100 in 100: Catawba County’s Ned Jarrett, auto racing’s ’Gentleman’

Ned Jarrett waves to the crowd after being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte in 2011. (Terry Renna / AP Photo)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Catawba County

Ned Jarrett

Ned Jarrett’s journey to the NASCAR Hall of Fame began with a gamble.

Anxious to move up to racing’s top series after winning consecutive Sportsman division championships in 1957-58, the Conover native bought a Ford from Junior Johnson for $2,000.

The problem is, he didn’t have enough money to cover the check. Fortunately, he waited until the banks closed on a Friday afternoon before writing it, giving him enough time to enter two races — winning them both — and earn enough money to make good on the check when the bank opened on Monday.


Conover’s Ned Jarrett, pictured in 1964, won two Grand National titles before retiring at 34. He then became one of NASCAR’s top broadcast analysts. (AP Photo)

He won two races that first year and was a Grand National champion by 1961, the first of his two titles in the series now known as the NASCAR Cup series. Known as “Gentleman Ned” because of his quiet demeanor and poised driving style, he burst into full-fledged stardom by winning 15 races in 1964 and 13 in 1965. And then, seemingly at the top of his game, he walked away at the age of 34. He is the only driver ever to retire as a NASCAR champion, finishing his career with 50 wins over eight full seasons.

“I vowed to myself early on that, however far up the ladder I got, I would quit while I was there and not go down the other side,” Jarrett said upon his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. “People have a tendency to remember the last thing you did, and I didn’t want them to remember me as a has-been.”

Upon his retirement as a driver, Jarrett became one of the best, most respected racing analysts, first on the radio for MRN, then on television with CBS and ESPN. For all his success on the track, his most memorable moment may have come in the broadcast booth when he called his son Dale’s narrow victory over Dale Earnhardt in the 1993 Daytona 500.