larger than life. Many long-time fans of the sport consider him to be the first true superstar of the sport. Similar to Dale Earnhardt’s passing leading to head and neck restraint advancements, Roberts’ death was the impetus to push the implementation of fireproof clothing, five point safety harnesses, contoured seats and self-contained fuel cells. The irony of Roberts’ death was that he had declared he would retire after a handful of races in 1964, including the World 600 which he had never won. Seven laps into that race he suffered his fiery crash that caused the injuries that claimed his life.
When the Busch series started in 1982, Jack Ingram was thrilled. “It was like a vacation for us.” said the man they nicknamed “The Iron Man”. In his Late Model Sportsman division days, Ingram was known to run four or five races in a week, often in four or five different states. His Busch series resume includes 31 victories, which was the record until Mark Martin broke it in 1997. That is merely 1/10th of Ingram’s accomplishments in NASCAR. He has 317 documented NASCAR wins to his credit and countless other non-NASCAR sanctioned wins. He touts himself as the best short track racer ever and will gladly tell you why if you ask him about it. He claims that Dale Earnhardt never beat him in a Busch race although a 1982 race at Caraway Speedway would tell a different story. Ingram is a throwback to when racing was about the passion of the sport and he has paved the way for more drivers of yesteryear who made their name on the small tracks across the nation to step into this hallowed Hall.
It is interesting that Tim Flock won 39 races in 187 career starts but the thing that he is most famous for is racing with a monkey in his car. Flock was ever the showman and, in an effort to bring a show to the fans, ran eight races in 1953 with a Rhesus monkey in his car. The monkey had his own seat, helmet and seat belt. In those days there was a trap door on the right side floorboard that the driver could open and check the wear on the tire. In the eighth race with Jocko Flocko the monkey, the primate came loose from his seat belt, jumped onto the floorboard and opened the trap door. A pebble flew up off of the dirt track and hit him in the head. The frightened beast ran around the interior of the car before coming to rest on Flock’s back. The driver had to pit from the lead to get the “monkey off his back”. The move cost him the win, which went to his brother Fonty. Flock retired from racing in 1961 after he was suspended for supporting a drivers’ union and went to work at Charlotte Motor Speedway where he spent 30 years in marketing. He is one of the main reasons for Humpy Wheeler’s success as a promoter.
Ned Jarrett went into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as both a driver and an announcer. While his son Dale’s broadcasting career is in its infancy, he’s now joined his father as the fourth father-son combination to be enshrined. Jarrett has 32 wins in his career, including three in the Daytona 500. The most famous of which was the 1993 event when his father called him home to the checkered flag from the booth. Jarrett also claimed the Cup series title in 1999. Jarrett is known for upping his game when the big races were on the line. In addition to his three Daytona 500 wins, he won the Brickyard 400 twice and the Coca-Cola 600. Jarrett almost never went into racing. He was heading to the University of South Carolina on a golf scholarship when his friend Andy Petree built a race car. Petree had the car but no engine. Jarrett purchased the engine at a discount from a relative and used the leverage to replace Petree in the seat. The rest, as they say, is history.
The beauty of all of these stories that the each one of them is a thread in the quilt that is the history of NASCAR. The fans of the sport were able to sit in the audience on Wednesday night and share in the stories with their heroes and their friends. They will now share them with their friends and other fans and continue to sew this patchwork together to form the history that will live on forever through the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
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