It all began with a handshake and a hamburger steak at Raceway Grill
This is a reprint of a column which appeared in our Race Tab in the past.
By Melissa Rollins
(former Editor at News & Press)
In a moment of nostalgia, and a little bit of a homecoming, Dale Jarrett stopped by the Raceway Grill on August 30 to talk with fan and share the story of how he became the driver of the 88 car.
“This is a place I’ve been coming since I was (a small child) and so many things happened around this racetrack, this event,” Jarrett said. “Here in 1965, we actually lived in Camden, South Carolina not far from here, my dad ended up winning that race that day, the Southern 500. That was the only Southern 500 for the Jarretts; I didn’t have the opportunity to win that. I won here a few times but not the Southern 500.”
That race day sticks with Jarrett all these years later, for more than one reason.
“He set a record that day that still stands today; he won the race by 14 laps, which is pretty incredible,” Jarrett said. “That was a great day; I remember it. I was excited that my dad won but I was more excited when we got to Victory Lane and Doc and Festus from Gunsmoke were there. That was the coolest thing I had seen and done in my life at that point, for a kid who was nine-years-old.”
Fast-forward 30-years from that win and Jarrett himself is behind the wheel.
“In 1995, I was driving the 28 car for Robert Yates,” Jarrett said. “I had signed a one-year deal to do that. I was looking to take my, at the time, Busch Grand National Series team and start my own cup team. Robert was going to supply the engines. We had all of these things worked out and just a couple of weeks before we were supposed to show up here, I had a meeting with a sponsor and was getting ready to sign a deal to do that. Ford was trying to get Robert to start a second team. His explanation to Ford was ‘When they make Victory Lane big enough for two cars, that’s when I’ll have a second team.”
As fate would have it, the insistence of Ford would pay off for Jarrett.
“Robert and Ford decided that they were going to have a second team,” Jarrett said. “We came into the Raceway Grill on a Friday after qualifying for the Southern 500…we sat down here and ate and discussed what was going to happen, who we were looking at for crew chief.”
Jarrett had some ideas but so did Yates.
“As we were eating, Robert was writing on a napkin sitting at the table,” Jarrett said. “He said, ‘This is a three-year deal for you. Are you good with this?’ and handed me a napkin. There were a few numbers on it and I said that I was good with it. That was my contract. We shook hands but I didn’t have an actual signed contract until the middle of 1996. We went to Daytona in our first race and won the Dayton 500 and I figured I was pretty secure at that point.”