Ned Jarrett’s eyes glistened with moisture as he spoke with reporters minutes after his son Dale was announced as one of five members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2014, joining Maurice Petty, Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts and Jack Ingram.
The elder Jarrett, himself a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee in 2011, spoke eloquently about the role of family in NASCAR’s history and how it helped he and Dale become the third father-son combination in the Hall, along with Bill France Sr. and Jr. and Lee and Richard Petty.
“This sport — NASCAR — has been built on families, starting with the France family,” said Ned. “And there were so many other great families down the list. We’re just happy to be a small part of that.”
Asked if it was more emotional seeing his son getting in or getting inducted himself, the elder Jarrett smiled. “It was pretty close,” he said. “One was about as emotional than the other. … It’s hard to put into words when you look at the father-son aspect. We all like to see our kids do good and get rewarded for it.”
The family theme of the night spread to the Petty clan, where engine builder Maurice Petty was selected and will join brother Richard, father Lee and cousin Dale Inman in the NASCAR Hall. “I was one of the first,” said Maurice, the only engine builder selected for the Hall so far. “Maybe like a pioneer. I’m glad to be here.”
Maurice, known to all simply as “Chief,” deserved a lot of the credit for the success, said brother Richard. “He was the cement that held all this crap together,” Richard said of his brother. “Without an engine, no matter how good a driver you are, or how good Dale (Inman, crew chief) was at setting up the car up, it wasn’t going to work. It took the whole combination.”
Richard said he was especially honored to be part of the first race team to get its team owner, driver, crew chief and engine builder into the NASCAR Hall. “Now, the whole team’s in the Hall of Fame, and you can’t beat that,” Richard said. “There are very few teams who will ever come through NASCAR who will be able to say, ‘Our whole team is in the Hall of Fame.’”
Today’s class, the fifth elected, was chosen after a spirited and at times contentious debate. Flock, the 1950s superstar, earned votes from 76 percent of the 54 members on the voting panel. Petty got 67 percent, Jarrett 56 percent, Ingram 53 percent and Roberts 51 percent.
“Loved the debate and discussion, how spirited it was,” said Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and one of the voters. “There were more differing perspectives, so many people. Walking out of that room, I wouldn’t have bet on any one person (getting elected).”
Kelley also liked the mix of the class.
“When you look up, you see that you’ve got pioneers from Fireball and Tim Flock,” said Kelley. “You’ve got our first true Busch Series driver; our first engine builder, which I think is great, and somebody more contemporary who is also deserving.”
The debate was more intense today because the picks were tougher to make, according to Kelley.
“There’s not any three-championship, 80-win guys, or even Rusty (Wallace) last year with 55 wins,” Kelley said. “So there’s less numerical differentiation. There were a good half a dozen to 10 other people who got a lot of conversation for all the right reasons. ”
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, like Kelley one of the voters, said it was an “interesting” discussion.
“I was a little shocked that Joe Weatherly or Jerry Cook didn’t make it in,” said Pemberton. “But when you look at who’s in, it makes all the sense in the world. It was really close for some folks getting in or not getting in.”
Pemberton’s first NASCAR job was working for Petty Enterprises in 1979, so he was pleased to see Maurice get in. “We go back a long ways,” Pemberton said. “We’ve always had a good relationship.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.