Variety Spices NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Third Class

“A legend for everyone” describes the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s third class of inductees enshrined tonight, Friday, Jan. 20.

Here’s the versatile list. Dale Inman – an eight-time champion, he’s the first to be inducted based on his primary role as a crew chief. Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough – a pair of three-time NASCAR premier series champions, who won a combined 167 races. Glen Wood – the legendary car owner whose team has raced in seven decades, compiling 98 wins. And the late Richie Evans – a nine-time NASCAR Modified champion, the first to be inducted from outside NASCAR’s premier division.

Their induction ceremony – held in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte Convention Center – increased the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s membership to 15.

Inman, Richard Petty’s first cousin, is generally credited with inventing the modern role of crew chief. He won seven championships with Petty Enterprises and an eighth with Billy Hagan and driver Terry Labonte in 1984. Randleman County, N.C.’s Inman, 75, who retired from the sport in 1998, won 193 times. The list of current NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chiefs learning at Inman’s side is a lengthy one.

“I’m kind of familiar with this ring,” said Inman, referring to his NASCAR Hall of Fame ring. “For the last two or three years Richard has put it in my face a bunch of times.”

As host Mike Joy said, “Tonight, Dale Inman and Richard are together again, as NASCAR Hall of Fame members.”

Like Ned Jarrett, a member of the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Waltrip is both champion driver and distinguished television broadcaster. Waltrip won championships in 1981-82 and 1985 driving for NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson. The Owensboro, Ky., native won 84 times in 809 starts ranking fourth on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup victory list with Bobby Allison, also a member of the Hall’s second class. Waltrip, 64, has been the lead NASCAR on FOX analyst since 2001.

“I was telling [wife] Stevie earlier this week that I hoped I wouldn’t get emotional tonight, but she reminded me ‘Honey, you always get emotional about the things you are passionate about,’” Waltrip said. “This night, these men, and the people in this room, they’re what inspire me.”

Wood, a four-time NASCAR premier series winner, left the driver’s seat to own the fabled No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford team. With his four brothers, who include NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and crew chief Leonard Wood, the organization counts 98 victories, including its fifth Daytona 500 win in 2011 with 20-year-old Trevor Bayne. Those who drove for the 86-year-old Wood’s Stuart, Va.-based team included fellow inductee Yarborough, NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, A.J. Foyt and road racer Dan Gurney.

“This is not just about me being inducted in the Hall of Fame,” said Wood.  “It’s also about the Wood Brothers.  And it’s about NASCAR.  And I’m proud to have been a NASCAR driver and car owner for the past 60 years, and I’m proud of this great honor.”

Yarborough, a native of Sardis, S.C., made NASCAR premier series history in 1978 when he won his third consecutive championship, a record that stood until Jimmie Johnson claimed his fourth straight title in 2009. Yarborough, now 72, won 83 times – sixth all-time – including four Daytona 500s. The majority of his wins came in cars fielded by Junior Johnson.

“Racing is like a big, tall ladder,” Yarborough said. “When you begin, you’re at the bottom. And it’s a long, hard climb. And tonight, I feel like I’m standing on the top step.”

Evans, nicknamed the “Rapid Roman” by virtue of racing out of Rome, N.Y., won nine championships over a 13-year span – including eight in a row – driving modified stock cars, primarily a race car fashioned from pre-World War II coupes and sedans powered by high horsepower engines. His bright orange No. 61 cars became legendary throughout the northeastern U.S. Evans won an estimated 475 times frequently racing seven nights a week. He lost his life at the age of 44 in 1985 practicing for a race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, having clinched his ninth championship a week prior.

“I know you’re here in spirit as the number 61 [Evans’ racing number] appears often in my life, even as I checked into the hotel the number 61 came up,” said Lynn Evans, who accepted on her departed husband’s behalf. “I’d especially like to thank the Hall of Fame voting panel for stepping outside the box and making Rich the first driver inductee not to have raced in NASCAR’s top series full time.  You have now given hope to thousands of NASCAR competitors throughout the country to maybe someday reach their dream. ”

The inductors for the five inductees: crew chief Billy Nacewicz for Evans; Richard Petty for Dale Inman; Jeff Hammond for Darrell Waltrip; Leonard Wood for Glen Wood; and Ken Squier for Cale Yarborough.

Special congratulatory videos opened each inductee’s segment, with a NASCAR legend starring in each. Those involved: Jerry Cook for Evans; Leonard Wood for Inman; Bobby Allison for Waltrip; Junior Johnson for Wood; and Donnie Allison for Yarborough.

The five inductee exhibits officially open Sunday, Jan. 22 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.