The 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame class was made up of some of NASCAR’s biggest names. Lee Petty, Bud Moore, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison and David Pearson. Each left their own mark on the sport of NASCAR that has lasted decades and will continue to leave its impression for years to come. Unique in their own way, these five NASCAR legends were forever bound together by their common bond – racing stock cars.
A pioneer professional turned family patriarch to a racing dynasty. A war hero turned innovative mechanic and champion team owner. A championship driver turned broadcaster and ambassador. A do-it-yourself racer turned NASCAR champion. A tough-nosed mill town boy turned NASCAR legend.
These were not only great racers; they are great men and great inspirations for generations to come.
Lee Petty grew up as poor as poor could get, moving from house to house when rent was due, surviving the Great Depression and raising a family in rural North Carolina. When NASCAR began, Petty saw an opportunity. Borrowing a car, Petty loaded up his family and drove to the very first NASCAR race, held in Charlotte, N.C. in 1949.
Despite flipping that rented car, Petty was hooked. Converting an old barn at his home in Randleman, N.C., Petty started a family tradition that would span four generations and create one of the greatest family dynasties in all of sports.
“Lee Petty was the first professional race car driver NASCAR ever had,” Richard Petty said in a video tribute. “He was the first professional mechanic they had. He was the first professional owner. So, he was the staple that Bill France could build off of. If they were going to have a race, Lee Petty was going to be there.”
After winning the inaugural Daytona 500, becoming the first three time series champion and scoring 56 victories, a vicious wreck in the 1961 Daytona 500 ended his driving career. Out of the car, Lee Petty led Petty Enterprises with one goal, do the best you can to help the family.
His grandsons recalled not the highlights of the racing legend, instead the private lunches they had together nearly every day and life lessons he bestowed on them.
“He would tell us how he grew up as a child, and they were poor,” grandson Mark Petty recalled. “He remembered every time that the rent come due, they had to move. But he survived it. He told stories about how he survived the Great Depression as a 20 year old man. He also told us how whether it was the right way or wrong way, he put food on his table for his wife and two sons. He told us stories about when he started racing, hundreds of racing stories. I wish I could tell you all of them, but how he survived the early years of NASCAR.
"That's what he taught us all, my brothers, cousins, everybody. He taught us how to survive, how to survive tough times,” he added. “As you all know, last 10 years have been really tough times for the whole Petty family. But thanks to him, we're surviving.”
Bud Moore had his own ordeals he had to survive before his racing career, namely the D-Day invasion that took the 19-year-old South Carolinian to the shores of France, fighting to liberate the continent of Europe. Storming the beaches that day, Moore recalled jumping from his landing craft and struggling to get ashore in the neck-deep water, running across the beach to the safety of the dunes.
Safely making it through World War II, Moore became one of the best and brightest in the early days of NASCAR. Building motors and running teams out of his Spartanburg, S.C. shop, Moore developed some of the most innovative advances in technology, while molding some of the sport’s brightest stars.
“Me and Cotton Owens and Joe Eubanks, we all run around together before the war,” he recalled. “We were always out racing people at night with our little cars we had back then. I had a '36 Ford Roadster, Owens had a '39 Ford, Eubanks had a '39 Ford. Anybody that wanted to bet a little money, we would go out on the highway and run. Most of the time we wouldn't have more than three or four dollars, had to buy gas. After going to the war, coming back out, the biggest thing that got us interested (in racing).”
Among the list of drivers that drove for Bud Moore were Buck Baker, Speedy Thompson, Joe Weatherly, Tiny Lund, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt Sr., the list goes on and on.
Moore ran a tight ship in which things were done his way, but legendary radio personality Barney Hall recalled he knew how to have a good time, too.
“I'll be quite frank with you,” Hall said. “The first time I met Bud Moore and kind of hung around the pits with he and his boys, I thought he worked for Colonel Sanders. The reason was all they talked about was breasts, legs and thighs. They still do today.”
Celebrating his 86th birthday on May 25, Moore said being enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame was the biggest honor he had received.
“Looking back, I feel like I had a hand in a lot of contribution to our sport, whether it was running the first small block motor, the first two way radio, tire testing in Atlanta, or just trying to build a safe racecar,” he said. “Tonight, being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, those contributions are being honored.
“My daughter in law Carol Lee asked me how I remembered to be remembered,” he added. “The answer is simple: one who made many contributions to building the sport, whose handshake was as good as any contract who always gave a straight answer.
“Most of all, to be a remembered as a man who loved his family, country and the sport of racing.”
“Gentleman” Ned Jarrett was a force to be reckoned with on the track, but a generous family man off of it. Winning 50 races and two championships, Jarrett became one of the sport’s top drivers. Hanging up the helmet in 1966 shortly after his second championship, Jarrett would go on to promote Hickory Motor Speedway, the track that helped him get his start, and eventually became one of the most recognizable broadcasters in all of motorsports.
His Christian family values were something of a rarity in the earliest days of NASCAR, and they helped define Jarrett’s career moving forward. Raising three children with his wife Martha, Jarrett made an effort to provide as normal a family life as a traveling race car driver could. The effort paid off, as all three children – sons Dale and Glen, along with daughter Patti, all followed their father into NASCAR.
Later in his career, out from behind the wheel and away from the duties of promoting the race track, Jarrett moved into a career in broadcasting. First making inroads on the radio, Jarrett would eventually contribute to NASCAR broadcasts both in the pits and in the booth for CBS, ESPN and TNN. Perhaps his most memorable broadcast came in the 1993 Daytona 500 when he called the final lap for his son Dale’s first Daytona 500 victory.
