Unlike freshman, sophomore classes, new Hall of Fame list greeted with wide approval
There was considerable second-guessing about the picks for the first two classes of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but the consensus is that the voting panel got it right in determining the third group of five that will be inducted in Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 20.
In the group are Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, both of whom have three championships in the division now known as Sprint Cup and are among the all-time Cup win leaders (Yarborough has 83, and Waltrip 84).
Crew chief Dale Inman, who leads all his peers with 193 race wins and eight championships, is going in along with team owner and driver Glen Wood. Also being inducted is the late Richie Evans, the undisputed king of NASCAR’s Modified Division and the first driver not affiliated with the Cup series to be inducted in the Hall.
Here’s a look at the five inductees.
Glen Wood grew up in the Virginia mountain community of Buffalo Ridge, just outside Stuart, where his race teams were based for decades and where he still runs the Wood Brothers Museum.
Throughout his 86 years, Wood has been known for his strong work ethic. As a boy, he hoed corn and picked apples for his grandfathers. By the time he was a teenager he was doing heavy lifting at local sawmills.
It was during his time as a sawmiller that he became a fan of the then-fledgling sport of stock car racing and of one of its early stars, fellow Virginian Curtis Turner.
Wood and a group of friends built a race car, and Wood drove his first race at Morris Speedway, a dirt track near Martinsville, Va., back in 1950.
Soon he was winning short-track races across Virginia and the Carolinas. He was at his best at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., the track known then and now as “The Madhouse” for its rough-and-tumble style of racing.
Wood, labeled the “Master of the Madhouse” in his driving days, scored 29 wins in the Modified, Sportsman Convertible and Cup divisions at the Stadium, more than any other driver up to that point.
He also was among the best on the old beach-road course at Daytona, where he dominated the Sportsman division from 1956-58, winning the pole and the race all three years.
As the sport grew and moved on to big new superspeedways, Wood began turning his cars over to other drivers, and he and his brothers Leonard, Ray Lee, Delano and Clay focused on preparing the cars and pitting them on race days.
The Woods are credited with perfecting the modern pit stop, and their pit prowess earned them international recognition in 1965, when they stunned the racing world with their work on Jim Clark’s winning Lotus in the Indianapolis 500. Clark’s total time in the pits for that race was just 41.9 seconds.
With his brother Leonard working as crew chief and fielding only Fords and Mercuries, the Woods focused on the better-paying superspeedway races and employed many of the sport’s all-time best drivers, including David Pearson, a member of the second NASCAR Hall of Fame class, and current inductee Cale Yarborough.
Wood’s team still fields cars in the Cup Series and is now approaching its 63rd season, making it the longest-tenured team in the sport. It is also among the most successful. The Woods’ win in last year’s Daytona 500 was its 98th in the Sprint Cup Series.
Dale Inman grew up Level Cross, N.C., along with his cousins Richard and Maurice Petty, who were the sons of NASCAR pioneering driver Lee Petty.
The three youngsters soon gravitated to the Petty race shop, where they helped with the preparation of the cars and often traveled to the race tracks.
Eventually Richard took up driving, Maurice concentrated on building engines, and Inman became a crew chief.
In 1967, the team had one of the most dominating seasons in NASCAR history, winning 27 races, including a NASCAR-record 10 straight, all with the same race car.
Inman was crew chief for all of Petty’s seven Cup titles and for 192 of Petty’s 200 victories. He left the team after winning the 1981 Daytona 500 and went to work as Dale Earnhardt’s crew chief at Rod Osterlund’s team.
But Osterlund sold the team to J.D. Stacy, and Earnhardt left the team. Inman eventually signed on with team owner Billy Hagan and driver Terry Labonte, and the combo won the 1984 Cup title.
Inman returned to Petty Enterprises in 1986 and continues to serve as a consultant to Richard Petty Motorsports.
In a relatively brief 13-year career, Richie Evans of Rome, N.Y., came to dominate one of NASCAR’s toughest divisions, the Modifieds. Historians have documented at least 478 feature wins, and there’s no doubt about his title runs. He won nine national titles in all, including eight in a row from 1978-1985. He won that final title even though he was killed while practicing for the October race at Martinsville Speedway.
That year, 1985, was the first under the current format for the Whelen Modified Tour, and Evans won 12 of the 29 events.
He also won 28 track championships at 11 venues in four states. All were in the Modified division.
His car number, 61, is the only one that has been retired from a major NASCAR series.
Darrell Waltrip is one that many felt should have been included in one of the first two classes of the Hall of Fame because of his contributions as a driver and a broadcaster.
His racing credentials certainly are Hall-worthy, as he won 84 Cup races and three championships. His contributions to the sport continued after his driving days as he’s become one of the main faces of the sport for TV viewers around the world.
For Waltrip, it’s been a long trek from the days when he was racing short tracks around his hometown of Owensboro, Ky.
His career began its upward spiral when he and his wife Stevie moved to Nashville, Tenn., where he soon became one of the stars at Fairgrounds Speedway, where he was the 1970 track champion.
He started his first Cup race in 1972, at Talladega, where he ran just 69 laps before the engine blew in his No. 95 Mercury, leaving him with a 38th-place finish and a $680 payday.
But his timing was good, as he joined the Cup circuit at a time when top drivers like Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and David Pearson were much older than him.
His brash, outspoken ways soon led Yarborough to refer to him as “Jaws.” But Waltrip wasn’t just a talker, he could drive with the best of them. His best years came while driving for Junior Johnson, the team owner who taught him how to win championships.
Waltrip still maintains a large presence in the sport, as an analyst for the FOX and SPEED networks.
Cale Yarborough, from Sardis, S.C., is considered one of the toughest drivers to ever sit behind the wheel of a race car. Legend has it that, among other things, he flew an airplane without taking lessons, wrestled an alligator and lived through being struck by lightning.
His introduction to big-time auto racing also is the stuff of legend as he lied about his age, saying he was 21 instead of 18, and started the 1957 Southern 500 at Darlington.
He was black-flagged when officials discovered that he was behind the wheel of the No. 30 Ford, not car owner Bobby Weatherly, who was supposed to be driving the car after officials determined that Yarborough had falsified his license application.
He won his first Cup race, at Valdosta, Ga., in 1965 and before he was through won 82 more, including four Daytona 500s. He also won 69 poles, fourth on the all-time list, and a record 12 at Daytona.