By personal recollection, I probably started watching racing around the 1989 Pepsi 400. I still remember arranging small diecasts on the floor beside an upside down rocking chair, saying it was The Winston Tower. Heck, somewhere in a box is a hat autographed to me and my younger brother from that year’s Winston Cup champion, Rusty Wallace.
By then, like many new fans, my knowledge of NASCAR from top to bottom was limited. Sure, names like Wallace, Earnhardt, Waltrip, Allison, and Schrader were fairly well known, but not those who had built the foundation of the sport, even in what was then the Busch Series.
Chief among them was Jack Ingram, aptly nicknamed “The Iron Man.” Ingram may have been in the twilight of his fabled career by then, wrapping up full-time as a driver by 1991. But there was nothing meek about Ingram’s exploits behind the wheel, winning five NASCAR titles, the final two of which came after the Busch Series was formed in time for the 1982 season. The three crowns before that came in the NASCAR Sportsman Series, the precursor to the Busch Series.
All told, he corralled more than 300 wins and until Mark Martin surpassed him in 1997, his 31 Busch Series wins were more than any other driver.
I could go all day and night listing off stats about Jack Ingram, who passed away last week. But there’s a sadness in doing so in that most fans new to the sport only know these drivers by a quick glance at the stat sheet. Drivers like Ingram are much more than that. Well before the glitz of the sport today, there were guys like Ingram who gave all that they had to do one thing — race for a living.
Ingram was one of the few that gave of themselves to be a racer. But for every Jack Ingram, Rick Mast, Geoff Bodine, Sam Ard, Tommy Houston and Bobby Labonte who worked their way up to make a name for themselves in the Busch Series, there are drivers like Eddie Spurling or Rex White, both of whom I had a chance introduction to at Speedweeks in 2007. You’ve probably heard of White, NASCAR’s oldest living national champion and a Hall of Famer. Spurling gained fame in the Goody’s Dash Series and Late Model Sportsman Series and is a member of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
I chatted with both Spurling and White for about 15 or so minutes on that blustery day in Daytona, and it’s a moment that still resonates. It’s the same reason that I was jarred in the middle 2000s by randomly seeing Harry Gant signing autographs at a souvenir hauler at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Drivers like Ingram, White and Gant helped write the story of what NASCAR is today, and fans of the sport need to hear those stories.
It’s why as nostalgic as Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend is, that pining for the roots of the sport needs to continue. In this era of video conferencing, there’s no reason why drivers of the sport’s past, regardless of their star power, shouldn’t have their story told even more to fans of this sport. And as things return to a degree of normalcy, finding ways for drivers of days past to engage with fans should be a part of fans returning to the track.
Drivers of a bygone era are an incredible connection to the sport we have today. If you ever see a former driver or crew chief, whether it’s at a NASCAR weekend or your local short track, do yourself a favor. Talk to them and visit with them.
No matter your involvement with racing, you’ll be better for it.
What To Watch This Week…
Sam Mayer already had a white-hot spotlight on him from the day that he inked a part-time deal in the No. 8 car at JR Motorsports. Thanks to his predecessor in the car this season, the crux of comparison is hanging around. Last week in his Xfinity Series debut at Pocono Raceway, Mayer finished 18th after starting 20th. The driver who gave way as planned after Nashville Superspeedway, Josh Berry, stormed from 33rd to finish ninth in the Jordan Anderson Racing entry. Berry posted four top fives and a win in that ride prior to Mayer taking over, and fair or not, Mayer will be compared to that mark.
Blinger, Blinger. Here Come The Ringers.
If there’s one thing that the turns of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course taught us, it’s that road-racing talent of a high level can shine, sometimes even if the car is not superior. In that race, Andy Lally had a legitimate chance to win before ultimately finishing fifth for Our Motorsports. At Circuit of the Americas, Spencer Pumpelly piloted the JD Motorsports entry to a top-20 finish in his NXS debut. Both will be among the “road course ringers” this weekend, Pumpelly in place of Ryan Vargas in the No. 6 for JD Motorsports and Lally driving for BJ McLeod Motorsports. When you also include Boris Said in the Hattori Racing Enterprises No. 61, you’ve got all the more reason to watch. The road-course specialists may or may not win, but there’s certainly a degree of interest that’ll be all the more reason to watch Saturday’s (July 3) race at Road America.