For many, Tuesday’s announcement for the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees was a chance to reminisce on the days of old when names other than Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, and Kyle Busch were dominating the headlines. It was _their_ era of NASCAR, when a different set of heroes graced NASCAR’s racetracks all across the southeast and beyond. Whether they were wheeling a racecar on the track, cranking a wrench under the car in the garage area, or running the day-to-day operations of the race team, they are names so many are familiar with that brings back fond memories of what they consider to be NASCAR’s best days.
And then, there are those that know the names but maybe not the stories behind them. People like me, who are still relatively new to the sport, who might know the history, the names, and even the faces, but weren’t there to enjoy the moments as they happened. Days like Tuesday were still special for them, but their time will come when they too can sit back, maybe even shed a tear, and say “I was there.”
Even so, several NASCAR personalities today have striking similarities to those who laid the foundation of the sport so many know and love. The drivers, owners, and crew chiefs who are breaking records now will almost certainly have their moment in the spotlight later. And while watching the announcements for each inductee and the statistics and biographies that followed, I couldn’t help but notice similarities between NASCAR’s legends and the current stars of the sport.
While I’m sure you’ll have your own input on the personalities who most resemble each other from different decades, here are the five inductees and the current personalities that I think of when I hear their stories:
*Cale Yarborough* – Among all of Yarborough’s impressive numbers, he is best remembered for winning three consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now Sprint Cup Series) championships from 1976-1978. Yarborough, who was never one to “sit back” and wait for the end of the race to make a move, only ever ran seven full-time seasons in an era where 40+ races filling up an entire season was just the way it was. In those seven seasons, the lowest Yarborough ever finished in points was fourth.
Here are Yarborough’s final points positions at the end of his full-time seasons:
• 1973 (28 races) – 2nd
• 1974 (30 races) – 2nd
• 1976 (30 races) – 1st
• 1977 (30 races) – 1st
• 1978 (30 races) – 1st
• 1979 (31 races) – 4th
• 1980 (31 races) – 2nd
Even when he wasn’t a threat for the championship, though, Yarborough was always a threat for the victory. Between 1965 and 1985, Yarborough won a staggering 83 races, which is sixth on the all-time win list in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In 560 total starts, Yarborough tallied up 83 wins, 255 top 5s, 319 top 10s, and an overall average finish of 12.6. Hall of Fame numbers if there ever were any.
*2011 equivalent? Jimmie Johnson* – Make no mistake. Johnson will one day be a member of the prestigious Hall of Fame, presumably after they catch up with all the names that need to be in after 60+ years of racing. But, no matter, one day Johnson will be there.
Chase or no Chase, five consecutive championships is an incredible feat in the competitive world of NASCAR. Besides, if winning under the Chase system is so easy, then how come no one else has been able to do it the past five years? Johnson and his team have this system figured out, and right now it looks like there is no stopping them with number six well within reach after 14 races in the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season.
Johnson, who was a diehard Yarborough fan as a child, has undoubtedly shattered Yarborough’s record for consecutive championships. However, he has some catching up to do in the wins department. Johnson currently has 54 wins in 341 starts, but still has plenty of time left to add even more weight to the wins column.
*Darrell Waltrip* – Known to today’s crop of fans more as a commentator than a driver, Waltrip’s achievements and contributions to this sport are endless. Even if that inane “Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!” grates on your nerves every time a green flag flies under FOX’s broadcast, you can’t deny Waltrip’s passion for a sport that was once his weekly playground.
Waltrip’s 84 career victories are tied for third on the all-time win list with Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison, a talented trio of drivers in its own right. Finishing atop the scoring pylon would eventually lead to Waltrip’s name on top of the standings, winning three championships from 1981 to 1985. That’s three championships in five seasons, if you missed it.
But Waltrip wasn’t just a good driver. He was a personality, known for his loudmouth, fiery personality, and earning himself the nickname “Jaws” from fellow competitor and now Hall of Fame inductee Cale Yarborough. Waltrip was a personality NASCAR had never seen the likes of before and hadn’t since.
*2011 equivalent? Kyle Busch* – I had some trouble deciding who exactly best fills Waltrip’s shadow, even bouncing a few different names off fellow Frontstretch writer Mike Neff. However, I eventually decided to go with my first instinct of Busch.
