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2012 Hall Of Fame Vote Is Called Toughest Yet

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 15 2011

Dale Inman and Darrell Waltrip congratulate each other after being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Tuesday. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Charlotte, N.C.  – NASCAR’s 2012 inductees into its Hall of Fame total 23 championships and more than 900 victories, but NASCAR President Mike Helton said Tuesday deciding on the five for enshrinement in January was the toughest yet.

NASCAR Cup champions Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, legendary team owner Glen Wood, the sport’s winningest crew chief, Dale Inman, and Modified star Richie Evans were announced as the third class of five to join the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday afternoon by NASCAR Chairman Brian France.

“The toughest thing was deciding who not to vote for,” Helton said. “I think it (the voting) will only get more difficult every year, because as we start building the inductees there will be more debate on who should be next. I had written down about seven names in pencil and I used my eraser up pretty good as the day went on. I ended up around 2 o’clock with eight, nine maybe even 10 names on the list and that’s why I say the most difficult thing for me was who to take off the list.”

Helton admitted he “teared up” as the names comprising the third class were announced.

“I don’t think anybody has ever had to go toe-to-toe with Glen Wood, but having had to go toe-to-toe with even Dale Inman and Darrell Waltrip, today was about paying respect to what they have done for the sport,” Helton said.

Helton noted he was glad someone outside NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series was selected.

“It’s the NASCAR Hall of Fame and it was designed from Day One to be that way,” Helton continued.

Glen Wood is welcomed to enshrinement into the NASCAR Hall of Fame by Richard Petty. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

“We’re three years into the induction process and for the process to have evolved to that is healthy for NASCAR, it’s healthy for the Hall of Fame and it’s certainly very respectful of the importance of our heritage around short tracks and in different series.”

Former Charlotte Motor Speedway President H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler cited Evans as breaking the barrier for people outside Sprint Cup racing.

“There is another avenue to this (enshrinement in Hall of Fame),” Wheeler said. “It could have been him, it could have been Jack Ingram or Jerry Cook, but we needed to do that.”

After the announcement, France said he felt the class was the best of the three.

“I think you have two of the greatest drivers, the greatest crew chief, a legendary car owner and then you have Richie Evans who dominated Modified racing, and it demonstrates that the Hall of Fame is more than just the Sprint Cup Series,” France said.

Waltrip, winner of three championships, 84 races and 59 poles, couldn’t contain his excitement at the announcement of his name by France. The energetic Kentucky native bounced onto the stage, embraced France, and gave him a peck on the cheek. After leaving the stage, Waltrip shook the hands and and embraced other members of the racing community, including Helton and Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett.

“I was nervous (sitting there),” Waltrip said. “I was sick to my stomach getting here because I didn’t want to be disappointed again. When you don’t get in the first go around, that’s understandable. Then the second go around and I felt pretty good about that one. Then you get to this point, and you start wondering, maybe there is something that’s going to keep me from getting in for a while.”

A bit of irony exists in Yarborough and Waltrip being inducted in the same class. Yarborough nicknamed the talkative Waltrip “Jaws” after the two fiercely battled in a race at Darlington Raceway. It was a nickname that followed Waltrip the rest of his career.

“Cale and I went through a period of time when we were rivals. We’d do anything to keep each other from winning a race,” Waltrip said. “We knocked each other out of a lot of races. But Cale gave me the best advice that anybody could give me and that he was going to leave Junior’s (Johnson) and nobody even knew it. He said Junior likes you, he wants you to drive his car and you need to go talk to him. That was the best advice anybody ever gave me because it led to a lot of wins and three championships.”

Unlike Waltrip, Yarborough didn’t attend Tuesday’s ceremonies, but when reached by telephone he admitted he was “glad that’s over with.”

“Everybody has been asking me, ‘Do you think it’s this time? Do you think you’ll go in this time?’” said

Cale Yarborough makes it into the Hall. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for Darlington Raceway)

Yarborough, who watched the live telecast of the announcement with wife, Betty Jo, and some friends in the shop on his Sardis, S.C., farm. “I feel honored. I’m in a lot of different motorsports halls of fame, but to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame with the guys who are already in and the ones who will come later means a lot to me.”

Inman’s 193 victories and eight championships, the most by any crew chief, made it the third consecutive class that has included a member of the famed Petty Enterprises and Petty family. Inman, Richard Petty’s crew chief for nearly three decades, is also the NASCAR Hall of Famer and seven-time champion’s first cousin. Many successful crew chiefs, including Barry Dodson, Steve Hmiel, Tony Glover, Robbie Loomis and Robin Pemberton, received their apprenticeship under the modest Inman.

“That makes me feel real proud, too,” Inman commented.

Kim Wood Hall, Glen Wood’s daughter, didn’t expect her father to be named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in the third class, but there was little doubt in his brother Leonard’s mind.

“Of course he won more than 85 Sportsman/Modified races that nobody ever knew about nowadays,” Leonard Wood said. “But the thing that impresses me is how many drivers he’s provided an opportunity for to drive the car and a lot of them got their first win in our car. In a nutshell, been around 61 years and still in it, to me that’s the most important thing. We’ve seen so many people come and go, the fact we’re still in it and we’re still together.”

Even though Glen Wood laid the foundation for the famed Wood Brothers as a driver, he’s best known

Richie Evans is in the Hall. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

as an owner who possesses 1,370 starts, 98 victories and 118 poles. Throughout its history, the team has fielded cars for a virtual who’s who of NASCAR drivers. They include David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Marvin Panch, Dan Gurney, Tiny Lund, Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Buddy Baker and this year’s Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne.

Glen Wood said nothing in his life compared to the honor he received Tuesday.

“This is one of the greatest honors you can get in our sport,” the soft-spoken Stuart, Va., native said. “I was surprised (when they called my name). I didn’t have my name on my list.”

While Petty’s known as “The King” in NASCAR’s premier division, Evans possessed that distinction in the Modifieds, NASCAR’s first series. In a 13-year span, the late driver captured nine Modified championships, including eight straight from 1978-85. In the inaugural season of the current NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour format, Evans won a dozen races, including a sweep of all four Thompson, Conn., events.

The 2012 inductees join Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bill France Jr., Bill France Sr., Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore, Lee Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Allison who were enshrined in 2010 and 2011.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 15 2011
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