CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The NASCAR Hall of Fame welcomed its most diverse class to date Friday night, when Dale Inman opened the ceremony as the first crew chief to be inducted.
Inman was introduced by seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, a member of the first Hall of Fame class. Inman crew chiefed Petty to all his titles, and won an eighth with Terry Labonte.
"Neither one of us was that mechanically inclined. We just sort of learned as we went," said Petty of his cousin Inman. "Way back when, there wasn't no such thing as a crew chief. They had mechanics, crew mechanics, whatever they wanted to call them, and Dale was basically the first one.
"He's the one that basically started the crew chief operation."
Petty then rattled off a list of prominent NASCAR crew chiefs and mechanics — including current NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton — who all learned the trade from Inman.
Inman, still active in Richard Petty Motorsports, made a point to wish the unsung heroes of the NASCAR a successful 2012 season — including RPM drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola.
"I want to wish all the luck in the world to all the active crew chiefs now, and especially to the (numbers) 9 and the 43. Get after 'em, boys," he said.
Also in the third Hall of Fame class was pioneer team owner Glen Wood, modified driver Richie Evans and three-time champions Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. Evans was killed in a 1985 accident at Martinsville.
NASCAR chairman Brian France presented the four living inductees with Hall of Fame jackets prior to the ceremony, and Waltrip grew emotional as soon as he got on stage. So excited to be voted into the Hall, Waltrip raced onto the stage the day the class was announced and kissed France.
So when Waltrip went on stage Friday night to receive his jacket, France quickly warned him not to kiss him again. A sheepish Waltrip instead took his place next to Yarborough, then made some exaggerated poses before doing a little dance.
During the actual inauguration, he could be seen in the front row of the Charlotte Convention Center, pen cap in his mouth, making alterations to his speech.
Wood was inducted into the Hall by his younger brother, Leonard. The two were the foundation of an organization that started in 1950 and won 98 races with 75 drivers, and five Daytona 500s, including last season's with driver Trevor Bayne.
A soft-spoken gentleman from Stuart, Va., Leonard Wood joked about how slowly he and his brother speak and how it surprised people when they led Jim Clark to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
"As most of you know, when Glen and I talk, we talk slow. We just recently found out, when we went to Indy with Jim Clark, they said, 'I sure hope they can pit faster than they talk,'" said Leonard Wood, who concluded by welcoming, "my big brother, Glen" to the stage.
Glen Wood continued the family theme during his speech.
"This is not just about me being inducted in the Hall of Fame. It's also about the Wood Brothers. And it's about NASCAR," he said. "And I'm proud to have been a NASCAR driver and car owner for the past 60 years, and I'm proud of this great honor, and this is about two families: the Wood family and the Ford family working together, which has resulted in me being here tonight."
Evans was considered the "king of modified racing," winning nine titles over 13 years, including eight straight from 1978 to 1985. Although popular and well respected, his election to the Hall in its third year was no guarantee since Evans never competed on NASCAR's national level.
His widow, Lynn, thanked the voters for "stepping outside the box" to elect Evans.
"You have given hope to thousands of NASCAR competitors to someday reach their dream," said, also thanking the fans for keeping Evans' memory alive.