News & Media

Class of '12 filled with gratitude and emotion

January 22, 2012, Joe Menzer,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough, it was well worth the wait.

After anticipating their turns to get into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, sometimes with more than a touch of impatience, the legendary drivers headed up the third class of five during an elaborate induction ceremony on Friday night in the Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center. Also inducted were eight-time championship crew chief Dale Inman, nine-time championship modified driver Richie Evans and legendary car owner and driver Glen Wood.

All were deserving, but Waltrip and Yarborough were the stars of the show -- much as they were at the height of their prowess as two of the greatest drivers NASCAR has ever known.

"People always said, 'Oh, you're going to get in sooner or later.' Well, I would rather it have been sooner than later, because you just never know," Waltrip said. "This is a big relief. But if you compare statistics, I think I'm right about where I should be."

Waltrip won three championships in NASCAR's top series while capturing 84 race victories, which ties him with Bobby Allison for fourth all time. All three of Waltrip's titles came while he drove for car owner and inaugural Hall of Fame inductee Junior Johnson.

Waltrip often feuded with Allison and Yarborough and others during his mercurial and sometimes controversial driving career. Yarborough once nicknamed him "Jaws" because he thought Waltrip talked too much -- and Waltrip fittingly has gone on to carve out a second career in racing as a popular television analyst in the sport.

"This is a red-letter night, you have to admit," Waltrip said shortly after being called to center stage. "Bobby Allison said I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. Does anyone know how big that was? And he swears they didn't put a gun to his head to make him say it."

Waltrip, however, has made a habit of turning on-track enemies into lifetime friends through the years. Ironically, it was Yarborough who suggested to Johnson that Waltrip replace him as that team's driver in 1981, after Yarborough decided to cut back on his own schedule.

"When Cale said he was going to cut back on his schedule in 1980, he came to me before anyone else," Waltrip said. "Cale has been one of my best friends through the years. He gave me that great tip to go run for Junior -- and how many guys can say they have a friend who gave them such a great nickname?"

Yarborough amassed 83 race victories in 562 career starts in NASCAR's top series. Four of them came in the Daytona 500 -- a mark that ranks second only to Richard Petty's seven in the sport's biggest race. Twenty-eight of those wins came during a remarkable stretch when Yarborough won three consecutive championships beginning in 1976. No driver was able to match that until Jimmie Johnson did so during his recent run of five consecutive titles.

Yarborough recalled getting his start in racing by sweeping floors at the Holman Moody race shop for 25 cents an hour, and how there was a time when he and his family ate black-eyed peas for "breakfast, lunch and dinner" because they were on sale for 10 cents a can and it was all they could afford.

"This is a thank-you night for me. All I can do is thank the people who made it possible for me to climb that long, tough ladder," said Yarborough, who, like Waltrip, then spent much of his time behind the microphone thanking family and friends for lifetimes of support. And like Waltrip, he also thanked God.

Both drivers also were quick to heap thanks on Junior Johnson. Like Waltrip, Yarborough won all three of his titles with Johnson as his car owner. Now they're all in the Hall of Fame together.

Yarborough recalled first hooking up with Johnson.

"Junior was looking for a driver and I was looking for a ride. We hooked up and what a good ride it was," Yarborough said. "Had I stayed with Junior, who knows how many championships we could have won?"

Of course, Yarborough and Waltrip weren't the only ones inducted into the Hall Friday night.

Inman, who won eight championships in NASCAR's top series, became the first crew chief to be enshrined. Inman registered seven of his championships and the vast majority of his 200-plus race wins on top the pit box for his second cousin, Richard Petty. He also was crew chief for Terry Labonte when Labonte won the 1984 title.

"Way back when, there wasn't no such thing as a crew chief. ... Dale was basically the first one. He's the one who basically started the crew chief operation," Petty said.

Inman was nearly overwhelmed with joy and joked that now he has a Hall ring to rival the one Petty earned as a member of the inaugural inductee class three years ago.

"I just want to thank everybody. It's been such a big night, really a thrill for me," Inman said.

* Caraviello: Inman blazes trail for crew chiefs to Hall of Fame

Also inducted were Glen Wood of Wood Brothers Racing and Evans, the "King of the Modifieds."

Wood, a driver as well as legendary car owner and sometime mechanic, was honored by his younger brother Leonard Wood, who said that above all else, "Glen was always fair, honest, gave good advice. You needed no more than a handshake with him."

Yarborough heaped praised on Glen Wood during his own acceptance speech, adding: "I am so honored and so pleased to be inducted in the same class with Glen Wood. It's so great that it turned out this way."

Evans, who passed away in a 1985 accident during a modified practice for a feature race at Martinsville Speedway, was honored posthumously. His widow, Lynn Evans, accepted the honor on her late husband's behalf.

"I know you're here in spirit," she said of him.

Waltrip took a moment during his acceptance speech to acknowledge Evans' greatness.

"I want to congratulate Richie Evans' family. ... Richie Evans was the best wheelman I ever saw," Waltrip said.