I wrote about the achievements (and occasional failures) of drivers David Pearson and Bobby Allison and team owner Bud Moore – for whom Allison drove from 1978-81. Allison, in fact, won the ’78 Daytona 500 in Moore’s Ford.
“Have a swig of my champagne,” Moore said to me in the press box after the race, holding out the bottle he took from victory lane. I told him no, I had to work. Thinking back on it, I wish I had taken a slug.
Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett had retired before my tenure as a motorsports journalist began, so I didn’t have the opportunity to see them race.
But I certainly heard all the stories about them and, like so many others, soon grew to appreciate their contributions and place in NASCAR history.
I consider myself fortunate to have interviewed them multiple times.
When I spoke with Petty about racing in his day, he always emphasized how difficult it was for him, his peers and their families.
The schedule was grueling, he said. The work was hard, the travel intense and the financial rewards were decidedly less than they were for the succeeding generation, which included his son Richard.
At first I thought he was nothing but a bitter old man. But soon I learned that Lee Petty was simply a man who called it as he saw it.
“Heck, daddy was the same when he was racing,” Richard once said.
The elder Petty had a sense of humor. After his retirement he became an avid golfer. At a media-guest tournament, I once asked him about his game and what he thought he could do to improve it.
“There’s not much I can do,” he said. “But I can tell you this: They need to make that itty-bitty hole a lot bigger.”
Jarrett became a crackerjack radio and television announcer and, as such, those of us in the media simply thought of him as a member of our clan.
He was, without a doubt, the friendliest, most unassuming and least cynical of us all.
It seemed he was interviewed as often as he interviewed others.
As fate would have it, I became Jarrett’s colleague when he and I joined Stephanie Durner on the set of the television show “Inside NASCAR,” which was presented on TNN at the turn of the 21st century.
Jarrett was the consummate professional. He used his experience to masterfully anchor the show. When it came to mistakes, and for him they were few, he was harder on himself than any producer or director could have ever been.
One summer, circumstances dictated that Jarrett and I would be the show’s only panelists – it was up to the two of us to make it work.
I was scared to death. Not to say I hadn’t grown accustomed to the nuances of television. Rather, I wasn’t certain I’d be able to offer enough input and opinion to pick up the slack.
In other words, good heavens, was Jarrett going to have to do virtually all the talking?
He didn’t. He didn’t have to. As the consummate anchor he was, Jarrett knew how to lead a discussion and draw me into it. Soon we engaged in lively – even fun – debates.
In the years since, I have often told Jarrett my thoughts about the television experience with him, how much I learned and how much I enjoyed it.
In response, he always smiled and said, “Thank you.”
Finally, in this unabashed personal recollection of the newest inductees in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, when I saw Donnie Allison speak about his brother during the induction ceremony, I was reminded of an incident that played a role in both their careers – especially Donnie’s.
Ironically, it happened in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule, which was known as the World 600 on May 24, 1981.
Bobby Allison, driving for Harry Ranier, won the race over Harry Gant to earn the 64th of his 84 career wins.
His brother Donnie, driving for John Rebhan, was involved in a bad crash on lap 152, when his car spun out of control, bounced off the wall and into the path of a speeding Dick Brooks, driving for Billy Matthews.
The impact between Allison and Brooks was horrendous.
Allison was unconscious when removed from his car. At the hospital he was declared “unsatisfactory but stable.” He suffered several fractured ribs, a bruised right lung, a broken left knee and a broken right shoulder blade.
Brooks suffered a double fracture of the right shoulder.
It wasn’t the end of Donnie’s career, but it might as well have been. He competed in only six races before the accident put him out of commission for the remainder of 1981.
He drove in only 19 more events from 1982-88.
We all recognize achievement and know that it is what ultimately propels men into the Hall of Fame.
Given that, I daresay many of us also have personal, fond recollections of those already inducted – and those that will come.
I consider myself fortunate to be one.