Jack Ingram, winner of five NASCAR championships and more than 300 races during his career, has died. The Avery’s Creek, North Carolina, native and 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee was 84.
Ingram was a force in NASCAR Sportsman competition during the 1970s, winning championships in 1972, ’73 and ’74. He continued to whip the competition when the series underwent major changes and emerged as the Busch Series (now Xfinity) in 1982.
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The shorter schedule for the new series “was like taking a holiday,” he said in a 2014 interview. His record certainly seemed to indicate as much – Ingram won a series-leading seven times en route to the inaugural title, finishing with 24 top-10 results in 29 starts.
He outpointed fellow North Carolinian Sam Ard by 49 points to capture the ’82 crown.
‘When I ran for the (Late Model Sportsman) championship in ’72, I ran 81 races,” Ingram once recalled. “In ’73 I ran 84 (races). … But in order to win a championship in those days, you had to run everywhere, including the weekly events … which still counted toward the national title.”
All those races and all those wins eventually led to Ingram being dubbed the Iron Man, a fitting sobriquet for the hard-nosed racer who could race as hard, or as smart, as anyone filling his mirror or his windshield.
After finishing second to Ard for the championship in 1983 and ’84, Ingram captured his fifth and final NASCAR title in ’85, beating out Jimmy Hensley for the Xfinity Series crown.
In addition to two runner-up finishes in the points battle, Ingram placed third in ’86 and fourth in ’87.
“There is no better way to describe Jack Ingram than ‘Iron Man,'” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. “Jack was a fixture at short tracks across the Southeast most days of the week, racing anywhere and everywhere. He dominated the Late Model Sportsman division like few others. He set the bar for excellence in the Xfinity Series as its Most Popular Driver in 1982 and champion in 1985. Jack was an “old school racer” and his work on his own car helped propel him to Victory Lane hundreds of times. Of our current 58 NASCAR Hall of Fame members, he is one of only six that was elected based on his career and contributions in the grassroots level of our sport. On behalf of the France family and NASCAR, I offer my condolences to the friends and family of NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram.”
Ingram’s nine years of full-time competition in the Xfinity Series saw him score 31 victories – a record that stood until it was broken by Cup Series regular Mark Martin in 1997.
He ended his Xfinity Series career with 122 top-five and 164 top-10 finishes in just 275 starts.
Ingram’s accomplishments stood out “because he was the driver, crew chief, car owner and chief bottle washer on his team for most of his career,” the late Jim Hunter, longtime NASCAR official who passed in 2010, once noted. “He was a no-nonsense, get-in-your-face, hard-nosed, fender-scraping racer who took no prisoners on the track.
“In spite of his hard-nosed temperament, Jack was … very popular among his peers.”
Ingram scored his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win in 1982 at Hickory (North Carolina) Speedway, capturing the Mountain Dew 300. The .363-mile track would prove to be a favorite – eight of his 31 career wins came there.
Ingram was at his best on the series’ short tracks, but he proved he could win elsewhere, too, snatching victories at treacherous Darlington Raceway as well as the Milwaukee Mile.
But his most memorable win, Ingram often said, came in 1975 during his Late Model Sportsman days when he drove a slightly mangled No. 11 entry to the victory in the 11th annual Permatex 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
With plenty of tape covering damage to the right side of the windshield, Ingram drove away from runner-up Joe Millikan and third-place Harry Gant for the popular victory.
The race, broadcast by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,’ thrust Ingram into the spotlight and earned him fans from all across the U.S. as well as several foreign countries.
Ingram recounted the Daytona victory prior to his NASCAR Hall of Fame induction in 2014, noting that NASCAR officials were going to black flag the racer for damage to the windshield. However, veteran Cup owner Junior Johnson, acting as Ingram’s crew chief, convinced officials a little tape would solve the problem.
“Junior said he would fix it and they believed Junior,” Ingram said. “Now, he didn’t fix it but he taped it up and they let me finish the race and we won and that was the best time of my whole racing career.”
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His final victory in the series came in 1987 and fittingly, it also came at Hickory Speedway.
By the time he finally decided to call it quits in 1991, he had 317 career wins in NASCAR-sanctioned events.
A former plumber and pipe fitter, Ingram attended his first race when he was 14 years old. “I saw a poster on a utility pole (advertising) stock car racing,” He told RPM2night.com in 2014. “I was fascinated by automobiles already. Me and my friend decided we’d ride our bicycles to Asheville-Weaverville Speedway (to see the race). I didn’t even know it existed.”
Like more than a few kids and some adults at the time, Ingram “slipped under the fence” to see the race. What he saw amazed the young teen.
“Banjo Matthews and Cotton Owens, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Joe Lee Johnson … it was a modified race,” Ingram recalled. “That was the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen.”
Ingram once ran six short track races in five states in a five-day span. It was the Labor Day holiday weekend in 1973 and tracks across the country were hosting shows. Ingram began his six-race stint with a victory at Columbia, South Carolina, on Thursday, then hauled his familiar No. 11 entry to Beltsville, Maryland, the next night where he finished second. The following evening found him competing at Lonesome Pine Speedway in Coeburn, Virginia. (where he won again) and from there it was a short jaunt down the highway to Maryville, Tennessee, and Smoky Mountain Raceway for win No. 3.
A flight put him in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Labor Day Monday where he ran fifth in an afternoon race and by that evening he was back in the Volunteer state, finishing fourth in the Late Model feature at Nashville Fairgrounds.
Between 1964 and 1985, Ingram also made 19 starts in NASCAR’s premier series. His best finish was runner-up to Richard Petty in the 1967 Buddy Shuman 250 at Hickory. Ingram finished one lap down to the winner while it was one of a record 10 consecutive victories for Petty that year.
Oct. 5, 1991 was declared “Jack Ingram Day” by North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin in recognition of Ingram’s racing accomplishments.