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Ned Jarrett

Full Name:
Ned Miller Jarrett
12th October 1932 (Age 87)
Newton, North Carolina
Most recent race (in database):

“Gentleman Ned” Jarrett and his five siblings grew up on the family farm and sawmill near Newton, North Carolina. Raised as a God fearing Christian, weekly trips to the local church introduced Jarrett to driving for he first drove their truck when just nine years old.

Early racing career and NASCAR debut

Within five years, he had bought his first car (a five-year-old Ford) and he raced at the Hickory Speedway for the first time in 1952 with a car he had won half a share of in a poker game with friends.

He made his NASCAR debut in 1953 and combined occasional starts in the senior Grand National (now Cup) division with continued outings in the sportsman series. He won that second-tier title on two occasions (1957 and 1958) and mixed a partial GN campaign with eight races in the convertible series during 1959.

Breakthrough victories

He drove a Paul Spaulding Ford Thunderbird into second position at Columbia Speedway at the start of the 1959 NASCAR season but, with the prospect of further top level outings looking bleak, Jarrett gambled on his talent. He bought the Ford for $2,000 with a post-dated cheque that could only be honoured if he won. That proved a wise move for Jarrett won back-to-back races at Myrtle Beach and Charlotte Fairgrounds (the latter with relief from Joe Weatherly and Junior Johnson) and he used his share of the prize money to repay Spaulding in the morning.

That cemented his place in stock cars although he only raced at the top for six full seasons during which he finished fifth or higher.

NASCAR Champion

Jarrett drove B.G.Holloway Jr’s Chevrolet during 1961 and finished 34 of his 46 races in the top 10. That included victory at Birmingham’s Alabama State Fairgrounds as consistency proved the key to Jarrett winning the title.

Third in 1962, he switched to a Burton-Robinson Ford for 1963 and wound up fourth in the standings. Entered by DuPont heir Bondy Long for the next two seasons, he scored a career-best 15 victories during 1964 to finish as runner-up to Richard Petty. But it was his actions when trying to save Fireball Roberts during Charlotte’s World 600 that drew further admiration.

Roberts crashed on lap seven while trying to avoid the spinning cars of Jarrett and Junior Johnson. His car rolled and burst into flames and Jarrett jumped clear of his own burning car and raced to aid his still conscious colleague. He pulled him clear but Roberts had suffered burns that would eventually claim his life.

Champion once more

Jarrett won another 13 races in 1965 but his championship challenge was briefly interrupted at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway. His car stuttered on a restart (due to water later to be found in the fuel tank) and a pack of full-speed stock cars ploughed into it. Jarrett made it back to the pits on foot but later collapsed and was taken the nearby hospital where he was diagnosed with severe bruising to neck and back although he was racing once more just five days later.

The most prestigious victory of his career was that year’s crash-filled Southern 500 at Darlington. Jarrett nursed his overheating Ford Galaxie to the finish a full 14 laps ahead of the second-placed car. “I was saying a prayer every lap for the last 20 laps. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer.” At 19.25 miles, that remains the largest winning margin in NASCAR history.

Jarrett beat Dick Hutcherson to the 1965 title and retired from racing after the 1966 American 500 when just 33 years old. It was the first (and so far only) time NASCAR’s reigning champion had quit but that was not the end of his influence in the sport.

Career after racing

He promoted at the Hickory Speedway from 1968 to 1977 and enjoyed a long career in the television commentary booth. Both of his sons Glenn and Dale followed him into NASCAR and the latter also won the title in 1999. Mild-mannered and popular out of the car, he was a hard and aggressive racer when on the track.

Ned Jarrett won 50 NASCAR races and two championship titles and was a star of televised sports.