The first time I realized just how much my dad meant to people was in 1965, after he won the Southern 500 at Darlington by a record 14 laps. We lived about 30 miles from there, in Camden, S.C. And when we got home, our yard was literally filled with what seemed like everyone from Camden and the surrounding towns.
Growing up, we always had to share my dad with other people. A lot of times, people would just come up and start talking to him. They felt very much at ease with him, like he was someone they had known for a long time, even if it was the first time they had ever met him. But we were glad to share, since he did have those skills to connect with people, whether it was as a driver early on or as an analyst later.
Almost 50 years later, as my family found out about his NASCAR Hall of Fame selection, I was reminded once again of my dad's impact on others. It was an exciting day for our entire family.
I could just see how proud he was to be recognized. He literally has put more than 50 years of his life into NASCAR and racing. Whether as a driver, a track owner and promoter, a radio commentator and TV analyst, or even now in his retirement, he's always taken every opportunity to promote the sport. It was this support and constant goodwill toward the sport that landed him in the Hall.
My dad was a fierce competitor. He had a tremendous career as a driver, winning two championships and 50 races by the time he was 34 years old. His calm demeanor earned him the nickname "Gentleman Ned," but most other drivers will tell you that the nickname probably should have been reserved for his off-track personality more than what he showed on the track.
As a commentator, I think what people enjoyed about my dad was that they felt he was someone they could relate to as if he were sitting beside them explaining the race. His smooth way of presenting his thoughts made it so everyone could understand. They felt like maybe it was their dad sitting on the couch next to them and explaining what they were watching.
And as a father, he's been in my Hall of Fame for a long time. He was a hard-working dad, and obviously in the early stages he was gone a lot. I came to understand that a lot more later, when I became a driver with a family of my own. But even though he was gone, that didn't mean he wasn't always caring and giving us the guidance we needed. And that has continued to this day -- I'm 54, and I still look for his guidance.
When I won the Daytona 500 in 1993, my dad was a broadcaster, and he called the last lap. It was pretty amazing to go back and watch that whole lap. I was reacting with the racecar exactly at the time that he was saying things and directing me on TV. It was pretty uncanny the way we were so synchronized.
That was a very, very special day, and it's probably the event people ask about more than anything else we accomplished in the sport. It's a day we'll always have as a father and son, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it.
Now, as I'm part of the media when my dad enters the Hall of Fame, I get the chance to pay him back a little bit for all that he's done for me throughout the years. This will be another day that we can have as a father and a son.
Dale Jarrett was the 1999 NASCAR Cup champion, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and one of the founding drivers of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He made his television debut in 2007, and despite only recently moving full-time to the booth, he is already a fixture in racing coverage.