Dale Jarrett reaches Hall of Fame after getting second chance on Cup circuit

dscott@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 26, 2014 


    Born: Nov. 26, 1956, Conover.

    Family: Wife Kelly; Jason, Zachary, Natalee and Karsyn.

    Career Highlights: Began career in 1977, running the Limited Sportsman Division at Hickory Speedway, his hometown track, managed for a while by his father. … A charter member of the NASCAR Busch Series in 1982, posting 14 top-10 finishes. ... Made his debut in the Winston Cup Series in 1984, at Martinsville Speedway, starting 24th and finishing 14th. … Busch career produced 11 wins, 173 top 10s and 15 poles. … Joined the Cup Series full time in 1987, driving for Eric Freedlander. … Big break came in 1990 when he was chosen by the famed Wood Brothers team to replace an injured Neil Bonnett in their No. 21 Fords. Posted seven top 10s. … First Cup triumph came on Aug. 18, 1991, edging Davey Allison by 10 inches in the Champion 400 at Michigan International Speedway, a race that perhaps ranks as the track’s all-time thriller. … In 1992 joined a new racing team owned by Joe Gibbs. ... Swept his Chevrolet past Dale Earnhardt on the last lap to win the 1993 Daytona 500 by 0.16 seconds. … Again won the Daytona 500 in 1996, with Robert Yates Racing, and added major victories in Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where his winning team started the “kiss the bricks” tradition. …Won seven times in ’97, including superspeedway victories at Atlanta, Darlington, Pocono and Charlotte. Finished second in the championship chase by 14 points to Jeff Gordon. Won the Cup championship in 1999 on the basis of four wins and 24 top-five finishes in 34 starts. His victories included Daytona’s Pepsi 400 and another Brickyard title. … Won the Daytona 500 for the third time to start the 2000 tour. … Retired after the 2008 all-star race in May at Charlotte. ... Cup career produced 32 victories, 260 top 10s, 16 poles and winnings of $59,812,759. … Hired almost immediately as a member of the ESPN/ABC motorsports telecast team, and he continues in a that role.

    Tom Higgins’ reflections

    Hall of Fame voter and former Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins remembers Dale Jarrett:

    I first saw him: On Sept. 6, 1965 when Dale, then 9, joined his father Ned, mom Martha and siblings Glenn and Patti in the Southern 500 Victory Lane at Darlington Raceway. Ned had won the race by 14 laps, the largest victory margin in NASCAR history. Dale was overjoyed and glowing, and later said he vowed that day to become a race driver, too.

    My favorite memory of him: His masterfully executed, exciting last-lap pass of Dale Earnhardt to win the 1993 Daytona 500 and all that transpired in those moments. In the CBS telecast booth, anchor Ken Squier turned the microphone over to Ned Jarrett for the call. Ned dramatically coached his son (as if he could hear him) through the final 2 1/2 miles, and as the checkered flag waved, the proud dad yelled “Dale Jarrett is going to win the Daytona 500!” Meanwhile, in the infield compound reserved for drivers’ families, it appeared that mom Martha Jarrett was hyperventilating and about to faint.

    Most memorable quote: Before to his Cup Series retirement at Bristol’s Food City 500 in 2008, Dale addressed his fellow drivers with this poignant message: “Enjoy this. We all have our time in it, and mine has been fantastic. To me, it has been an honor and a privilege to be able to race in this series and say I raced with and against – and sometimes beat – the best in the world. Thanks for allowing me to do that. Enjoy it. It’s a great sport, and you guys make it what it is.”

  • Want to watch or go?

    The Hall of Fame induction ceremony begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday andn will be televised on Fox Sports 1. Tickets start at $45 and are available at and at the Hall of Fame box office.

    NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2014 Profiles

    Saturday: Jack Ingram

    Sunday: Glenn ‘‘Fireball’’ Roberts

    Monday: Dale Jarrett

    Tuesday: Maurice Petty

    Wednesday: Tim Flock

Dale Jarrett was watching NASCAR’s 1990 spring Cup race at Darlington, S.C., on television from his Catawba County home when Neil Bonnett’s car slammed into the water barrels in front of pit road.

Bonnett’s crash didn’t look to be too serious initially, at least not to Jarrett, who had won on that same track the night before in the Busch Series, or what currently is the Nationwide Series.

Jarrett soon would hear differently. And what transpired over the next few days would re-kindle a career that seemed to have stalled before it really started – and into one that will be celebrated Wednesday when Jarrett is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte.

Jarrett, then 32, was driving exclusively on the Busch Series during 1990. The son of racing legend and Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett, Dale had started racing in Busch Series in 1982 before moving up to Cup in 1984. After driving for various teams in both series over the next seven years, he suddenly was a driver without a Cup ride as the 1990 season unfolded.

The reason is a familiar one in racing: Jarrett’s Cale Yarborough Motorsports team was losing major sponsorship.

“That was eye-opening,” Jarrett said. “It was one of the pitfalls of the sport my dad had always warned me about.”

Driving only in the Busch Series, Jarrett was reduced to being a Cup spectator in 1990.

Two days after watching Bonnett wreck at Darlington, Jarrett’s phone rang. On the other end was Eddie Wood of the famed Wood Brothers, owners of Bonnett’s No. 21 Ford.

Bonnett had what would turn out to be a concussion, Wood told Jarrett. The team wanted Jarrett to be Bonnett’s replacement driver for that week’s race in Bristol, Tenn.

“Eddie told me it could be for one, two or five races. They didn’t know,” Jarrett recalled recently. “I told them I’d take whatever they had.”

Jarrett would finish 11th at Bristol. Bonnett didn’t return that year; his injury was serious enough that he would retire (although he attempted two comebacks before dying in a crash during practice in Daytona Beach, Fla., during 1994).

Jarrett finished that season with seven top-10s and a fourth at the season-ending race at Atlanta. That was enough for the Wood Brothers to ask him back.

And a Hall of Fame career truly would be launched.

Jarrett would win his first Cup race in 1991 at Michigan. And although that was his only full season with the Wood Brothers, Jarrett used it to vault into NASCAR’s elite.

“We knew Dale was going to be a really good driver for us,” Eddie Wood said. “He was one of those drivers who would never, ever give up. It didn’t matter if he was two or three laps down; he just kept coming. That always impressed us.”

The security offered by the Woods’ full-time ride helped Jarrett develop as a driver.

“When you have that, you’re more relaxed,” Jarrett said. “You don’t feel like every week might be your last week. You can enjoy what you do. If you don’t know what you’re doing next week or next year, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Whether it’s business or sports, you can’t be at your best. It builds up a huge amount of stress.”

In 1992, Jarrett left the Wood Brothers to become the first driver for a new team owned by a Super Bowl-winning football coach named Joe Gibbs.

Eddie Wood said the Wood Brothers would have liked to have kept Jarrett longer. But they understood the nature of the business and held no grudges. Gibbs faxed a note to the Woods on Washington Redskins letterhead, thanking them for allowing him to hire Jarrett.

Jarrett drove for Gibbs for three years before leaving in 1995 for Robert Yates Racing. He would have his biggest successes with Yates, winning the 1999 Cup title and Daytona 500 in 1996 and 2000.

Now 57, Jarrett eventually would win 32 Cup races and will join four others – Maurice Petty, Jack Ingram, Fireball Roberts and Tim Flock – in the Hall of Fame’s fifth class.

“Second chances don’t do any good,” Jarrett said, “if you don’t do something with them.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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