Redman, White And Petty Blue Enter IMHOF
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Talladega, Ala. – On a morning with ominous clouds hanging over the speedway and weather bulletins and storm precautions being distributed in the media center at Talladega Superspeedway, there are still warm memories from last night’s induction ceremonies for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located on the main drive entering the speedway.
Right in the middle of NASCAR country, the hall of fame and museum really do live up to the ‘International” name.
Among the racers inducted on Thursday night were some familiar names in NASCAR land – Rex White, the 1960 champion of the circuit now known as Sprint Cup, and Maurice Petty, the engine-builder and crew chief who actually wound up with more victories and championships than either his father Lee or brother Richard.
The late John Holman, who helped lead the way for Ford in the 1960s with the Holman Moody team but also was a winner in other forms of motorsports including the Mexican road race and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, was inducted.
The great road racer Brian Redman was there. He distinguished himself in formula racing, Can-Am, IMSA and FIA, driving for factory teams such as Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar and Porsche, but he spent much of his acceptance speech describing his one run in a stock car. It was the inaugural USAC race at Pocono, and track owner Joe Mattioli personally recruited him.
Redman recalled flying in from Italy to be paired with a team not nearly worthy of his talents.
With no practice he lined up on the starting grid only to find that the brake pedal went straight to the floorboard.
“It was the only race I ever started with no brakes,” he said.
Redman said the race ended mercifully for him – the engine exploded after a handful of laps.
Perhaps the most moving induction speech came from Dr. Dick Berggren, who recounted the life and
times of the great sprint car racer Jan Opperman.
Berggren said the flamboyant Opperman, known for his hippie persona, leather cowboy hat and moccasin shoes, could take cars others deemed uncompetitive and use them to beat the best in the business.
“He took on absolutely the toughest that there were in his era of Sprint Car racing and beat them all,” Berggren said. “He went to the United States Auto Club (USAC), which at the time was by far the premier division in the United States, and he beat them. This is a guy who was really a local weekend racer. And yet, when came time, off he’d go and win all these races.”
Berggren also recounted how, when Opperman suffered career-ending injuries, the racing community raised funds that Opperman’s family used to care for him from his last crash at Jennerstown, Pa., in 1981 until his death in 1997.
For Rex White, who was inducted by his old friend and competitor Ned Jarrett, Thursday night capped off what might be described as one of racing’s best comeback performances.
White, who had a relatively brief career of just 233 races from 1956 to 1964, won 26 Cup races from 1959-62, more than any other driver during that four-season span. That came in an era when Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly and Richard Petty and Lee Petty were the stars of the times.
In White’s last Cup race, at Atlanta in 1964, he had Bud Moore’s Mercury in the lead late, only to run out of fuel in the pits during his final stop and drop to fifth in the final rundown. (The team chose to change left-side tires and with the car up on the jack, the fuel ran away from the pick-up in the left side of the fuel tank.)
White raced a Sportsman car for one more year, dominating the short tracks around the Southeast. Then the popular driver was gone – first to a career as a service manager for an Atlanta car dealership then to a much longer career as a long haul trucker.
He skipped his induction into the Stock Car Hall of Fame at Darlington and remained low-key when he was chosen one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
But in the latter years of his trucking career, he began showing up for a race or two here and there. Soon he had his own NASCAR “hard card” pass and now he’s relishing his role as NASCAR’s oldest living champion.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment