Charlotte: The wait is over for Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip. The championship-winning drivers with a bumpy personal connection are headed to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Yarborough and Waltrip got in on their third try, headlining the third five-member class announced. They`re joined by eight-time series champion crew chief Dale Inman, nine-time Modified champion Richie Evans and pioneering driver and owner Glen Wood.
"It`s probably the best class of the three," said NASCAR chairman Brian France, who was on the receiving end of a playful kiss on his cheek from a tearful Waltrip. "You`ve got two of the greatest drivers. You`ve got the greatest crew chief. You have a legendary car owner, and then you have Richie Evans, who dominated in Modified racing. It demonstrates the Hall of Fame is more than just the Sprint Cup series.
"It`s hard to argue this class in any way, in my view."
Yarborough, who led with 85 percent of the vote by the 55-person panel, won 83 races and three consecutive titles (1976-78). Only Jimmie Johnson`s current streak of five titles is longer. Yarborough`s 83 victories rank sixth. He won four Daytona 500s and later served as car owner until he left the sport in 1999.
Yarborough, who didn`t attend the announcement, said by phone he watched the telecast with his wife in the shop of his farm in Sardis, S.C.
"I`m glad. I`m glad that`s over with," Yarborough said. "Everybody has been asking me, `Do you think it`s this time? Do you think you`ll go in this time?`
"I feel honoured. I`m in a lot of different motorsports halls of fame, but to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame with the guys who are already in and the ones who will come later means a lot to me. It`s a great group to be a part of."
Waltrip, who received 82 percent of the vote, won 84 races, tied for third all time, and collected series championships in 1981, `82 and `85. While Yarborough was absent, you couldn`t miss Waltrip in the front row.
Saying he was so nervous he was "sick to his stomach," Waltrip`s eyes welled up with tears as his name was announced. He then ran to the stage and kissed France, something he promised to do in radio interview earlier in the day.
"Let`s just say I embraced him," Waltrip said, "because it felt good to get embraced by the committee today."
It was a stark contrast to a year ago, when a stunned Waltrip was left out of the hall as he participated in Speed`s telecast of the event. Waltrip has spent the past 11 years as a TV analyst for Fox Sports and Speed, but still hasn`t lost that competitive streak.
Yarborough once called Waltrip "Jaws" for how much he ran his mouth.
"We knocked each other out of a lot of races," Waltrip said.
But Waltrip said Yarborough was the one who told him to talk to Hall of Famer Junior Johnson about joining his team. It was there Waltrip won his three titles.
"So for all the bad things about Cale, I forgive him," Waltrip said, smiling.
Inman received 78 percent of the vote, becoming the first crew chief to be elected. He spent nearly three decades at Petty Enterprises, where was in charge of inaugural Hall of Famer Richard Petty`s team for his seven titles. He won another championship with Terry Labonte.
"Somebody asked me if I was nervous," Inman said, "and I said not as much as I was in some of those races."
The late Evans, who captured 50 percent of the vote, won nine Modified titles in 13 years, including a record eight straight from 1978-85. He received strong support from many voters, including small track owners, who wanted someone honored outside of the top three NASCAR racing series.
Wood, who received 44 percent of the vote, was credited with helping revolutionize pit stops with Wood Brothers Racing. His team has amassed 98 victories, including this year`s Daytona 500.
"I didn`t come here alone. I had a lot of help," Wood said. "There`s five of us brothers. All of those helped at one time or another. And Leonard has been there all along for the whole 60-something years."
But Leonard Wood missed the cut. There was a debate among voters on whether the brothers should be enshrined at the same time.
"We`re in several hall of fames and we always went in as one," Leonard Wood said. "So that`s kind of the way we preferred it, but it`s OK. If I ever get in, it would be just double fun."
Waltrip and Yarborough had the most championships not among the first 10 inductees, and their exclusion from last year`s class drew scrutiny.
David Pearson was considered the only lock for the group inducted last month. Fellow driver Bobby Allison, Petty Enterprises patriarch Lee Petty, driver and broadcaster Ned Jarrett and car owner Bud Moore were selected ahead of Waltrip and Yarborough.
"It doesn`t matter," Yarborough said. "Everybody wants to go in the first year, but it just doesn`t work out that way."
Moore had campaigned strongly for Cotton Owens, driver-owner, who won 1966 owner championship with Pearson. Moore sat next to the 87-year-old Owens, who was one of the 20 finalists not to get in.
"Yes, it was by far harder than the first two (votes)," said Tom Higgins, who covered NASCAR for 34 years for The Charlotte Observer. "It was because there were two or three more that were very, very deserving. I changed my vote when I went in, I had Darrell, Cale and Dale Inman for sure, and I had two more, and I switched both of those. Next year I certainly hope Cotton Owens makes it."
The class will be inducted in the downtown Charlotte facility in January, a change from the May ceremony the past two years.
"The toughest thing was deciding who not to vote for," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "This one certainly had a Hall of Fame feel to it."