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Bright Lights Find Jack Ingram, Maurice Petty

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 22 2013

Jack Ingram was rightfully elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The bright lights never find some auto racers. The media scrums that search out the pretty boys – the drivers with the big names and high paying endorsement deals – run away from, not to this group. Despite critically important contributions to their sport, some racers in this bunch remain invisible to all but their

most ardent fans.

Well aware of their status as worker bees, these folks can sink into a mindset that entry to the Hall of Fame for them will start at the ticket booth outside the Uptown Charlotte NASCAR Hall.

Two of these folks found out on Wednesday that their entry to the Hall would be as honorees and not as paying customers. And that is a great and essential thing.

Both engine-builder Maurice Petty and driver Jack Ingram, who was best known for his work in what is now known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series, became two the five members of the Hall’s Class of 2014.

Both seemed as surprised at being elected to the fifth HOF Class as some fans and some media.

Ingram appeared to be fighting back tears after his name was announced by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. “I thought I had a bit of a little bit of chance,” Ingram, a native of Asheville, N.C. said. “But not this year.”

Petty, the younger brother of Richard Petty and the son of Lee Petty – both of whom had already been elected into the Hall – said, “I didn’t think it would happen this year.”

The fact that Ingram and Petty woke up Wednesday morning thinking of themselves as improbable inductees kind of sucks. It shows, perhaps, that the trend to viewing NASCAR as being little more than a showcase for Cup drivers who are pitchmen first and wheelmen second, has a sadly spreading root system.

Ingram won three straight championships in the 1970s in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division, which was the precursor to what has become the Nationwide system. He then won two more championships in the 1980s after that series became the Busch Series. He won 31 races at a time when the competition in the “second-tier” series was as intense as it was in Cup.

Those who drove against him or covered him – some of whom spoke up for him during the voting process – know there was nothing “second-tier” about the muscular little driver who held the record for victories until Mark Martin passed him in 1997.

Still, Ingram, who was first nominated for the Hall in 2010, watched three elections end without his name being called.

“I thought some day I might have a chance because Ritchie Evans (another non-Cup driver) got in,” Ingram said. “He made it in a couple of years ago. But you never know.”

While surprised, Ingram very correctly pointed out that people like him, Evans and other non-Cup drivers deserve enshrinement in the Hall.

“This is the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” he said. “This is not just for Cup drivers, track operators and crew chiefs. That (NASCAR Hall of Fame) is what the sign says.”

Maurice Petty becomes the first engine-builder to be elected to the Hall. Think powerful, reliable engines haven’t always been important to success in racing? Maurice built the engines that won seven Daytona 500s, seven championships in the 1960s and ’70s and nearly 200 races.

The man putting that power to the track was Richard Petty, the winningest driver – by far – in Cup. Asked about Maurice’s contribution, The King was succinct: “I didn’t do it myself,” he said.

Like Ingram, Maurice, known in the garages as “The Chief”, seemed to enjoy Wednesday’s news just a bit more than those who have expected enshrinement over the years.

Nobody had to ask Maurice how he felt after his name was announced. But asked he was.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “But like Tony the Tiger said, ‘It’s great!’ ”

The Class of 2014 – as has every class before it – will be picked apart by critics in the coming hours and days. The expectation here is that the elections of Ingram and Maurice Petty will be picked apart with the most gusto.

That will be a shame. These two guys – neither of whom I voted for this year – are dead solid picks. Both are racers and both are the kind of people whom the Hall of Fame needs to honor if it is going to be a true shrine to people essential to the the history and relevance of NASCAR.

Congrats to Ingram, Maurice Petty and fellow Class of 2014 members Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts and Dale Jarrett.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 22 2013
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