AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - Since 1949, NASCAR has crowned 29 different Sprint Cup Champions in its history. Some drivers have earned more than one title in NASCAR's premier division but there are only two father-son combinations that have earned such prestige.
Lee and Richard Petty lead the way with 10 Sprint Cup titles between them while Ned and Dale Jarrett hold the other distinction with 3 Sprint Cup titles to their family's credit. Although I have interviewed King Richard many times over my career, I never had the privilege of talking to his father. The Jarrett's, on the other hand, are a different story.
Ned Jarrett retired as a driver in 1966 shortly after claiming his second Cup Championship the previous year. He moved from the driver seat to the broadcasting booth and became one of the most respected members of the media in the sports history.
The elder Jarrett made a habit of helping young reporters get their start in the business and I was one of those fortunate ones that benefited from his generosity. My first race as a radio reporter was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992. Gentleman Ned, as he was known, was my first interview for radio. He was very patient as I stumbled through the nerves and asked him very elementary questions. Once the interview was over, Jarrett took the time to critique my work and provide some suggestions on how I could improve my reporting style.
I spoke with Ned many time after that but none was as important as the interview I had in 1999. If you are a NASCAR history buff, you will know that 1999 was the year that Ned's son Dale was in contention for his first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
I had been hosting my own NASCAR radio talk show for 7 years at that time and was starting another phase of reporting on television. The local ABC affiliate, WJBF TV 6, had asked me to do a short weekly spot on their sportscast. We named the spot "Trackside with Lugnut" and I headed to Charlotte Motor Speedway to do my first TV report.
As I entered the garage area I had several drivers and story lines that I wanted to cover but, as fate would have it, the first person that I ran into was Ned Jarrett. Since he was my first radio interview, I quickly thought that it would be really cool to ask him to be my first television interview as well.
As I explained the situation to Ned, he was more than happy to help me out and thought it was great that he could be instrumental in helping me start this second phase of my career. I decided to ask him about how much advice he was giving Dale on closing out the championship season. We had a great conversation and once we were finished, I thanked him for spending some time with me and promised to do him proud on my report.
Remember, I said that Ned was great at helping young reporters get started. So, imagine how surprised I was when he asked me if I wanted to do a follow up interview with Dale so that I could get the second part of the story. I told him that it was my understanding that Dale was not doing interviews. He simply looked at me, smiled, and said, "Get your gear and follow me."
I quickly grabbed my stuff and followed the NASCAR legend toward the #88 hauler. He said for me to wait at the back door and if anyone comes by just tell them that I was just hanging out so I wouldn't create a crowd.
After a few minutes, Dale's PR representative came to the back door, looked around to see if the coast was clear, and then told me to grab my camera and led me to the lounge area of the hauler. Ned explained to Dale the situation and he was gracious enough to give me a short interview to make my report complete.
As far as I know, I was the only reporter to get an interview with the younger Jarrett that day except for the National Broadcast crew. I was very grateful and will never forget what Ned did for me on that day. In my book, he is the greatest person that I have ever met in the sport and also gave me a great story that I will never forget