CHARLOTTE, N.C.,None - The wait is over for Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip. The championship-winning drivers are headed to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Yarborough and Waltrip got in on their third try, headlining the third five-member class announced Tuesday. 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 Bill 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 Reggie 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 honored. 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.
SLIDESHOW: SLIDESHOW: 2012 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Class
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.
"It shows you the emotion," France said.
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.
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."
Class of 2012 Inductees:
William Caleb Yarborough was the first driver to win three consecutive NASCAR premier series championships, from 1976-78. During his three-year dominance, Yarborough won 28 races – nine in 1976, nine in ’77 and 10 in ’78. His final championship points margin in those three years was never fewer than 195 points and was as much as 474 in 1978. Yarborough totaled 83 victories in his 31-year career, which ranks sixth all-time. His 69 poles rank fourth all-time. He also won the Daytona 500 four times (1968, ’77, ’83-84), a mark that ranks second only to Richard Petty’s seven. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
A three-time NASCAR premier series champion (1981-82, ’85), Waltrip won all three with legendary driver/owner Junior Johnson. Waltrip is tied with Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon for third all-time in series victories with 84. His 59 poles rank fifth all-time in NASCAR premier series history. He competed from 1972-2000, which included a 1989 Daytona 500 victory in a Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet. He currently is a commentator on FOX’s NASCAR broadcasts. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Dale Inman, NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty’s crew chief at Petty Enterprises for nearly three decades, set records for most wins (193) and championships (eight) by a crew chief. Inman won seven of those championships with Petty (1964, ’67, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75 and ’79), and a final one in 1984 with Terry Labonte.
The recognized “king” of Modified racing, Evans captured nine NASCAR Modified titles in a 13-year span, including eight in a row from 1978-85. In the first year of the current NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour format in 1985, Evans won 12 races, including a sweep of all four events at Thompson, Conn. Evans ranked No. 1 in the 2003 voting of the NASCAR All-Time Modified Top 10 Drivers, and he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Glen Wood laid the foundation for the famed Wood Brothers racing team as a driver in NASCAR’s premier series. Competing on a semi-regular basis, mostly at tracks close to his southern Virginia home, Wood won four times – all at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Wood, of course, is best known for his collaboration with brothers Leonard and Delano in Wood Brothers Racing. The Stuart, Va.-based team, which dates to 1950 and remains active, has amassed 98 victories.