Ned Jarrett in car 11 races to the outside of Jim Paschal at Nashville in 1961.
Timing is everything. We tend to remember when it didn’t go our way. The bad memories can linger for years. As I get older I choose to recall better times and the nice moments in life that fall into my lap. At a recent dinner, through sheer chance, my timing was perfect. And I got to chat with Ned Jarrett.
Attending a reception before the night’s main program near the Charlotte area brought a nice opportunity to talk with one of the men who helped build NASCAR. Jarrett calmly walked into the plush meeting room. Dressed in a jacket and tie like all the men, he blended in with much of the crowd.
Appearing relaxed and enjoying the night, Jarrett walked over to another racing writer I happened to be talking to. They started conversing and I was privy to some bench racing stories from their television work together.
I have started doing some radio work and this was a great time to speak to one of the sport’s pioneers about his own long radio career.
“I started recording some when I was still driving,” Jarrett said. “When I retired I took it up a little bit more. That eventually began ‘Ned Jarrett’s World of Racing’ which I just stopped doing last year.” Jarrett’s show is a daily syndicated racing update that still airs, but without the 50-time race winner hosting.
He spoke of his humble broadcast beginnings. Years before Motor Racing Network was formed and generations before any NASCAR television contract existed, Jarrett was involved with local AM radio. “There is a lot of history in that building," he said. "Jerry Punch worked in radio up there too.”
For the many racing trophies the North Carolina native has earned behind the wheel, he has carved a recognizable career from behind a microphone. The broadcasting world is still part of his life. “I have a small studio in my house," he said. "Dale comes by to record some spots sometimes.”
Now with no weekly radio or television commitments, Jarrett “plays golf and spends time with my grandkids.”
His eyes and attention veer away as he smiles and waves at friends who pass by and want to say hello and chat. Sensing it is time to move on and not overstay my welcome, I shake his hand and thank him for talking with me. Jarrett has no trouble finding his next conversation. Several people are in the area leaning against high top bar tables looking forward to their own few minutes with him.
The cocktail gathering turned to dinner. Jarrett never was at a loss for someone who wanted to shake his hand and bend his ear for a few moments, much like I had. The man seemed accommodating to everyone and usually had a smile on his face.
Later that evening Jarrett received the Barney Hall Award from the National Motorsports Press Association. Named after MRN announcer Hall, the award recognizes outstanding service and exceptional achievement in the field of motor sports broadcasting.
Jarrett is a two-time Grand National Series champion but better known today for his voice going out over the airwaves. The friendly man was polite and interested in this stranger who introduced himself and wanted to talk about a particular portion of his life. With it being a large gathering, I wished more time had been possible with the NASCAR legend.
From my experience that evening, I can honestly say he wasn’t given the nickname Gentleman Ned. He earned it.
(Patrick Reynolds is the co-host of the One and Done auto racing talk show Tuesdays 11am ET on www.wsicweb.com )
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