The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011 may never be Equaled

Dale Wilkerson                                                   May 2010


Growing up as a fan of automobile racing, especially of NASCAR racing, the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011 for the NASCAR Hall of Fame is filled with some of my heroes as a kid.
I didn’t get to see Lee Petty or Ned Jarrett race since I was born about mid-season 1965 as Jarrett was driving his 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 to his second championship.
My father had us load up one Friday night to go to the Thunderbird Drive-In to see a movie titled “The Petty Story” about Richard Petty and his family. Seeing the crash that Lee Petty had was a horrible sight and it was hard to believe Lee, and the other driver that was involved in the wreck Johnny Beauchamp, survived the crash. After seeing that movie, I found out more about his career and realized I had missed seeing one of the best racers ever.
Ned Jarrett was one of the voices on the radio broadcast that helped to paint the picture of most races for me. Television coverage was spotty and most often tape delayed. My parents, (Willie Merle and Martha Jane Wilkerson) would sometimes get us to gather a few things and take off after church for a picnic normally in the nearby North Carolina Mountains.
During these picnics, or other trips when a race was on the airways, Ned Jarrett made the pit crews sound like superheroes as they would dodge other cars to complete pit work to get their driver back on track.
Daddy was a David Pearson fan, and if Pearson started making a run for the lead, daddy’s foot seemed to always get a little heavier. Mama was then and is still a Bobby Allison fan and even though she would voice her displeasure in Daddy dropping the hammer, she would get just as excited over Bobby catching David.
Daddy always told us just how good Ned Jarrett was also. “Ned was smooth on a dirt track. He would save his car until it was time to go for it,” my father once said.
I guess that was why Daddy pulled for Pearson and why he owned three different 1965 Ford Galaxie 500s over the years before his death in 1985.
Pearson was from Spartanburg and Daddy liked him, so he became my driver too along with James Hylton, who settled down in my hometown of Inman. Bud Moore’s cars always ran well and if Pearson or Hylton wasn’t in contention, I would fall in line with Moore’s car or one of the others that called Spartanburg home.
Pearson always sounded a step ahead of the competition. There had to be drivers and team owners calling Glen and Leonard Wood before the first race each year to see just what races filled their part-time schedule. Pearson’s cunning behind the wheel led to sports writers and his peers from the speedways voting him as the Driver of the Century in a Sports Illustrated poll back in 2000.
Bobby Allison seemed fearless during some of those first radio broadcasts of races that I remember. His battles with Richard Petty were legendary and Hall of Fame worthy. Where David Pearson always struck me as being smarter than the other drivers; Bobby Allison struck me as being more determined. I mean, just look at some of the cars he won races with during his career. One of them was an AMC Matador, which was just a little less aerodynamic than a work boot.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2011 has the best driver ever in David Pearson, the most tenacious driver ever in Bobby Allison, a true Ambassador for the sport as a driver, champion, track promoter and broadcaster in Ned Jarrett, the first three time champion and the man who laid the ground work for the most successful team that NASCAR has seen in Lee Petty, and one of the most creative mechanics to ever pick up a wrench in Bud Moore.
Future inductee’s will be strong and each new group of five to be voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame will no-doubt have tremendous achievements on their résumés, but none may ever equal the impact that the Class of 2011 has left on motorsports.
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