499 and counting

As Dale Jarrett won the first Daytona 500 of the new Millennium, he also brought Ford one step closer to 500 wins. Dale's victory in Daytona was number 499 for Ford, the most of any manufacturer. While Dale has won many races for Ford...

As Dale Jarrett won the first Daytona 500 of the new Millennium, he also brought Ford one step closer to 500 wins. Dale's victory in Daytona was number 499 for Ford, the most of any manufacturer. While Dale has won many races for Ford (20), there is no other driver who has won more races for Ford Motor Company than his father Ned Jarrett. With Ford's 500th all-time NASCAR Winston Cup victory close at hand, Ned Jarrett recalled some of his most memorable moments during a legendary career that saw him post 43 of his 50 wins in a Ford.

* 50 career wins. * 43 career Ford wins. * Two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion (1961 & 1965). * Won the 1965 championship in a Ford with car owner Bondy Long. * Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers. * Tied for 8th on the all-time NASCAR Winston Cup win list with Junior Johnson. * Posted 35 career poles, which is tied for 14th on the all-time NASCAR Winston Cup list.

NED JARRETT, All-Time Winningest Ford Driver -- ARE YOU SURPRISED TO BE THE ALL-TIME FORD WIN LEADER? "First of all it's very flattering to learn that I would be the all-time leader as far as Ford is concerned. Certainly, when I was doing it the circumstances were different than today because we were running more events per year and a good percentage of the events were shorter than they are today. Maybe it was easier to get wins. I don't know if it's ever been easy to get wins or not, but it's neat to learn that."

YOU WON YOUR FIRST CAREER RACE ON AUGUST 1, 1959 IN MYRTLE BEACH AND THEN THE NEXT DAY YOU WON AGAIN IN CHARLOTTE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THE CIRCUIT WAS AND HOW NASCAR USED TO WORK? "I had won the Sportsman championship in what is now the Busch Series championship in '57 and '58 and decided that I needed to move on to what was then Grand National and now Winston Cup. I started looking around for a ride and thought people would come knocking on my door after having won those championships and about all the big races they had associated with that series, but they didn't come knocking on my door so I had to start looking for a ride.

"I found a '57 Chevrolet a friend of mine owned and he agreed to allow me to drive it and I did for most of the summer. Although we ran a very limited schedule, we were not running the full schedule, but of the races we did run in the summer of '59 I drove that '57 Chevrolet. It was a fast car, but it was not a durable car. It would break almost every time. We'd be running up near the front and something would happen.

"So this 1957 Ford became available. It belonged to a guy by the name of Paul Spaulding in Syracuse, New York and Junior Johnson was driving for him. Spaulding had decided to build a new Dodge for Junior to drive in the Southern 500 at Darlington, so they were going to sell this Ford and wanted $2,000 for it.

"There were three races on that weekend. There was one in Greenville, South Carolina on Friday night and then Myrtle Beach on Saturday night and then Charlotte on Sunday, so there were three races on that weekend, which was not uncommon. We had run that '57 Chevrolet at Greenville and ran up near the front and the thing broke again as it normally did. I was pretty disgusted and we were riding back up the road and I had one of my "brothers and a friend of ours with me and I told them, 'I've gotta change my career. This thing is not doing me any good and I need to do something different.' They asked me what I was gonna do and I said, 'Well, that '57 Ford is for sale.'

"The car was being maintained in my hometown of Newton, North Carolina and I knew the car. I was down at the garage a lot and Junior was winning races in it, so I was cocky enough to believe that I could win races in it too, if I had that race car.

"I told them I was gonna go buy that car the next day, but they asked me what I was gonna buy it with because they new I didn't have any money. I said, 'Well, I'll wait until the bank closes on Saturday (because the banks stayed open until noon) and I'll give them a check. Then I'll go to Myrtle Beach and win that race. It pays $950 to win and then come back to Charlotte on Sunday and win that race. That pays $950, so that's $1,900 and I can scrape up that other $100 before the bank opens on Monday morning.'

"They laughed, but I was dead serious. I went down there the next morning and couldn't wait to get there. I bargained for that car and I didn't have anything but the desire. We were able to get the owner to agree to let me use it with the two guys he had working for him. He allowed them to go with me to the race and crew the car, an extra set of tires, use his truck and trailer to haul it on, and his pit equipment. I didn't have any of that stuff, but he agreed to all of it still for the $2,000.

"I said, 'Well, I'll make my mind up.' We bargained up until about 10:30 or something, so I just went home and waited until the bank closed because I knew he had his account in the same bank I had mine. So I rushed back down there with the check and said, "I've decided I'll buy that thing.'

"So we went to Myrtle Beach and, sure enough, we were able to win the race. I was a total wreck at the end of the race because back then the steering wheels on those cars -- the '57 Ford -- the grip part of it was very, very small. They would wrap foam rubber around it and then wrap electricians tape around the foam rubber to hold it on there to make it bigger so it would crimp your fingers and also to give you a better grip.

"They had just done that to this car, but, unfortunately, and I didn't know it until the race had already started, but whoever wrapped it had wrapped the electricians tape backwards and as I was sawing on the car turning it left, the sharp edges of that tape were cutting into my hands. It literally chewed the meat to the bone on my right hand, but we got through the race and won it.

"They had to take me to the hospital after the race. In fact, as soon as I pulled up to the start-finish line where they were gonna do the victory lane ceremony, they put a tourniquet on my right arm to stop the blood flow so we could go through the ceremony.

