CHARLOTTE, N.C. ? On a night that celebrated some of NASCAR's most interesting and iconic characters ? the late Fireball Roberts, the feisty Jack Ingram, the legend Maurice Petty and Tim Flock, who raced with a monkey in his car ? it was a heartfelt tribute between son and father that left the biggest impression on this NASCAR Hall of Fame evening.
After accepting his Hall of Fame ring from friend and country music superstar Blake Shelton, 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Dale Jarrett, 57, spoke about his father, fellow Hall of Famer, Ned Jarrett, with tears in his eyes and his voice cracking with emotion.
In a sense, the 1999 Cup champion and 32-race winner Jarrett said, his induction and success was the ultimate form of payback to his father, whom he calls his "hero" and his family, whom he thanked for all their sacrifices.
"There's not a lot our parents will take as payment for everything they did for us, but in a small way, this is something I can give them," said Jarrett, on what was a decidedly father-and-son evening -- from Shelton's moving induction speech talking about his own father to Jarrett's earnest tribute to his dad.
"It's a tough act to live up to when your dad is Ned Jarrett or Dale Earnhardt or Richard Petty," Jarrett said.
They are the fourth father-son combination in the Hall of Fame's five classes (also Bill France Sr. and Jr.; Lee and Richard Petty and Lee and Maurice Petty) and the only living pair. In fact, Ned Jarrett is the first father to witness his son's NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.
"We all like to see our children do well, this is the ultimate," said Ned Jarrett, who famously and emotionally called Dale's 1993 Daytona 500 victory from the CBS broadcast booth.
It was a theme initiated by Shelton, who spoke about his own father's love of NASCAR and what the sport -- and Jarrett specifically -- had meant to his dad.
"Over the years, I've been lucky enough to witness in person some really cool things hanging around you people," said Shelton, nodding to Jarrett standing on stage next to him. "And the best part is back in the day I got to bring my dad along with me. ... I watched him shove old women and children aside at Talladega to shake the hands of his favorite drivers.
"As years went on, Dale and I crossed paths many time and although my dad's health began to keep him from traveling, he loved hearing all the stories about the time I spent with Dale.
"And even though I know he was beyond proud of my accomplishments in music, he just couldn't get over the fact that I got to spend time with guys like Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler and most of all, Dale Jarrett.
"And man what I'd give if he could have seen the old boys standing around talking about what was the biggest flower arrangement at his funeral. Not because it was so big but because it came from Dale Jarrett. I hope you drivers realize the kind of impact you have on the lives of everyday, hard-working people, people like my dad."
Jarrett is the rare competitor that was as popular among his competitors as he was with fans -- and now is fondly embraced by television audiences through his work broadcasting races for ESPN.
But his easygoing demeanor and likable personality also belies a competitive fire that drove Jarrett to the heights of NASCAR accomplishment.
Listening to the video introduction and career highlight reel, even those that followed the sport closely may have not realized Jarrett was 34 years old when he scored his first NASCAR premier series win (1991 at Michigan).
"It started for me in 1977, same year that a future Hall of Famer that you just saw a few minutes ago began his driving car, that would be Jeff Gordon," Jarrett said, adding with a grin, "He was five and I was 20, but we started in the same year.
If Jarrett was a late bloomer of sorts, he quickly made up for it and helped many of the sport's biggest names establish themselves as well. His 1993 win at Daytona was the first victory for Joe Gibbs Racing and his 1999 Cup championship the first for Robert Yates Racing.
Jarrett was equally magnanimous to his former team owners but saved his most heartfelt gratitude for his family. Four of Jarrett's children were in attendance and helped voice the highlight video that was introduced by three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.
Despite going through many rewrites of his speech and rehearsing it multiple times, Jarrett said, "I honestly started a little bit to get really emotional when Tony Stewart walked out on the stage.
"I'm a huge fan of Tony Stewart, he is one of my best friends in the world," Jarrett said. "To know that he took the time to come here and say some very nice things and be a part of it meant a lot to me, and that kind of got me started on a downhill slide because I knew getting to my family part was probably going to be very difficult getting through that part.
"I knew it was going to be difficult to look at my dad during that, so I couldn't look over there much.
"My dad just talked about how proud you are of your kids, and I understand that feeling. I've had kids that I've watched play sports and do things and Jason always drove cars, and just to watch him do that, my girls compete on the basketball and soccer fields and gymnastics and everything and then my youngest son Zach, who's getting ready to start his baseball career here at UNC Charlotte, you just get so proud. I'm very appreciative of that.
"But," Jarrett said. "I also know as a child and a 57?year?old one right now that there's not a lot that we can do that our parents will take for payment back for everything that they did for us in our lives to help us along our way, to give us that guidance that's needed.
"But to have the opportunity on a night like this, for them to be here, be alive and be here and see it all happen means the world to me."
2014 Hall of Fame inductees
- Sports & Recreation
- Motor Racing
- Dale Jarrett
- Ned Jarrett
- NASCAR Hall of Fame
- Maurice Petty
- Blake Shelton
- Dale Earnhardt