Petty, Ingram took unexpected routes to Hall
January 29, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One was an engine builder who toiled primarily in a back room of the team shop. The other was a relentless racer who toiled primarily on short tracks. But Wednesday night, Maurice Petty and Jack Ingram both found themselves as new members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
On a night headlined by former premier-series champions and Daytona 500 winners, NASCAR's shrine made room for the "Chief" and the "Iron Man." Petty became the first engine builder to earn the sport's ultimate honor, while Ingram was the first driver to be inducted after spending the bulk of his career in what is now the Nationwide Series.
Petty didn't make the list of 25 candidates for enshrinement until last year, and benefited from a strong lobbying effort from his brother, seven-time NASCAR champion Richard. Still, the ultimate call was unexpected.
"I thought it was just reserved for the drivers, and to get in this quick, that was really a total surprise," Maurice said after the ceremony, outfitted in his new blue Hall of Fame blazer. "They told me I had been nominated, and I come over, and they called my name because I figured it would take a year or two to work your way in. But that was quite a surprise."
Ingram has been on the nomination list since 2011, and doesn't know if any current drivers who primarily compete on the Nationwide Series will follow his path to enshrinement. The then-Busch circuit was much different in Ingram's day, when more competitors made a career out of the series, and the pool of regulars was deeper than it is now.
"None of them stays in it long enough to accomplish anything," Ingram said. "They drive for huge race teams primarily, huge backing, and every once in a while one of them will make it. But I don't think that anyone could ever get in this Hall of Fame driving in the Busch Series the way I did it, anyway. When we did it, we had different cars, we had different motors, we had different race tracks, and Darrell Waltrip and (Dale) Earnhardt and all them guys come in and race, and they basically got lapped. They just could not keep up."
Petty, 74, built the power plants that propelled his brother Richard to all seven championships, and most of his 200 race victories. In an era when engines were built painstakingly by hand, the "Chief" crafted the most potent motors of his day. Lee Petty, Buddy Baker, Jim Paschal, Pete Hamilton -- they all won races with the engines of Maurice Petty, who also worked as a truck driver, tire changer, and crew chief over the course of his long career.
But the most famous car to use the engines of the "Chief" was Richard Petty's No. 43. "There wouldn't be a Richard Petty, per se, accomplishing the things that he accomplished without a lot of people, but this is one of the main characters of the whole deal," the King said while inducting his brother. Maurice becomes the final member of a powerhouse Petty Enterprise team to earn induction, following father Lee, brother Richard, and cousin and crew chief Dale Inman.
"That's a full team. Very few Hall of Famers can brag about that," Richard said. "But the big deal is that it's really the end of Petty Enterprises, because we started in 1949. And now that my brother is in the Hall of Fame, then that pretty well closes the book on it."
Maurice Petty didn't have a dynamometer until 1969, before which his engines were tested solely on the race track. Despite a flurry of manufacturer and rules changes, his engines continued to power Richard and other drivers to one victory after another, paving his way to eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement.
"This is real great. Who would have ever thought that the whole family could have got into the Hall of Fame together?" Maurice said. "It's just like what I said out there in the speech. Come out with a little old community, not out in the woods, but it's pretty well out in the country, and now we've got four people in it. Everybody lives within a quarter mile of each other. It's great, I'm really tickled to death, proud of it."
Ingram, 77, also spent most of his career outside the spotlight. Known around short tracks as "Iron Man" because of a schedule that once included six races in one weekend, Ingram won three titles in the Late Model Sportsman Series that was the forerunner of today's Nationwide circuit. When that tour was modernized into what at the time was called the Busch Series, Ingram just kept on winning, adding another two crowns to his resume.
"I'm honored to be here tonight beyond words. This is a major lifetime achievement for me," Ingram said during his speech, in which he thanked everyone including his attorney and the guy who painted his race cars. He was introduced by none other than six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who joked he was chosen for "my stellar Nationwide and Busch series career" -- which to this point consist of a single race victory.
Not so for Ingram, who won more than 300 NASCAR-sanctioned races in a 30-year career over which he became an icon to the likes of Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, and others. Thirty-one of those victories came in what is now the Nationwide Series, where he finished outside the top five in final points just twice in nine seasons, and held the record for career wins until Martin broke it in 1977. Ingram remains fifth in all-time victories on the Nationwide tour.
And Wednesday night, it was clear he's still fiercely protective of his accomplishments.
"I didn't get credit for nothing hardly that I done in most of this news media and the TV people and everybody," Ingram lectured in the press room after the ceremony. "They want to talk about Mark Martin beating my record. Now, I was 45 years old when they're talking about that record. They think I dropped out of the sky at 45 and started racing? I won 317 NASCAR point races."
Now everyone will be able to read about it, thanks to the display that will forever honor him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.