Dale vs. Dale: A Daytona 500 the Jarretts, NASCAR won’t forget

The Daytona 500 of 1993, which took place 30 years ago, is, first of all, a love story.

Yes, it was the Dale and Dale show. Yes, it was this victory that prompted Dale Jarrett to climb into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Yes, it was the first Cup Series win in his second year by team owner Joe Gibbs, also a future Hall of Famer who has since added 199 more players. Yes, it was all that and more. But yes, it was also a love story. After all, it happened on Valentine’s Day.

To fully appreciate that day, we must place it in the context of the era. This Daytona 500 was the first race since the retirement of Richard Petty. It was only the second career start for a guy named Jeff Gordon, who hails from California and drives a car covered in rainbows that he might as well have landed on from another planet. His boss, Rick Hendrick, was respected throughout the garage, but he had yet to win a series championship. It was still the world of Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip and, above all, Dale Earnhardt. Alan Kulwicki and Davey Ellison were still alive, reigning series champion and reigning Daytona 500 champion. People still believed that a multi-car team would never work.

Gibbs had just stepped down as Washington head coach, his last offside game (at least at the time) coming just six weeks earlier, losing in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The year before, he had won his third Super Bowl ring as head coach. A perpetual hot rod enthusiast, Gibbs has been foraying into the NASCAR world with the help of Hendrick. Among his earliest employees was a budding crew chief named Jimmy Makar, and it was Makar who suggested hiring his son-in-law as a driver.

“Joe always said what a jerk I was, because he didn’t even have an employee, we agreed to hire Jimmy Makar together,” admits Norm Miller, then CEO of Interstate Batteries, who signed a contract to sponsor Chevy No. 18. . Their main corporate color was green. For old-school NASCAR drivers, a green car was considered almost as lucky as a black cat walking under a ladder in a room full of broken mirrors. “But Joe is a winner. I don’t know if you know this, but he won the national racquetball championship. And as soon as we signed the contract, he won the Super Bowl. if it doesn’t work out, we should enjoy football and other things. Let’s just take a chance and see what happens.” Jimmy, he wanted to take a chance with Dale Jarrett.”

The 36-year-old North Carolina resident had one career win, earning in ’91 at Michigan International Speedway with the Wood Brothers. Even with that trophy in the garage, he was still considered nothing more than a journeyman racer, the beloved son of the great man of all time.

“Of course, I had no illusions that there was a demand for me or that people were fighting to hire me,” Jarrett explained with a laugh last fall. “But I was also taught at a very young age that even when others might not bet on me, I still need to have the confidence to bet on myself. I learned this from my parents, although I don’t think they ever thought those lessons would apply to me becoming a race car driver.”

Oh yes, mom and dad. And that brings us to our love story.

Ned Jarrett first met Martha Ruth Bowman at a small town dance in the 1950s. Ned was the son of a lumber mill owner, and as a child he sat in the local general store and overheard the local farmers chatting excitedly about the race track being built up the hillside in nearby Hickory. They boasted that they were going to take their car to the oval and prove how fast it was. Little Ned immediately fell in love. When his father took him to the brand new Hickory Motor Speedway, it started his lifelong obsession with stock car racing.

Ned and Martha married on February 18, 1956, and the early years of their marriage were marked by Ned’s success in the sports division of NASCAR, the forerunner of today’s Xfinity Series. His main rival and best racing friend was Ralph Earnhardt. Martha Jarrett and Earnhardt’s wife, also called Martha, became inseparable.

The Jarretts and Earnhardts traveled together, ate together, helped each other through their many pregnancies, and even hosted each other’s baby showers. In one of these showers, Ned took Martha to an event but refused to go inside. A few days earlier, Ralph bumped Ned on the last lap to deprive him of a landslide victory, and Ned refused to look Earnhardt in the eye. A shower was arranged for Ned’s second child, a boy who would be named Dale. The Earnhardts had their own 5-year-old boy, also named Dale.

The reality of racing life was that Martha Jarrett liked her friends but hated Ned, who risked his life several nights a week. That concern only increased when Ned moved on to the Grand National Series, which we now know as the Cup Series, where the racetracks were bigger, the cars were faster, and fatalities were all too common. These were the 1960s.

