Five legends inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame's third class

The NASCAR Hall of Fame - Class of 2012.
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
The NASCAR Hall of Fame hosted its third annual induction ceremony for the NASCAR legends that are now officially Hall of Famers on Friday. The five inductees - Dale Inman, Glen Wood, Richie Evans, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip - have shaped the sport in ways they never dreamed. It was a night of memories, family and accomplishments, bridging NASCAR's past to its present. The contributions of all five will continue to reverberate into the sport's future.

The night started out with a red carpet entrance and a dinner party for the elite and specially invited guests. During the dinner, the inductees received their Hall of Fame jackets.

It was then time for the actual induction ceremony. An edited version of the event will be broadcast Sunday at 6 p.m. EST on SPEED.

Mike Joy and Krista Voda, FOX News NASCAR commentators, hosted the show. Joy choked up and fought back tears as he mentioned seeing a fan standing in the room wearing a Richie Evans T-shirt.

The late Evans, known as the "King of the Modifieds" for winning nine championship titles, eight of them consecutively, is the first non-stockcar driver to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Tragically, Evans was killed in a crash at Martinsville Speedway in 1985.

Dale Inman

Dale Inman, Richard Petty’s crew chief, was first to receive his ring. He actually won more championships than "The King" did - Inman won an additional championship with Terry Labonte, bringing the total number of titles to eight.

To introduce Inman, Petty took the stage. He spoke highly of his crew chief, who is also his cousin. The two grew up together.

Petty joked, “We started out 75 years ago - Dale did, I’m not quite that old - and again, it shows we’re born in the country with dirt roads, the whole deal, we didn’t know what a race car was.” Yet these two men went on to create a legacy in the world of NASCAR.

“And then my dad started racing,” Petty said, “that kind of took us out all over the country.”

Petty reminded the crowd, "Back then, there was no such thing as a crew chief. You know, they had mechanics, crew mechanics, whatever they wanted to call them, and Dale was basically the first one. He’s the first one that basically started the crew chief operation, because we used to, I guess in 1958 or something, my brother and Dale drove a ’57 Oldsmobile to California, run the race and drove it back home. That was the pit crew, that was the whole deal. And that’s how it started.”

It was fitting that Inman was the first to receive his ring, as he was the first crew chief.

“I’m kind of familiar with this ring,” he said after Petty gave him the ring. “For the last two or three years Richard has put it in my face a bunch of times," Inman said.

The crowd joined in laughter.

Inman went on to explain how Petty and he drove out to California, raced, and drove back.

“He didn’t clear that up very good. Him and Maurice was supposed to drive it, and he was out in the yard showing off and trying to walk on his hands and hurt his shoulder, so I was his substitute driver and I won’t get into that much, but you didn’t race,” Inman said, looking at Petty.

"But you drove the race car to Riverside, California, run a 500-mile road coarse, then got home, rode down in Wilcox, Arizona, had to order a housing from another town, and it come in the bus. I didn’t think this country boy would ever get home.”

Glen Wood

NASCAR is a family sport. The Petty family has a lineup of four generations of racers, but there is another family that started in Daytona back in 1958. These boys were known as the Wood Brothers. Leonard Wood had the privilege to pit the car of his big brother, Glen Wood.

“I was highly honored when Glen asked me to induct him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Leonard said, “and I told him I’d be more than happy to do so. Glen has always been my big brother, and he still is. Glen started racing 61 years ago. Glen and his partner Chris Williams and I were riding down the road. Chris says, what we’ve got to do is get some fame, and I have to say, this is as good as it gets.”

Glen Wood won 96 races in his career, and he has provided opportunities for a lot of young drivers to win their first race. Seventy-five drivers have driven for the Wood Brothers, 20 of which were NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers.

Leonard said, “I would like to point out there’s a lot of Wood Brothers drivers here tonight, and it’s certainly a pleasure to see them. I would like to have the time to tell a story or two of them, but as slow as I talk, we’d be here all night.”

After receiving his ring, Leonard said to the crowd, “This is a long way from the cornfield.”

Glen’s speech was short and sweet. He took the time to thank the many drivers who have raced for him over the years.

"We've had many great drivers," he said, "But David (Pearson inducted in last year's class) and Cale (Yarborough inducted in this class) were the most successful, so I'm proud to join them in the NASCAR Hall of Fame."

Seventeen other drivers who have driven for the team include (but are not limited to): A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Buddy Baker, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett, Michael Waltrip, Elliott Sadler and Trevor Bayne, who is the youngest driver to have won the Daytona 500, last season in 2011.

Lynn Evans accepts Richie Evans induction into the NASCAR
Hall of Fame.
Richie Evans

Richie Evans is recognized as the “King of the Modifieds." He won nine NASCAR Modified titles in a 13-year span; eight of those were in a row from 1978-1985. In his estimated 1,300 starts, it is estimated that he won 475 races. When the current Whelen Modified Tour started in 1985, Evans won 12 races, including four races in five events at Thompson, Connecticut.

Evans was from Rome, New York. He enjoyed living in the quiet deserted parts of Upstate New York. Evans never wanted to move on to the Cup Series - he didn’t feel he needed to. He could’ve and probably would’ve been successful, but he had too much fun in the Modified series; he was winning and making money.

Fellow inductee Darrell Waltrip talked about Evans and congratulated the Evans family.

“I watched Richie win race after race in Martinsville, and in my world, that’s what I call a wheel man, and Richie Evans was the best wheel man I ever saw,” Waltrip said.

Evans lost his life during a practice run in October 1985 at Martinsville. He was 44 years old. His wife Lynn accepted the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction ring, and gave a short, compelling speech.