Busch just has that racing edge that generates about the same reaction from fans that Waltrip continues to do even outside the car—fans either love him or hate him. Yay or nay. Cheers or jeers. There is literally no middle ground with these two, both running their mouths on a regular basis yet backing it up with their performance on the track. Busch’s 21 career victories may pale in comparison to Waltrip’s 84, but not when you see that he’s only run six full-time seasons and has won as many as eight races in a single calendar year. Give him a few more years, and more than likely he’ll win himself a few Cup titles.
I’m going to cheat a little bit here, though, and say Carl Edwards and Waltrip have some similarities of their own. Edwards is also a proven winner, championship caliber, and a bit of a hot head. Heck, they even have some neat post-race celebrations. Edwards has the backflip and Waltrip the icky shuffle!
*Dale Inman* – Who says drivers get all the credit? Inman’s illustrious career is full of accomplishments, winning eight championships with two different drivers between 1964 and 1984. A good majority of Inman’s numbers came while working with Petty Enterprises as crew chief for his cousin Richard Petty, where he won seven of his eight championships and 198 races.
Inman was smart, innovative, and had a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to getting those cars to Victory Lane. Sort of like…
*2011 equivalent? Chad Knaus* – This one is a no-brainer. Five consecutive championships with driver Jimmie Johnson already has Knaus well on his way to securing a Hall of Fame spot of his own, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Knaus had eight or more championships under his belt by the end of his career (not necessarily consecutively).
My biggest question is, will it all be with one driver? Though eight championships are certainly well within reach for Johnson, could Johnson win a championship without Knaus? Or vice-versa?
Both of them certainly have enough talent to win with a different team, assuming the rest of the members have enough skill to keep up. But will Knaus reach Inman’s numbers with a driver other than Johnson?
It’s definitely possible.
*Richie Evans* – NASCAR’s modified division has featured some incredible talents over the years, but none quite as impressive as Richie Evans. Evans is a nine-time champion of that division, including a breathtaking eight titles in a row from 1978 to 1985 (don’t you be getting any ideas, now, JJ!), the last of which he clinched prior to the end of the season, but did not finish after he was killed in a wreck during a practice session at Martinsville Speedway.
While NASCAR fans of today don’t pay as much attention to the Modified division, a fixture mainly in the Northeast part of the country, it still remains one of NASCAR’s oldest and storied series.
*2011 equivalent? Ted Christopher* – I’ll be the first to admit I know very little about NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Series, but one look at some recent races in the series and one name stands out: Ted Christopher. Christopher has finished third in points the last three seasons, and won the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.
Not to mention the 39 victories Christopher has snagged since the 1999 season, and it doesn’t take long to figure out he is a force to be reckoned with in that series.
Though he’d probably wind up getting lapped three times over by Richie Evans.
*Glen Wood* – Wood Brothers Racing wasn’t a name you heard much from recently. That is, until Trevor Bayne won the team their first race since 2001 in this year’s Daytona 500. All of a sudden, the Wood brothers were in headlines all across the world in a historic day most of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
But prior to that drought, the Wood Brothers were weekly contenders, winning 96 total victories with storied drivers such as HOF inductees David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and Junior Johnson.
Wood has had his own success behind the wheel, winning three times during the 1960 Sprint Cup Series season and once in 1963. Though Wood never ran a full schedule, he still led over 12,000 laps and had an average finish of 12th.
*2011 equivalent? Rick Hendrick* – Hendrick has nearly 200 victories to his credit in 25+ years of being a car owner, with his current crop of drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. providing more than enough talent behind the wheel for Hendrick to reach that 200 mark before the year is over. And there is no reason to think they will stop there, with Kasey Kahne hopping the No. 5 car once Martin heads out the door at the end of the season.
But before NASCAR’s current lineup, legendary drivers such as Benny Parsons, Ricky Rudd, and Tim Richmond wheeled Hendrick to Victory Lane on several occasions, building the foundation for drivers such as Johnson and Gordon today.
Like Wood, Hendrick also spent some time behind the wheel as a driver, but ultimately found success as an owner. And he’s not done yet.
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