During the ’64 World 600 in Charlotte, Ned burned his hands while pulling Roberts’ Fireball out of Hell, which ended up killing his friend. Dale and older brother Glenn watched from the infield. The following season, Jarrett broke his back at Greenville-Pickens Speedway after asking an ambulance driver to turn off the siren and drive slowly to the hospital when he looked out the window from his stretcher and saw Martha following the wheel of the car. family station wagon with children.

“We lived in areas where people had what you would call normal jobs, lawyers, salesmen and the like,” Dale Jarrett recalled of his childhood. “Everything we did as a family was very normal. We went to church every Sunday, my mother made sure that I, my older brother and my little sister were where we needed to be. was that dad raced at Dayton and Darlington. And he was good at it.”

Ned Jarrett wasn’t just good. He was the best. He backed up his two athlete titles with Grand Nationals in 1961 and 1965. He has 50 wins, second only to Lee Petty on NASCAR’s all-time wins list. The only victory that eluded him was Daytona.

“I remember seeing him lead at the very end of the 1963 Daytona 500,” Dale recalled. “He walked right past us where we were watching from the infield, but then ran out of gas.”

Instead, his signature victory came two years later, winning the Southern 500 at Darlington by a stunning 14 laps and essentially taking the 1965 title. Images of his sleek, dark blue No. 11 Ford Galaxie speeding down the Too Tough To Tame track are iconic to this day, as are photos of Ned and Martha hugging and kissing on Victory Lane.

Then he retired.

“Ford was leaving NASCAR and it seemed like the right moment to leave with them,” Ned recalled in 2021. “Besides, I made a promise to Marta.”

That promise was that if and when he won a second Grand National, he would hang up his helmet. He did. Martha was so relieved. Her nerves will no longer fray from having to watch her loved one hurtle around the ovals at 150 miles per hour.

Ned tried to be a coffee salesman. It didn’t work, so he helped his father run the logging business. He then became a promoter for Hickory Motor Speedway and Metrolina Speedway in Charlotte. Martha sold tickets and worked at the front desk while the kids sold programs and hot dogs. She settled into motherhood watching Dale become a tri-sport athlete so good he got offers to go to college as a quarterback and a full scholarship to South Carolina to play golf. Older brother Glenn went to UNC as a catcher. Patti’s younger sister met Makar.

Ned fueled his passion for racing first through his short tracks and then through a career as a broadcaster that went from a public announcement in Hickory to MRN Radio and the TV booths of Sportzshala and CBS Sports. Glenn also ended up on television as a reporter.

Life was good. It was safe.

“Then I kind of went and threw a wrench at it, didn’t I?” Dale confesses. “I didn’t go to college to play golf. At the age of 20, I decided that I wanted to become a race car driver. I don’t think my mom was very happy about it. But she also never tried to stop me. .”

Dale fought his way through the short circuits of the Carolinas and then became a staple in the NASCAR Busch Series, a redesigned version of Ned’s Sportsman Division. He won several races and by the end of the 1980s was a Cup Series middle class driver. In his first 168 starts, he scored one win and finished in the top 5 seven times. But he also only scored one DNF. He was a smart racer. However, no one foresaw what happened on February 14, 1993.

Nobody but the Jarretts.

“I remember when we got to the garage at Speedweeks in Daytona, we were assigned garage number 11, dad’s number,” Dale recalled. “In January, we went through the tests so quickly that I remember calling my dad and saying, “Dad, I really think we can win.”

When CBS held a Daytona 500 production meeting and producer Bob Stenner asked his broadcasters what they expected on Sunday, Ned told those in attendance to keep an eye on his son.

“I told them it’s not me playing favorites, it’s based on what I saw, and if they really paid attention to what they saw, then Dale was really fast,” Ned explained almost 30 years later. What he didn’t know that day was that Stenner later went to Ken Squier and Neil Bonnett who were in the booth with Jarrett and told them that if Dale Jarrett was in the lead or had a chance to win on the last lap that they should be quiet and let his father do the talking.

Sure enough, as the leaders crossed the start-finish line with two laps remaining, the green #18 Chevy got enough speed past Turn 4 for Gordon to slide into second behind, of course, the black Chevy Lumina #3 from the other Dale. Earnhardt…


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