It’s the most commonly asked question a non-fan will ask rhetorically about NASCAR fan loyalty: what’s the big deal about this thing about driving around in circles for 500 miles? Take a look at this year’s NASCAR Hall of Fame class, and this observer submits you will understand better.
The racing is important, but there is more to it than that. There’s a spirit within the racers, the race fans and others associated with NASCAR that is distinctively American, compelling in a way that no other racing sport can offer. Consider this….
Walter “Bud” Moore describes himself as a “country mechanic” that liked to make cars go fast. With that human fascination with speed, Moore had a hand as crew chief and owner for the likes of Buck Baker, Joe Weatherly, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and fellow inductee David Pearson. Fans love a winner; with 63 wins, 3 Grand National championships and 43 poles as owner, Bud Moore was- and is- a winner.
Fans also love scrappers. Bobby Allison- the leader of the legendary “Alabama Gang”- didn’t back down from anybody. He won 84 races and a championship in a career that found him going toe to toe with everyone from Richard Petty to Dale Earnhardt. His passion also fueled an intimate knowledge of the race car like few others. It is said of Allison, if he could have done it all on his race team- the engine building, the pit stops, the crew chiefing- he would have done it.
Lee Petty’s story is a fascinating American tale. Growing up hardscrabble in North Carolina, he did everything from selling biscuits to running a trucking company. He came late to racing in his mid-thirties, but few accomplished more. Son Richard says Lee’s “m.o.” was not to over drive the car but be to there at the end, running somewhere in the top five, knowing that there was more money in finishing fifth, than ending up in 25th, using up the car. The approach worked, with 54 wins,three championships, and Petty as the patriarch for one of NASCAR’s great dynasties.
While there are those fans who like fighters, there are also fans who enjoy a gentleman. Enter Ned Jarrett. It was Jarrett who sold one of his old race cars to pioneer Wendell Scott to help him along. While you could say Jarrett was the “original Mark Martin,” Dale’s Daddy was more than a nice guy. He too, was a winner, taking the checkered flag 50 times, and collecting two championship trophies to boot. He swapped the helmet for a microphone at age 35, and there set the standard for former racers as ambassadors for the sport. NASCAR needs well-spoken men to balance the grit, and there’s of whom a fan can be more proud of than Ned Jarrett.
While the masses argue whether it was The King or The Intimidator that was the greatest- one could make the argument that the honor belongs to NASCAR’s greatest closer- David Pearson, “The Silver Fox.” He had all the great qualities: focus, calm under pressure, decision-making skills, and he wasn’t afraid to mix it up either. A winner of 3 titles and 105 races, the only reason he didn’t have even more is because he chose to run a limited schedule nearly his entire career. Check this out: in 1973, the South Carolinian ran 18 races…..and won 11. There are great men in this Hall of Fame. David Pearson is a Giant.
These titans are touchstones, a reminder of what we love about racing. Each has possesses their own tales of triumph that thrill the spirit and lift the soul. To remember them, to honor them not only warms the heart, it sets the standard, defining true greatness in a realm where hyperbole can too easily be thrown around. The stuff that makes up Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore, David Pearson and Lee Petty is what fans and this fan love about NASCAR.
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