Friday saw the membership of the NASCAR Hall of Fame raised to 15, as 5 new names were presented with their rings. Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Dale Inman, Glen Wood, and the late Richie Evans were each honoured for their achievements in an emotional, star-studded ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina, and joined the likes of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Bud Moore, Lee Petty, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett and David Pearson among the ranks of NASCAR's all-time greats.
Yarborough, whose record of winning three back to back titles from 1976-78 was only recently eclipsed by Jimmie Johnson's phenomenal run of 5 successive championships in recent times, took 83 Cup victories (including 4 Daytona 500 victories) and 69 poles in his career, although is perhaps best remembered for his fight with the Allison brothers after crashing out on the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500, gifting the win to Richard Petty. Yarborough, 72, was humbled by his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
“I’m going to remember that this was one of the best days of my life,” Yarborough said. “This is what I have – I didn’t know I was working for it, but I’ve worked for all of my life, and it just happened tonight.
“I’m just so proud to be a part of it and been so blessed to climb that long ladder from the bottom step, now I’m standing on that top step. Can’t go any higher, but can’t nobody push me off, either.”
Waltrip, 64, was also a three time champion, taking the spoils in 1981, 1982 and 1985. In his long year career as a driver, spanning 28 years and 809 starts, Waltrip took 84 wins, including the 1989 Daytona 500, making him the fourth most successful driver in history. Now a respected broadcaster, DW is famous for yelling his trademark catchphrase “boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing boys!” as the cars take the green flag to start the race, and memorably broke down in tears watching his brother take victory in the 2001 Daytona 500, an event marred by the death of his good friend Dale Earnhardt. Following the race, Waltrip was among the most vociferous backers of mandating the HANS device, which arguably could have saved 'The Enforcer' had he chosen to wear it.
“This night, these men, and the people in this room, they’re what inspire me,” Waltrip said. “Every year you’ve got to climb that mountain, and every year you’ve got to do it all over again and do it all over again. This is the last mountain you have to climb. You’re at the pinnacle. You’ve made it to the top.”
“It’s not about one race, one championship. I said it from day one; it’s about your body of work. And what made me the proudest and what makes me the proudest is you’re voted on by your peers. It’s not a popularity contest, thank goodness. It’s basically 50 guys that you’ve worked with, raced against, raced with, whatever the situation may be, and they recognize what you’ve done, and they reward you by nominating you and inducting you into the Hall of Fame. And that speaks volumes to me.”
Inman, 75, is best known as the crew chief and head mechanic for each of Richard Petty's seven Cup championships, but also won the 1984 title with Terry Labonte. Inman is the first crew chief to have been admitted to the Hall of Fame since its inception in 2010.
“I’m kind of familiar with this ring,” Inman joked, referring to his NASCAR Hall of Fame ring. “For the last two or three years Richard has put it in my face a bunch of times!”
“You know, what an honour it’s been to work with the different drivers over the years but most of them with Richard,” he added. “They used the term eight championships, but it’s in a different league from what the drivers are, and I give that respect. But to be the first crew chief to come in – and I’m sure there will be more after this – is quite an honour.”
He said that the job criterion for a crew chief is unrecognisable to the role he fulfilled before his retirement in 1998.
“It’s tough on the crew chiefs now,” Inman said. “I mentioned the wave-around, the lucky dogs, the pit strategy, two tires, four tires, track position is so important. And years ago we practiced from early in the morning until late at night. Now they give you an hour and 15 minutes of practice, man, it’s just a different world from what it used to be.”
Team owner Glen Wood, 86, has been in the business since the 1950s, when he started the Wood Brothers racing team with his brother Leonard, who said “Glen was always fair, honest, gave good advice. You needed no more than a handshake with him.” Yarborough also heaped praised on Glen Wood during his own acceptance speech, adding: “I am so honoured and so pleased to be inducted in the same class with Glen Wood. It’s so great that it turned out this way.” Wood started out as a driver before running the team, which also expanded into Indycar racing, running the likes of Scottish hero Jim Clark.
“Well, that means as much to me as anybody else, I can tell you that,” Wood said. “It’s the greatest honour you can get in this sport. One of the proud things is that two of the ones that are in already have driven our car, [David] Pearson and Yarborough. I just learned today how big this is. It’s as big as it gets.”
NASCAR's oldest team, the Wood Brothers are still going strong today, the iconic Wood Brothers no.21 taking a famous victory at last year's Daytona 500 in the hands of 20 year old rookie Trevor Bayne.
Modified Series driver Richie Evans was admitted posthumously to the Hall of Fame. He died aged 44 in a practice session at Martinsville Speedway in 1985 having clinched his ninth championship a week prior. The 'Rapid Roman' remains to date the most successful Modified driver of all time, and the #61 Evans used on his 'Orange Chariot' remains to date the only number ever to have been officially retired by NASCAR. He becomes the first individual inducted into the Hall from outside NASCAR's premier division, a fact which left his wife Lynn, who accepted the award on his behalf, “speechless.”
“I’m speechless. Not that he didn’t work hard, not that he shouldn’t be here, but it just happened so soon. There’s so many other greats that we figured maybe sometime down the road he definitely would, but not this soon, and we’re just thrilled and honoured. He worked hard. He would be so proud of himself.
“I’d especially like to thank the Hall of Fame voting panel for stepping outside the box and making Rich the first driver inductee not to have raced in NASCAR’s top series full time. You have now given hope to thousands of NASCAR competitors throughout the country to maybe someday reach their dream. ”