"Rich, I've had to do a lot of things for you over the years, but this time I wish you could be here to accept this honor," Lynn Evans said. "I know you're here in spirit as the No. 61 appears often in my life. Even as I checked into the hotel, the number 61 came up."

Evans' car number, No. 61, was retired by the Whelen Modified Tour and is the only number retired in any NASCAR series.

Among her many thanks, Lynn acknowledged the special honor Richie receives as being the first Modified driver to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

"I'd especially like to thank the Hall of Fame voting panel for stepping outside the box and making Rich the first driver inductee not to have raced in NASCAR's top series full-time," she said. 

"You have now given hope to thousands of NASCAR competitors throughout the country to maybe someday reach their dream."

Cale Yarborough

In the mid-to late 1970s, Junior Johnson had a strong car and driver to match: Cale Yarborough. Together they won three consecutive championships, a record that was not beaten until Jimmie Johnson came along. By the end of his career, Yarborough won 83 races.

"No one was tougher to beat,” Mike Joy said as he spoke of Yarborough. “There was only one place you’d find Yarborough’s name toward the back - in the phone book!”

Ken Squire inducted Yarborough to the Hall of Fame. Squire said Yarborough was always about believing in oneself, self-reliance, and the imagination to test it, and test it completely. Dream big. That was Cale.

Yarborough tried a lot of different things in life - he was a risk taker. He was the guy to take chances, even if he knew the chances of success were slim to none. He was persistent, he pushed and he prodded.

When Yarborough received his ring, he went on to tell the story of those difficult days when they first started. He compared racing to a big, tall ladder.

“When you begin,” he said, “you start off on the bottom step of that ladder. It’s a long, hard climb to the top. But I feel like tonight, I’m standing on the top step.”

Yarborough told about moving to Charlotte in the early '60s, when he was flat broke and the only thing he had to his name was his daughter and his wife. They were on a tight budget, counting every penny. When they went food shopping one Saturday night, they calculated everything they bought so they could afford it. Then, just as they were about to check out, he saw large cans of black eyed peas for sale for 10 cents a can. He talked with his wife about it, and they came up with an agreement. They returned all the food in the cart, and went back and bought every can of black eyed peas.

“We had black eyed peas for breakfast, for dinner, and for supper, a long time,” Yarborough said.

He went on to thank all the people that made it possible for him climb that long, tough ladder. He especially thanked the Wood Brothers.

“I am so honored and pleased to be inducted in the same class with Glen Wood. It’s just great, it turned out right,” he said.

“Then there is Leonard Wood. Leonard, you won’t be far behind us, bud. You deserve every bit of it.”

Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip - "DW" - has had a tremendous amount of success in his many years of racing, including three championships and 84 wins, and a post-racing broadcast career on top of that.

Waltrip's NASCAR career started in 1972, and he was fast and furious from the start. Yarborough went on to give him the nickname, "Jaws." It was the same year the movie came out.

Waltrip chose Jeff Hammond, FOX NASCAR commentator and Waltrip's former crew chief, to induct him into the Hall of Fame. Hammond worked for Yarborough, Junior Johnson, and eventually he worked for Waltrip as well.

At the end of Yarborough’s season in 1980, when he decided to cut his schedule and race part time, Johnson hired a new driver to the team: Waltrip. Hammond told the audience that he wondered, “Why in the world did it have to be Darrell Waltrip to walked through that door of the shop?

"Darrel knows this - OK, I didn’t like him, and I didn’t want him to be our driver,” Hammond admitted. “Part of it was because he was beating us on the track more frequently, but the other part was, and you’ve heard this before, he would never shut up. He was always running his mouth.”

Hammond spoke of the hard times they as a team faced. It wasn’t until Johnson came in to tell them they would have to figure out how to work together, or they would find themselves in the unemployment line together. That straightened up their act.

In 1981, Hammond and Waltrip won 12 races and the championship; in 1982, with a new team, they went on to win 12 more races and the second championship. They won their third championship in 1985, making up a huge points deficit to overtake Bill Elliott.

Waltrip was named the Driver of the Decade: from 1977 to 1987, he never finished a season lower than 5th in points.

After Hammond gave Waltrip his Hall of Fame ring, Waltrip said, “I’ve got to straighten something out before we can get to any of this other stuff. It wasn’t that I talked that much. Those other guys didn’t talk at all. So it just looked like I was talking a lot. I had to fill in the blanks. If there was something that need to be explained, "DW" explained it. So it just looked like I talked a lot, but honestly, I didn’t. I just want you to know that, for you new fans that have listened to all of this.”

Waltrip went on to give a 24-minute thank you speech. He talked about his experience and his journey. He thanked his family, and that is what made him emotional. His daughter and her husband returned from Brazil this past week to tell him he was going to be a grandfather.

That’s not all the good news "DW" got this week: his youngest daughter, who has been in the Philippines, called him earlier in the week and apologized to her dad for not being able to attend the ceremony, but it was impossible for her to make it. He told her he understood. On Thursday, when he got to Charlotte and checked into his hotel, he opened the door to his room and standing in front of him was his daughter. She flew 25 hours to see him be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "DW" was not shy to cry in front of the audience and on television.

The show ended as it started, emotionally. These five men all had dreams to win races, but none of them ever thought their racing careers would get so big. In the end, it's all about working together and believing in yourself. It's about putting God first and committing to your family. All of the Hall of Fame Inductees have had lifelong marriages, with a partner who has helped them get ahead in life. Without these women, they may not have been there last night to receive the greatest gift to show the accomplishments of their careers.
Five legends inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame's third class Five legends inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame's third class Reviewed by Unknown on Saturday, January 21, 2012 Rating: 5