"We loaded up and headed back to Charlotte and found a hospital in Conway, South Carolina, which is about 20 miles up the road, and they bandaged it up and put on some sort of antibiotic. We went on to Charlotte and worked the rest of the night on that race car to get it ready for the next day and I was a total wreck. I was not in condition to drive that race car, but we had a job to do, so I started the race.

"I was running along in fourth place, right there with the leaders, and fortunately for me Junior Johnson was driving the Wood Brothers car that day. The engine blew on it and when a caution came out I saw Junior standing over there in the pits, so I wheeled in and got him to drive the car the rest of the way.

"The result was he won the race. I got the credit for it, and, of course, word had gotten around about the bad check and Junior wouldn't take any money for it until later. I ran that car five races, won three, finished "second once and finished third once, so I finally got Junior to take $100 for driving the car. But that's what really launched me into NASCAR Winston Cup racing."

IS IT HARD TO RECOGNIZE THE SPORT YOU KNEW VERSUS WHAT IT IS TODAY? "It's different, there's no question about it. The technology that has come into the sport has, first of all, allowed drivers to drive harder than we were able to. We drove hard, but we also had to be very conscious of the equipment because we didn't have the technology.

"If you ran those cars as hard as they would go from start to finish, your chances of being there at the end were pretty nil. That's why guys like Junior Johnson and Curtis Turner couldn't win championships because of their style of driving. I mean, they're very dramatic, the fans loved the way that they drove, but their equipment just simply wouldn't stand it back then. It didn't matter what brand of car it was, the technology was not there to do that.

"Whereas today, I mean, you have to drive hard from start to finish, but the technology is there so that you can do that and expect the equipment to be there at the end.

"We were running that many races, sometimes three a week, and I had two full-time employees, had another guy that worked part-time, and then some volunteers and that was it. The volunteers wouldn't have been over a couple, and then when we'd go to Darlington for a big race, we'd hire a couple of tire changing specialists to come in on a day like that."

HOW WOULD A ONE-DAY SHOW WORK? "For example at Myrtle Beach. We would get there and practice would be at about 5-5:30 and maybe practice for less than an hour before qualifying and then the race at 8 o'clock. It was a very tight situation. It was the same way at Charlotte the next day and Greenville the night before. But the wear-and-tear on a car in a 100-mile dirt track race was at least as much as a 500-mile race on a paved track because it just got beat to death. You had to basically rebuild that car from one night to the next, but that was just part of it."

DID YOU HAVE A FAVORITE CAR? "That was certainly the first favorite car -- that 1957 Ford. It was a great race car. It had won a lot of races and it allowed me to win my first ones and basically launch my career in that series.

"Later on my favorite car became a 1965 Ford that we built for short track asphalt racing. We had graduated to the point then in 1965 that we had three race cars. I guess as the season went on we might have added a fourth one. We had a dirt track car, a short asphalt car and a big track car. We would run the dirt track car on the road courses that we were in back then, but this one '65 Ford we did some special things to the chassis that probably was a little ahead of its time and it was never beat.

"That was just a super, super race car, but, unfortunately, I lost that race car on the highway...crashed it out on the highway. The team was on the way to Nashville, Tennessee and we were hauling the cars on like a two-ton Ford truck with a sloped body. Well, the truck went off the side of the mountain and it crushed the car...took it right down to the roll bars and to the frame. The car was not useable after that and I was sick.

"I had driven part of the way to Nashville and stopped at Knoxville to spend the night. The next day I was driving the rest of the way and expected the crew to be there and have the car through inspection and everything. I drove by a truck stop and I looked and said, 'Hey, that looks like my truck out there.' So I turned around and went back and, sure enough, it was. They had pulled the car off the mountain and put it in the parking lot. It didn't hurt the truck that much, but it killed that race car." WERE YOU PARTICULAR ABOUT THE WAY YOUR CAR LOOKED OR WAS PAINTED? "Yeah, we were particular. Blue has always been my favorite color, so it's nice to see Dale driving a blue car now, but we had some factory support from Ford and in the latter part of '63 they developed some colors for the various drivers. Mine was called a candy apple blue. The Wood Brothers had a candy apple red. Fred Lorenzen had a pearl white and Fireball Roberts had some kind of a purple car. They were solid colors and didn't have the big sponsors or the designers, so it was basically just a special kind of paint. That set those cars apart, definitely, from everything else that was running.

"Up until that time we'd just take paint off the shelf and paint the car, so that was a little special to have it looking that way. Our sponsors on those cars back then was a Ford dealer. Richmond Ford was on the side of my car in '64 and '65 and, basically, what the Ford dealer did was supply me with a car to drive, the truck to haul it on, and a pickup truck we used. That was their contribution and it got their name on the side of the race car."

IS THERE STILL THE LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE AUTOMOBILE TODAY AS THERE WAS YEARS AGO? "I still feel that we have one thing in our favor that other sports don't have and that is the automobile because I believe there still is somewhat of a love affair between the American public and the automobile. I feel that's part of the equation as why this sport is growing as much as it is. I think there are Ford fans out there as well as the other manufacturer's that feel strong about it."

IS THE FORD-GM RIVALRY AS INTENSE NOW? "I think so. There were some people who were democrats or republicans and were really strong either way, and they were Ford or Chevrolet and really strong either way. I don't know if you have as big a percentage of people "that would be that way now as they were back then, but I run into a lot of people today who still feel strongly about it. I ran into someone the other day who told me, 'I really pull for Dale, but it's hard because I'm a Chevrolet man.' There are probably still as many of them out there (who pull for either Ford or Chevrolet), but there are more fans altogether now than then so maybe there isn't as big of a percentage who are such staunch supporters as far as brand names."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Ned Jarrett , Junior Johnson , Fred Lorenzen