Woody: Old Warriors Made NASCAR Great
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Over the weekend I watched the TV biographies of three of this month’s NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees – Bud Moore, Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett – and it make me realize what’s missing from the sport today:
Them, and men like them.
Lots of older fans complain about today’s lackluster racing, micro-managed rules and cloned cars.
But when it comes down to it, what we really miss are the tough old warriors who raced by the seat of their pants and had to fight – sometimes literally – for everything they earned.
Moore, Petty and Jarrett join David Pearson and Bobby Allison in the Class of 2010 and the two latter fall into the same tough-as-nails category. Pearson was more cagey and Allison more cantankerous, but they both struggled to build their careers. Nothing was ever handed to them.
I’ve criticized the Hall of Fame for limiting its annual classes to just five inductees – there’s too much history to catch up on – but it deserves credit for its contribution to the biographies. They are excellent, preserving not only the history of a sport but the history of an American era. Men, and men like them, are deservedly called our Greatest Generation.
I’ve always been an admirer of Bud Moore, the battle-scarred WWII hero. As a team owner he was famous for his toughness and gruffness, but there was also a gentle side. I got to see it for many summers when our families stayed at the same Daytona motel for the July 4 Firecracker 400.
While Bud and I were at the track, his granddaughters, Missy and Candy, played in the motel pool with my daughter Susan. My wife and Bud’s wife and daughter-in-law spent mornings and afternoons sitting at pool-side watching the kids. Over the years our families became friends, looking forward to the summer reunions.
Every evening when Bud got back from the track he would be greeted with squeals and wet hugs. The
gruff old team owner melted into a pussycat grandpa.
Same with Lee Petty. As a rookie writer I was unaware of Lee’s reputation for biting the heads off sports writers. One morning I wandered into a Daytona restaurant and saw him sitting alone in a booth. I went over, introduced myself and asked if I could join him.
Lee looked up through a cloud of pipe smoke, nodded, and I slid in.
For the next half-hour we chatted about racing and how much he didn’t miss it. Finally he finished his clam chowder, said he had a date with a golf course, and excused himself.
Later when I mentioned that I’d had an enjoyable lunch with Lee Petty, other members of the media were shocked. They said he was notorious for snapping at the media – especially sports writers who intruded on his privacy.
All I know is that my one experience with him couldn’t have been more pleasant. He was a delightful, gracious old gentleman, and that’s how I’ll always remember him.
Ned Jarrett has always been the personification of grace and goodness. A gentle man who prays before every meal, Ned possessed the type of calm bravery that we generally see only in movie heroes. He didn’t hesitate to plunge into the flames and pull out Fireball Roberts after a fiery crash at Charlotte that eventually claimed Fireball’s life.
When Ned retired from racing and took up broadcasting I had the opportunity to be around him a lot
in media settings – often pestering him with questions. Ned was always patient and helpful and generous with his time and advice. I’d been a fan and I quickly became a friend.
I never had an opportunity to get to know Pearson personally, but I was around Allison a great deal and there’s nobody I admire more. Nobody has sacrificed greater, personally, for the sport of racing than Bobby Allison. He lost two sons, his health, his home and personal assets and – for awhile –his marriage, but never once did he complain publicly. Allison has more inner strength than any man I’ve ever known.
These, and others like them, are what made NASCAR great. It wasn’t the racing, it was the racers.
When some of us old-timers grouse and grumble about how the sport has changed, what we’re really lamenting is the loss of an era – or, more specifically, the people who made that era so special.
Thanks to the Hall of Fame their deeds will be recorded and they will always be remembered, even as the years and their fans fade away.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments