Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In the Rearview Mirror: "Gentleman" Ned Jarrett

Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for Darlington Raceway
Continuing to profile the class of 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame, this week we go back in time and In the Rearview Mirror looking at Ned Jarrett.

Ned Jarrett was born near Newton, N.C., on October 12, 1932. He grew up working on his parents' farm and at their sawmill by the time he was 12. Ned and his wife Martha still live in the county about 6 miles from where he grew up. Ned and Martha have two sons, Glenn and Dale, and one daughter, Patti.

Ned grew up knowing racing was what he wanted to do. Ned's first race was his 10th place finish at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina. He drove a Sportsman Ford that he shared with his brother-in-law. His father, disappointed in Ned's decision to drive, gave explicit directions after the race that Ned should only be permitted to work on the family's cars, staying away from the driver's seat. However, when his brother-in-law fell ill later, Ned was asked to fill in. Jumping at the chance to drive again, Ned climbed behind the wheel and finished second. Despite this early success, Ned avoided the spotlight by driving under a false name, but was forced into the limelight by his father, who believed that if Ned was going to go against his wishes he should at least use the family name to do it.

Ned and son Dale speak at Bill France Jr. Memorial Service in 2007
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Ned began racing (under his own name) at the 1953 Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway. Ned drove a 1950 Oldsmobile but had only completed eight laps when his oil line started leaking, ending his day early. In the 1954-1957 seasons Jarrett made only a handful of starts in the Grand National Series (today’s Sprint Cup).

Jarrett raced in the Sportsman series (today's Nationwide Series) from 1953-1958. It was in 1956 that Jarrett came so close to his first title, but finished second to Ralph Earnhardt (Ralph was the father of Dale Sr.). Ned rebounded and won the 1957 and 1958 Sportsman championships.

During 1959, looking to pursue a full-time career in the Grand National Series, Jarrett purchased a car from Junior Johnson. Jarrett did not have enough money to cover the cost so he waited until the end of the day, wrote the check, and than went racing knowing he would win the money needed to cover the check.

In 1960 Ned committed to driving full time, making 40 of the 44 races that year. Five wins, 20 top-5s and 26 top-10 finishes was not a bad year for Jarrett. Rex White won the Grand National title and Jarrett finished 5th. Ned got his first Grand National championship in 1961; surprisingly he only had one win that season.

Ned had the nickname “Gentleman Ned” and so fitting that Ned was the one who helped start Wendell Scott’s career. (See: In the Rearview Mirror: Wendell Scott for more info on Scott's career) Jarrett sold his 1961 Chevy Bel Air, that had claimed him the championship, to Scott.

Ned repeated as the Grand National Champion in 1965; you could call it the year of Ned Jarrett. Ned won an amazing 13 races and had an average finish of 4.9. One win has gone down in NASCAR history: the 1965 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. An accident on lap 2 fatally injured rookie driver Buren Skeen. Cale Yarborough crashed with Sam McQuagg sending Cale over the guardrail, rolling numerous times and coming to rest in the parking lot. Fred Lorenzen and Darel Dieringer were both contending for the lead when both drivers lost their engines. Ned Jarrett took the lead and won the race by 14 laps over the rest of the field. This is NASCAR's largest margin of victory ever recorded.

Ford departed NASCAR in 1966 and at the young age of 34, and as the reigning NASCAR Grand National Champion, Ned Jarrett decided to retire.

Ned turned to broadcasting, first starting out with MRN (Motor Racing Network) in 1978. Ned shared his talents of calling a race with the world, working with CBS Sports from 1979-2000. He famously got to call the victory of son Dale at the 1993 Daytona 500. On the last lap of the race, you hear Ned calling his son to victory over Dale Earnhardt. Embarrassed by his lack of objectivity, Ned apologized to Dale after the race; Earnhardt simply said, “I’m a father too.” Ned stayed on air all 22 years that CBS covered NASCAR, a testament to his popularity in the sport.

Ned Jarrett holds numerous awards including:
  • 1961 and 1965 Grand National Champion
  • Multiple winner of the Myers Brother Memorial Award (1964, 1965, 1982 and 1983)
  • National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (1972)
  • North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (1990)
  • International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1991)
  • National Auto Racing Hall of Fame (1992)
  • American Auto Race Writers & Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame (1992)
  • Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1997)
  • NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011
Ned Jarrett is among the Class of 2011 being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Monday, May 23rd.

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Amanda takes NASCAR seriously and is willing to pass up other activities to watch the boys have at it. NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two main focuses with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also frequently writes the post-race recaps for Skirts and Scuffs. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.

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