Waltrip, Evans, Yarborough, Inman and Wood Inducted
Joining Waltrip were fellow three-time champion Cale Yarborough, NASCAR Modified champion Richie Evans, legendary crew chief Dale Inman and NASCAR team owner Glen Wood as the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 inductees.
The five men will join other such luminary figures as Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr. already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Getting his start helping out at the team’s shop in Level Cross, N.C. in 1963, Inman quickly moved up to assume the role of crew chief – a position he helped define and set the standard for today’s crew chiefs.
“He was one of the first ones to come in and take a car in and completely disassemble it from one race to another instead of waiting until something broke or just checking wheel bearings and stuff like that, completely disassembled engines, the cars,” said Petty. “And in doing that, that made those cars almost bulletproof. That's the reason we won a lot of races.”
In 1981, Inman left Petty Enterprises after helping Richard win the season-opening Daytona 500, first going to work for Rod Osterlund and driver Dale Earnhardt. In 1983, he joined Billy Hagan’s operation and notched his eighth series championship with driver Terry Labonte in 1984.
Inman returned to Petty Enterprises in 1986 and served in a management role before retiring in 1998.
“The sport’s come a long way,” said Inman. “And of course you probably haven't raced until the mid '60s when we'd leave home with a race car in a period of about ten days. We'd run five or six races where we'd come home, and that was -- I guess it was fun.
“When I look back over all this, the wins, the Daytona wins, the championships and all that, I think over the years the people I've met, the places I've seen, the friends I've made, both in and out of racing, that sticks out big. Now, maybe years ago it wouldn't have, but I know some of us older people respect that.”
Wood started out a driver for his own family team, making his first start in a 1938 Ford Coupe in 1950. In 62 career starts, he tallied four victories – all of them at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC – before giving up the driver’s seat to concentrate on working on racecars and running his race team.
Joined by his brother Leonard, Glen Wood fielded race cars for some of the most luminary drivers in NASCAR history, including Tiny Lund, A.J. Foyt, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough and most notably David Pearson, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year.
Pearson went on to win 43 races with Wood Brothers. In all, the team would win 98 races including five Daytona 500’s, the most recent being their Cinderella win in last season’s event with driver Trevor Bayne.
“This is a long way from the cornfield,” said Wood. “We've had so many great drivers, but David (Pearson) and Cale (Yarborough) were most successful, so I'm proud to join them in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Nicknamed the “Racing Roman”, Evans started racing near his hometown of Rome, N.Y., in 1962. Although he never started in any of NASCAR’s top touring series, Evans nevertheless set the standard for winning.
A winner of nine NASCAR modified championships – including eight consecutive titles from 1978-85 – Evans won 28 track championships and 478 modified features in a 13-year career, an accomplishment that has never been equaled.
Evans had already clinched his ninth title when he was killed in a crash while practicing for the 1985 season-finale event at Martinsville Speedway. He was 44 years old.
Evans wife, Lynn Evans, was on hand on Friday to accept Richie’s Hall of Fame ring.
“Rich would be so honored and humbled to be included with the inductees, past, present and future. What a great honor,” said Lynn Evans.
“I'd like to say thanks to all of his fans who have kept his memory alive. Racing four or five times a week enabled Rich to build a huge fan following. Rich liked nothing better than to share a story with his friends after a race. One of the things he was most proud of was being voted most popular driver nine times while still enjoying success on the track. Thank you again for honoring Rich.”
Tallying 83 wins in his 31-year career including four Daytona 500 wins, Yarborough ranks sixth on NASCAR’s all-time win list. In 1976, Yarborough his first of three Cup titles, later becoming the first driver to win three consecutive championships – a record that stood until tied by Jimmie Johnson in 2008.
Before Yarborough’s driving career took off, he worked at Holman & Moody’s team shop, sweeping the floors for $1.25 an hour. He and his wife Betty Jo were so broke that during one trip to the grocery store they bought nothing but ten-cent cans of black-eyed peas.
“We bought every can of black eyed peas that we could afford to buy,” said Yarborough. “We had black eyed peas for breakfast, we had black eyed peas for dinner, we had black eyed peas for supper, a long time. Betty stuck with me through some awful hard times.”
After retiring as a driver in 1988, Yarborough started his own race team, fielding cars for Dale Jarrett, Greg Sacks, Jeremy Mayfield and John Andretti – who won the teams only race in the 1996 Pepsi 400 at Daytona – before folding the team in 2000.
“You know, racing is kind of like a big, tall ladder,” said Yarborough. “When you begin, you start off on the bottom step of that ladder, and it's a long, hard climb to the top. But I feel like tonight I'm finally standing on the top step. It's been tough, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of hard times, but there are five of us here tonight, and I congratulate each one of them.”
Headlining the event, Darrell Waltrip was in a familiar place - front and center as he’s always been as one of the sport’s most popular personalities.
“Our sport has never seen the likes of Darrell Waltrip before, both on the track or off the track,” said former crew chief and fellow FOX broadcaster Jeff Hammond. “I'd venture to say our sport will never see the likes of Darrell Waltrip ever again. He truly is one to a box.”
Nicknamed “Jaws” by fellow inductee Cale Yarborough, Waltrip earned the ire of fans and fellow competitors alike for his trash-talking, aggressive driving and showmanship – eager to show off for the camera and just as eager to do whatever it took to win.
After retiring from driving in 2000, Waltrip joined FOX Sports for their inaugural season in 2001, joining Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds in the broadcast booth, where his charismatic personality and outspoken opinions helped propel FOX’s NASCAR coverage to the top of the ratings.
“I have had two lives, and I've had two careers,” said Waltrip. “When I came onto the scene, I was not a nice guy. I was an antagonist. It just seemed to work for me. Nobody else seemed to -- I always thought that a lot of people say they take the path of least resistance. I took the path I couldn't resist. You know why? There ain't nobody on it. So a lot of times I was off on my own.
“These men and the people in this room, they're what inspire me. They are what inspired me to be a race car driver. They are what inspired me to -- Cale (Yarborough) said he climbed a ladder. I feel like I climbed a lot of mountains, and the climbing was rough. But these men in this room inspired me to be successful and to be good, and they gave me great examples of how to do that.
“They always told me, if you're going to dream, dream as big as you possibly can because you know what, it might just come true. And tonight, I'm living proof of that.”
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