“I'm humbled by this huge honor,” he said. “I don't take it lightly. I am so pleased the voting panel looked at all the various things I was privileged to do in this sport. I'm proud of my driving career, what we were able to accomplish on the racetrack in a relatively short period of time.
“I'm equally as proud to have been able to get on the ground floor of broadcasting races and cherish my time as a promoter at the Hickory Motor Speedway for nine years. I am thankful for all three of those distinct careers.”
At a very young age, Bobby Allison’s grandfather took him to a local car race in Hialeah, Fla. Watching from the grandstands, Allison knew he wanted to race from that day forward. Attempting to make his first ever race, Allison was forced to get written permission from his mother as he was only 17 years old.
“I said, ‘Mom, if you'll give me that written permission, I will improve my grades.’ Done deal,” he recalled. “But she thought she was giving me permission for one week, and I thought it was for a hundred years, and I won.”
Winning was something Bobby Allison became known for. Racing the local tracks in Florida, he eventually made the trip to Alabama and the state’s numerous short tracks. With the Alabama races more abundant and better paying, Allison eventually moved to the state for good.
Traveling to places such as Maine, New York and New Jersey – “Yankee land” as his brother Donnie called it – Allison and his group that included his brother and fellow race Red Farmer became forever known as “the Alabama Gang.”
Racing for a number of teams and in numerous makes of cars, Allison became of the fiercest competitors on the NASCAR circuit. Battling throughout the years with Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and others, Allison would officially win 84 career victories and the 1983 championship.
“I was just really determined to give it a hundred percent,” he said. “I kept running into people. Some of them weren't the key people, but at least some people in any one of these situations, and I know it's out there in the other businesses and professions in the world, but some of the people just weren't as committed. You know, if they didn't want to do it a hundred percent, I went down the road.
“I think about it. I did win 85 times. Scout's honor, 85 times. But just to try to put that into perspective a little bit, that was in nine different brands the cars for 14 different race teams. Now, the way I look at it now, I did drive pretty good most of the time. But, boy, I couldn't keep a job.”
The Scout’s honor touches on the hot topic of how many wins Allison truly has. Despite winning a 1971 race at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., NASCAR does not officially credit Allison with the victory – something that draws contention from the now Hall of Famer to this day.
The story of Bobby Allison and the entire Allison family is certainly not without its tragedy. After winning the 1988 Daytona 500 with his son Davey finishing second, a wreck in Pocono nearly ended his life and ended his career. Lucky to be alive, Allison lost much of his memory, including the historic race just months before.
Unfortunately, the story does not end there. The Allison’s lost their son Clifford in a practice accident at the Michigan International Speedway in 1992. Eleven months to the day later, their other son Davey was killed after crashing a helicopter at the Talladega Superspeedway.
“We lost Clifford, we lost Davey. That was just so hard on me and (wife) Judy,” he said. “You know, the world I hope never is that cruel to any other family again. But it happened. We survived it. People helped us and supported us. I just really appreciate that.”
There are many out there in the world of NASCAR – fans, media, drivers, etc. – that believe David Pearson, not Richard Petty, was the greatest driver in NASCAR history. Winning 105 races in only 574 races, a winning percentage of 18.29, Pearson became of the sport’s most successful drivers despite never running a full season.
Still, the Silver Fox – as he became known – recorded three championships and one Daytona 500 victory. That win will forever be shown on the highlight reel, as he and rival Richard Petty wrecked on the final lap coming to the checkered flag.
That wreck epitomized the rivalry that brewed between the Silver Fox and the King. Pushing each other to their best, Pearson and Petty battled on the track and in the record book, while fans reaped the benefits.
“I want to thank Richard Petty, too,” Pearson said in his acceptance speech. “He's probably the one that made me win as many as I did. I run hard because he'd make me run hard. Sometimes he would make a mistake and I'd pass him. Of course, I didn't never make no mistakes. Always accused him of having big engines when he passed me.
“Like I say, I've had more fun running with him than anybody I ever run with 'cause I know if I ever went to a racetrack and he was there, if I could beat him, I'd win the race.”
Partnering with the Wood Brothers, Pearson and the famed No. 21 set their sights on victory lane each and every time they showed up to the track. Earning the nickname the Silver Fox, Pearson would take care of his equipment for the majority of the race and capitalize when it matter most – the closing laps.
“First race he drove for the Wood Brothers, he sat on pole, won the race, then went on to win six out of a total of 17 that year,” Leonard Wood said. “1973, he won 11 out of 18 starts. 1976, he won 10 out of 22 starts, including the famous Daytona 500, plus the Triple Crown that year. He won a total of 43 races. Nice number,” he said as he smiled and looked toward Petty.
“If I would have stayed with the Wood Brothers and they was running for the championship, I would like to run for the championship with them,” Pearson said. “They were good. They had good cars. No telling how many championships I could have won if I'd have been with somebody like that.”
Pearson was a tough-nosed racer that intimidated drivers long before the days of the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt Sr. Story goes Buddy Baker was dog-tired during one of the more grueling races. Working himself to the bone to run up front, Baker looked over as Pearson passed him with ease and could not believe his eyes. There was Pearson, lighting a cigarette as he passed.
He walked with a swagger, wore big sunglasses, was never lacking in confidence and enjoyed the trophy queens in victory lane.
“I kissed her pretty good at the end of the race and my wife got all over me,” Pearson said in the video tribute. “I said, ‘Lookey here, that’s part of winning. They want me to do that for the cameras.”
Still to this day, Pearson walks with confidence and does so justly. One of the sport’s fiercest competitors, he is now officially enshrined as one of the sport’s finest.