Banquet Keeps Focus on Family

Jarrett, others keep family focus of banquet By Mark Talkington NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 1999) Even as NASCAR's popularity continues to attract thousands of new fans each year, the sport's top drivers have not lost focus on each and every...

Jarrett, others keep family focus of banquet By Mark Talkington

NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 1999) Even as NASCAR's popularity continues to attract thousands of new fans each year, the sport's top drivers have not lost focus on each and every individual who makes it possible for the sport to be where it is today.

That was the underlying theme as the top-10 NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers and more than 1,000 of their biggest supporters gathered at the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria in Midtown Manhattan Friday night for the annual banquet to celebrate the sport.

"A critical and vital part of this explosion of NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing is due in part to our loyal fans," said Dale Jarrett, the 1999 champion who took center stage in New York all week. "Whether you are a fan of Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, or Bobby Labonte, or for that matter any of our talented drivers, I know I can speak on behalf of all the drivers, that our jobs wouldn't be complete without your intense support.

"Thank you for your contribution in making our sport the No. 1 spectator sport in America.

Gordon, Labonte and Earnhardt -- along with the other top-10 drivers -- echoed the champion's sentiments.

"First and foremost, NASCAR is about the fans," said Labonte, who drove his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac to second place and $1,039,773 in winnings. "We have without any question the most loyal fans in any sport. Period."

Gordon, the outgoing champion who had to overcome the departure of his crew chief and a spate of DNFs, told the audience in the room and watching at home on ESPN that a similar revealation convinced him not to look back.

"You start to evaluate your season and compare it to other seasons," said the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Finishes Chevrolet. "Then you look at where you're at in the points and how many DNF's you had, but... then you say to yourself, 'Wait a minute. I won the Daytona 500, won the most races and the most poles.' Then you ask yourself, 'What really makes a good year?'

"I realized that just being a part of this sport makes it a great year."

For one night, that sport turned its entire attention to Jarrett. Sitting at the head table for the first time, with his wife Kelley and members of Robert Yates Racing, Jarrett soaked in the moment as NASCAR officials, series sponsors and his contemporaries offered their praise.

"I would personally like to thank you for making tonight and the experiences Kelley and I, along with our entire Robert Yates Racing organization, have had this past week possible," said Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Taurus. "It has been a great year and week in New York City that we will never forget. Thanks, in advance, for your continued support."

Jarrett held tight to the theme of family, giving credit to his immediate family, including his father Ned Jarrett, himself a two-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion.

"Family is extremely important to me and I am honored and fortunate to say that I view mine as the true champions," he said. "They have supported me through the best and worst of times.

"Mom and dad, thanks for your many years of guidance and support. Your willingness to help others and the examples you set forth of being leaders is what makes me and our entire family very proud.

"Dad, I didn't know when I got involved in this sport if I could ever achieve any of the great accomplishments you did. But it is truly an honor to be only the second father-son duo to win a NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Thanks for everything."

Jarrett began racing in 1977 in the Limited Sportsman Division at Hickory Motor Speedway, where his father was once the track promoter. His first NASCAR Winston Cup Series win came in his 129th start at the 1991 Champion 400 at Michigan Speedway in a Wood Brothers car. During the banquet he took time to recall the excitement of receiving his first payday in racing.

"That's an incredible amount of money to receive for something I love to do," he said, after receiving his check for $2,965,767. "That makes my very first purse of $35 seem rather insignificant.

"But I know on that night in 1977, the $35 and ninth-place finish in my first race seemed like the greatest accomplishment in the world to me and my friends, Andy Petree and Jimmy Newsome. As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait."

Those who took a chance on the champ along the way were not left out off the long list of people he thanked.

"Since that fateful night 23 years ago in 1977, when I competed in my first race, there have been many people that have helped me get to this point," he said. "Please understand that I don't have time to name everyone, and of course I would love to do so. But I would like to thank a few of those that have been instrumental in making this championship a reality.

"Andy Petree, a proud car owner of two NASCAR Winston Cup teams, and Jimmy Newsome, owner of a successful tire business in Newton, N.C., are the people responsible for giving me my first chance to drive. Thanks, guys, for taking the chance and giving me the opportunity.

"In 1990, the biggest opportunity of my NASCAR Winston Cup career came from the Wood Brothers. Am I ever glad that I answered the phone that day Eddie called. It was this opportunity that brought me my first Winston Cup victory in 1991.

"This team, especially Eddie and Carol Wood, remain some of our closest friends. Thanks to each of you for your friendship and support."

Jarrett didn't forget the team that brought him to the podium this year, however, singling out elite members of the Robert Yates Racing Team in particular.

"I would not be standing before you if not for the hard work and dedication of each and every one of you, our 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup championship team members," Jarrett said. "This is a team sport now more than ever. And this year, you are at the head of the class. Your never-give-up attitude and relentless desire to be the very best are why we are here to salute each of you as champions.

"Enjoy your time in the limelight, but stay focused on trying to win another championship next year. Thanks and congratulations to all of you."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Ned Jarrett , Andy Petree , Robert Yates
Teams Yates Racing