A couple of years ago, Jarrett reflected on racing at Columbia as part of a RacersReunion.com gathering.
Columbia Speedway festival takes green
By Gregory Hardy- firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, Apr. 14, 2011
Its been decades since NASCAR tested its drivers on Columbia Speedway, but Hall of Fame-bound Ned Jarrett remembers what set it apart from the dirt tracks of the 1950s and 60s.
It was a very challenging track, said Jarrett in a phone interview from his home in Newton, N.C. It was different from Spartanburg and Myrtle Beach and the other half-mile tracks. It was more of a sand-based track. It would get very hard and slick.
It would get a little rough, but not nearly as rough as Spartanburg. Spartanburg would get very, very rough. But it was a track where you needed to be aggressive but you had to have finesse to get around it good.
Columbia Speedway was a fitful showcase for Jarretts style of racing trying to get the most out of the car without abusing it and without spinning the wheels too much so that the tires stayed straight.
I always believed the car would run faster straight than it would sideways, said the man who has two Cup titles and 50 victories to show for that theory.
Now, that was not quite as dramatic as a lot of other drivers who would carry it into the corner and turn it sideways and throw up the rooster tails and those kind of things. That was fun to watch, but sometimes that was not the best way to get around the race track.
Celebrating the Cayce tracks long-distant past as one of the nurturing bases of stock car racing is the purpose of the third annual Columbia Speedway Spring Festival, which starts Thursday and culminates with a parade, car show and autograph session of legendary drivers among other events organized by RacersReunion.com on Saturday.
Jarrett, 78, was on hand for the events first year, and, health issues permitting, is hoping to arrive Saturday to join racers such as Harry Gant, Little Bud Moore and Barry Dodson to meet fans and reminisce.
But Jarrett cautions his plans can inadvertently change Saturday morning. Its a scenario that has played itself too often in missing other scheduled events in the past few months that are leading up to his May 23 induction as part of the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The timing of his selection into a group that includes David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty and Bud Moore surprised but pleased Jarrett.
I cant state strong enough how I appreciate being elected in the second group, Jarrett said. I honestly didnt think I would go in this early. Once I was among the original 25 nominees I felt that somewhere down the road that I would get voted in, but I didnt think it would be quite this early.
For the past few months, NASCAR has worked with the Jarrett family in selecting memorabilia for his hall display that will tell the story of his career.
In my case, they looked at not only did we win a couple of championships and 50 races, but we did it in a relatively short period of time, but also won two national championships in the Sportsman series, when NASCAR was just basically getting started pretty good.
"And then they took into consideration the fact that I went on into broadcasting and was a pioneer in that respect. And I promoted races in Hickory, N.C., my home track, for nine years. So Ive had opportunities to do a lot of different things in the sport.
Along with items from Jarretts possession, there has been a reorganization of items in the hall, such as the trophy for his 1965 triumph at Darlington, which has always been on display. Now it will belong to an overall salute to his excellence.
A good number of people have won the Southern 500, but nobodys won it by 14 laps, so that will stand forever as a record, Jarrett said. They also got one of my CBS jackets, the one that I was wearing when I called (son) Dale home in the 1993 Daytona 500, and that has become a decent history of the sport.
As crisply as Jarrett can recall many career highlights, a stroke suffered in 2006 robbed him of pockets of his memory. Sometimes its only by leafing through NASCARs history books that he can recall his contributions during the Grand National years.
Ive been told we ran a lot of Sportsman races for several years there, Jarrett said of competing in Columbia. I can vaguely remember there were Thursday nights that we would race, so it would have to be Columbia because it was the only track that was running on Thursday nights.
The Columbia Speedway memory that shines brightest is how in 1959 as a two-time Sportsman champ he borrowed a car from Junior Johnson and finished second in a Grand National race. Jarrett didnt have a full-time ride in 1959, but that car would soon put him on his way.
It was a 1957 Ford. In fact, I bought that car later that year. I bought it with a bad check. Had to win in Myrtle Beach on Saturday night and Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday afternoon to pay for it.
It was a not -uncommon business practice in the era: Jarrett handed over the check early Saturday afternoon once the banks closed, then rushed to Myrtle Beach to race without the virtue of any time to practice.
But by qualifying eighth he won that races $950 payout, then doubled his money the next day for a total of $1,900. By scraping together that last $100 to turn in Monday morning, it helped launch a Grand National Series career.
The wheeling and dealing to nab Johnsons aging Ford was a deal better than any future eBay collector could hope of scoring on short notice.
I got them to throw in an extra set of tires. So I had two sets of tires that I could run those two races with, all for the $2,000. Even I bargained for them to throw in the crew chief and his helper, and also the truck and the trailer to tow it with that weekend.
I made a heck of a deal. We ran that car five races, and won three of them. Finished second in one and third in one.
If theres one thing a RacersReunion weekend is never short on, its a tradition of telling wild stories of NASCARs past. Event organizer Jeff Gilder has worked in expanding the scope of the tribute each year. For example, this Saturday will see the first Miss RacersReunion pageant winners.
For the thousands of fans expected to descend on Columbia Speedway this weekend, Jarrett wishes the best in their desire to keep memories of NASCARs origins alive.
I appreciate what Jeff and all the people are doing there, because that speedway certainly has a long history, and there are a lot of great fans from that area, and I want to come and support their efforts and see some of the fans again, and maybe some of those memories will come back.
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.