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Stunned Jarrett gains entry on first ballot

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dale Jarrett came dressed for a pool party.

The 1999 champion of NASCAR's premier series arrived at Wednesday's unveiling of the next Hall of Fame class wearing while slacks, white tennis shoes, and a short-sleeve button-front shirt. His plan was to stay for the announcement and then head an hour up the road to Hickory, N.C., where his family was holding a pool party for son Zach, set to graduate from high school on Thursday night.

Those plans changed abruptly when Jarrett's name was the third one called by NASCAR chairman Brian France. In his first year of eligibility, the three-time Daytona 500 champion joined Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts, Jack Ingram and Maurice Petty in the 2014 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Stunned? You bet.

"I am very much surprised that this happened on the first ballot," Jarrett said. "I've always tried to put myself in the position every year of just voting, because I've tried to keep up with the sport over the years. I see people who are very deserving. You can make a case for everyone, or they wouldn't be on the list. Once I saw that I was on the list, I was very appreciative of that, and figuring that in a few years, down the road, that it would probably happen. But I really came here with no idea. Didn't think that."

Jarrett said he attended the 6 p.m. ceremony in the Great Hall as a show of support for the facility, NASCAR, and his father Ned, a two-time champion who was inducted in 2011. The plan was to be on the road by about 6:20, make the hour and 15-minute drive up to Hickory, and arrive at the party shortly after it began at 7. Instead, he became part of only the second father-son driving combination to earn enshrinement, he and Ned joining Richard and Lee Petty.

"Incredibly special, for a number of reasons," he said. "I was excited two years ago when my dad got in, that he could be recognized while his health was good, and he could be here and be a part of it and enjoy it. Kind of the same thing now. You can never repay your parents for all they do, for the sacrifices they make for helping you in all the ways. This is the type of thing where, it's a little bit of a payback, to say thank you for all the hard work and the effort and the guidance along the way. It's very special to know there's only one other father-son combination from the driver's side in this Hall of Fame. I'm very privileged."

Jarrett won 32 races in his premier-series career, and showed a penchant for excelling in the sport's biggest events. His three Daytona 500 titles are part of an array of crown jewels that also includes a pair of victories in the Brickyard 400 and one in the Coca-Cola 600. He won four races in his championship season of 1999, but blew away the field by recording top-10 finishes in 29 of 34 events.

"He's deserving, there's no question about that," said his father Ned, who is also a voter. "But there are so many others on the list that are deserving too, which makes it so hard in the voting meeting to choose five out of 25. ? We're just thrilled to death for all the support the Jarrett family has been given in this sport."

Although contemporary Rusty Wallace got in last year on the first ballot with a similar resume -- one title, 55 career victories, and a second career as a television analyst -- the younger Jarrett remained doubtful even while others were more optimistic. After deliberations ended Wednesday, Ned told him "you might have a shot at this," Dale said. And Wallace told Jarrett that he was a lock.

"I didn't see that," Jarrett said. "He kept telling me that. Because he stood in this very spot last year, too, and was shocked he got in on the very first time. You have that hope, but deep inside you realize when you look at that list, that it's probably not going to happen that first time. It will eventually. But he was very adamant. He said, 'You're going to get in.' When I look at the people who are in the Hall of Fame, and to think I'm a part of that, I'm really honored."

So why did Jarrett get in? He thinks winning all those major races played a role, as did his work outside the car promoting the sport as a spokesman and analyst. Inside the voting room, his father lobbied on his behalf -- but only to a point.

"I tried to set it straight in the meeting," Ned said. "? He did not want the influence of Ned Jarrett getting him in the Hall of Fame, as far as the voting goes. He wanted to get in on his own, and I think he did."

And as a result, the pool party at the Jarrett household Wednesday night became a double celebration. When Dale Jarrett returns to the Hall of Fame for the induction ceremony on Jan. 29, he won't have to worry about what to wear. There will be a blue blazer waiting for him.

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WHAT: Hall of Fame Voting Day
WHERE: Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center
WHO VOTES: 21 members of Nominating Committee and 33 members of Voting Panel. In addition, one vote is generated by fan input.
WHO WAS CHOSEN: Tim Flock, Jack Ingram, Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty and Fireball Roberts
WHEN THE 2014 INDUCTEES WILL BE INDUCTED: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 (Live television coverage provided by FOX Sports 1)

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