Lunch with the Legends in San Francisco

San Francisco’s McCourmick & Kuleto’s was the location of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Press Luncheon sponsored by Infineon Raceway. Located in the famous Ghirardelli Square, the restaurant was the perfect location to gather and celebrate both the up-and-coming drivers as well as two who have recently been inducted into The NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Bobby Allison, the 1983 NASCAR Cup champion and a three-time winner of the Daytona 500, was in attendance. This was the first time I had a chance to me this "legend" of NASCAR and I was very honored to have had the opportunity. He is a kind and gentle soul, and in my opinion, is one of the finest men I've had the chance to meet.

After a short little chat with this soft-spoken hero, I made my way to Ned Jarrett. Again, I was extremely honored and felt as though I had shaken the hand of someone that was not only a legend, but also the gentleman that I've heard so much about.

I asked Mr. Jarrett if he’d had the opportunity to share any advice or tips with his son Dale in regards to racing or commentating?

Mr. Jarrett replied, “We have been very close since he was a baby, and so we talk a lot. When he began driving race cars he would ask questions, always trying to learn. And although there was a long period of time between my driving career and his driving career, the basics were still there and I could jump in. Then we got into broadcasting, then yes we talk quite a bit about that since it had not been that long since I had been in the broadcast business. I was proud that he’d followed my footsteps in both driving and broadcasting.”

Ned and Dale Jarrett (Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Just prior to the beginning of the conference I took a photo to share with you all.

Once the conference began, Bobby Allison and Ned Jarrett were asked to come to the stage. Each spoke of their time in NASCAR and how honored they were to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It was evident by their demeanor that they are extremely proud to be not just inducted, but to be a part of NASCAR in general.

Allison and Jarrett were asked how they see NASCAR today in respect to what it was when they were racing.

Jarrett answered saying, “I don’t think that anyone could have dreamed that we could take the sport where it is today. The only person in the world that could’ve dreamed that big was Bill France Sr. He had a vision and the willpower and the staying power to make it happen. We all knew that the sport had a tremendous amount of potential. First time I saw a race on a dirt track back in North Carolina, (I thought), this has a chance to go somewhere. Then when I got involved in it and the more I got involved in it I could see that it did have a lot of potential. But not to see where it is today. When people say today that racing is not what it used to be, thank God it's not what it used to be (the room chuckles). The competition is so much better today than when I raced cars and so much better than it was 10-15 years ago. It's good to see it come to this point, that it's accepted as a mainstream American sport. Bobby and I were in North Carolina this Tuesday where the Governor of N.C. signed a bill that stock car racing is the official sport of North Carolina."

Ned continued, "The competition was different back then. You weren't only competing against the race track and the other drivers but you were competing almost against yourself. The car didn't have the technology that they have today So that you can drive them as hard as they can go. If you did many times you wouldn't be there, more times than not if you drove that car as hard as you could, you wouldn't be there at the end of the race.”

Bobby added, “I wanted to go racing and start in amateur division. I was only 17 and I had to have my parents give permission for me to even compete. I went to my mom and said, 'Mom I’ve got to have your permission to go race.' I finally decided I’d better bribe her a little bit. 'Mom if you give me permission, I promise I will raise my grades.' Done deal. Of course she thought it was for one week, and I thought it was for 100 years. I used my school car and painted a number on it the door with shoe polish and I raced. I am gonna tell you what, it was just a great entry into this great thing we have today. I’m proud of it. I’m enjoying it. There is a great field of competitors and racing has really gotten good. The world out there has tremendous opportunities for those who want to put the effort out.”

When asked to describe the highest high and lowest low of his career, Allison said, "My biggest high is an event that I still don’t remember to the day. I had that little mishap at Pocono and a head injury with memory loss and everything. But they tell me that at age 50 I won my 3rd Daytona 500."

Allison's son Davey won at Infineon in 1991. I was curious as to whether or not coming back to the track brought back good memories for him.

Allison was quiet for a minute and then said, "This is one of the special places so to be when you're referring to the day when Davey won. It certainly was a high for me to be here. People helped me and Judy and the family get through the tough times for me to recover and move on. We still get to enjoy a lot of neat things. That certainly was one of the special times.”

Allison and Jarrett both raced in an era where NASCAR was a simpler sport and when asked what drivers have now that they wished they'd had, besides the big paychecks (the room filled with chuckles) Allison replied, "I’m sure Judy would have liked to have one of those big motorhomes like you guys have today She was one of the really early ones that followed me around the country. I flew the airplane from track to track. I flew the airplane because I was gonna stop at 3 or 4 short tracks along the way and do my short track thing. But she drove the motorhome around the country. The kids and the mother-in-laws and cousins and dogs and what have ya up and down the road in the motorhome. She did do it in the early, early days. I had the Aerostar, which I really thought was super hot rod and all the that. But the Aerostar wouldn't be allowed in the hanger. The growth has has continued to go on and I'm proud of it. ”

Jarrett chimed in saying, "Mechanics. We didn’t have our own mechanics to work on our race cars. We had some but only one or two. In fact when we won the championship in 61 we had two employees who built the engines and built the cars. I had to work on the cars myself. These guys these days don't have the time to. Their world is different today. More pressure on the guys.

Remarking on being a pioneer to the industry and how he looks back on his career as a driver and a broadcaster, Jarret said, "I don't know what type of contributions I might have made along the way but whatever they are I am proud of them and particularly proud of the associations I had in the broadcasting field. To see it grow from its absolute impotence to where it is today and be a part of that was a learning experience for me. Also I feel that great contributions were made along the way not only by myself but a lot of other people who have made broadcasting the way it is today. The way it's brought to the fans. We had to carry big boxes around that weighed 25 to 30 lbs that we carried around pit road to see the people. We were somewhat limited to what work we could do as far as the stories, but we did our best and had good people to help us drag the tables from one end of pit road to the other. That was a great challenge."

Finally, the two legends were asked who they considered the best driver you've ever seen, with the exception of themselves.

Allison said, "I have probably 38 favorite drivers. Red Farmer to me, was the ultimate race car driver. Red Farmer could win on Friday night on pavement and take the same car on Saturday night with dirt tires and win on dirt. I was particularly interested in that but I struggled on dirt. I think Red Farmer was probably better than even Richard Petty.”

Jarrett wasn't able to pinpoint one person saying, "It's hard to pick just that one person. You almost have to categorize them. Junior Johnson, him and Cale Yarborough drove a lot alike I think and both could handle a race car. Dale Earnhardt, he could do things with a race car that I couldn’t dream of being able to do. So did that make them the best racecar drivers? David Pearson was one of the smartest race car drivers. Bobby Allison, a smart racecar driver and a good racecar driver. He was smooth and could do what it took to win a race. It's hard to pick out just one.”

I have to say I really enjoy meeting these two legends and hope I was able to bring a little of them here to you.

Both Ned Jarrett and Bobby Allison will be featured in Infineon’s "Legends in Sonoma" Q & A session along with "The King" Richard Petty on the pre-race stage on Sunday at 10:20 a.m. just prior to the Patriot Jet Team Air Show at 10:50 a.m.

Hope to see you all at Infineon Raceway!
Lunch with the Legends in San Francisco Lunch with the Legends in San Francisco Reviewed by Lindi Bess on Friday, June 24, 2011 Rating: 5