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Nighttime is the right time at Daytona: Five memorable Clash races under the lights

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s been rebranded from the Shootout to the Unlimited to the Clash, and it’s undergone myriad format changes.

One thing has remained unchanged over the past 14 years – the season-opening exhibition at Daytona International Speedway has been scheduled for Saturday night.

The run happens to coincide with the first February trip to Daytona for this writer.

So to mark covering my 15th consecutive Speedweeks, here are my rankings of the five best editions of the Clash since the race moved under the lights in 2003:

5. Budweiser Shootout, Feb. 7, 2004: Dale Jarrett led only the final lap, and his Robert Yates Racing Ford won mostly because he had been a longtime friend and mentor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. … and often gave him a lift in his helicopter.

No, seriously. Jarrett is a three-time Daytona 500 winner who is among the most accomplished and adept restrictor-plate racers in NASCAR history.

But he doesn’t score this victory without help from Earnhardt, whose No. 8 Chevrolet delivered a series of violent shots to Jarrett’s No. 88 to push him past Kevin Harvick.

“I’ve got to thank my buddy Dale Jr.,” Jarrett said after his fourth and final win in this race. “He probably had the fastest car, but he was banging my back bumper. That’s what I needed – that one push to get by (Harvick). I couldn’t have done it without Dale Jr. beating the back bumper off this thing.”

Earnhardt naturally had been happy to oblige – provided he could keep bumming rides in return for the favor.

“(Jarrett) has been a good friend to me on and off the racetrack, so I figured I’d push him to lead,” Earnhardt said. “I’m one of the few drivers in the top 15 that hasn’t bought an airplane or a helicopter, nor will I as long as I’ve got friends like Dale Jarrett hauling me to Martinsville and back.”

4. Budweiser Shootout, Feb. 9, 2008: New team, new sponsor, new era.

Same result.

In his highly anticipated debut with Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. left little doubt about why he had left Dale Earnhardt Inc., winning this race for the second time with a pass of Tony Stewart on the penultimate lap.

What made the victory more special for Earnhardt was the help he received from teammates, particularly Jimmie Johnson. The reigning series champion (whose drafting skills Earnhardt once infamously disparaged for triggering a massive crash at Talladega) delivered several critical pushes to Earnhardt, who led 47 laps.

“I got great help from my teammates,” Earnhardt said. “I hope the fans enjoyed that. New team, victory lane. Man, it don’t get no better. I’m so happy.”

He also thanked Stewart, who had spent the past two days in a high-profile feud with Kurt Busch that included two meetings with NASCAR officials.

“It took us off the front page,” Earnhardt said. “I felt like a load lifted off my shoulders when I saw them walking to the NASCAR hauler.”

Stewart, another good friend, actually didn’t seem to mind being runner-up. “This kid, obviously a lot is riding on his shoulders this year with the switch for him,” he said of Earnhardt. “I’m happy for him, and he deserved it. He drove his butt off. I can’t be disappointed with second.”

3. Budweiser Shootout, Feb. 8, 2003: My first time around for this race also was the first victory in the event for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he made it memorable.

NASCAR’s most popular driver started last, finished first and generally seemed to toy with the field during his first victory in the Shootout. It took him only 15 laps to reach the front of the 19-car field, and he spent the remaining 55 laps yo-yoing around with a variety of impressive moves that regained him the lead three more times – the last with a power pass of Jeff Gordon with four laps left.

It felt like watching a stock-car rope-a-dope, but Earnhardt denied there was any Ali in his heavyweight game at Daytona.

“We never really do play around with them,” he said. “I always want to be up front and be the guy leading. I don’t want to have to make that valiant pass on the last lap.”

Still, he has made a habit of doing it often in plate races. This win felt very similar to his July 2001 win at Daytona – when he powered to first in the closing laps without any help in the first race at the track since his father had been killed in a last-lap crash five months earlier.

That never seems to have diminished Earnhardt’s affection for the World Center of Racing (where his father notched a record 34 victories).

“This is like coming home to your mom from college,” Earnhardt said in victory lane. “It’s great to be back here.”

2. Budweiser Shootout, Feb. 12, 2006: This race was postponed by rain to late Sunday afternoon, but the lights were on by the checkered flag – which was appropriate because it was clear Denny Hamlin’s name belonged in them.

A rookie racing in the finicky Daytona draft for the first time in NASCAR’s premier series, Hamlin acquitted himself better than anyone reasonably could have expected.

Starting 15th, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver patiently bided his time and then seized the opportunity when it arrived. He didn’t lead until 20 laps to go, but then he led all but five of the remaining laps and fended off challenges from Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart.

“He didn’t make a single rookie mistake,” Stewart said of his teammate.

Hamlin finished 0.154 seconds ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who knew the winner from playing video games.

“With about 10 to go, I started thinking, ‘What if I actually win this thing?’” Hamlin said. “Everything happened so fast, it hasn’t caught up with me yet. I can’t believe it. I probably won’t believe it until I log (online) and see my face.”

The most amazing part of Hamlin’s accomplishment was what happened afterward. He wouldn’t win another restrictor-plate race for eight years (returning to Daytona victory lane in the 2014 Sprint Unlimited).

1. Budweiser Shootout, Feb. 18, 2012: Emphatically erasing the unwanted memory of tandem drafting, pack racing returned to Daytona and was punctuated by one of the greatest saves in the half-century history of the 2.5-mile oval.

Kyle Busch nipped Stewart with a nifty move off the final corner to win by 0.013 seconds, but the finish wasn’t what everyone was talking about afterward.

Halfway through the race, his No. 18 Toyota slid down the banking in Turn 2, hit Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet and then turned left twice onto the apron without losing control.

“The first time might have been luck,” Busch said. “I’m going to say the second time was all skill. I was steering, stabbing, braking, gassing, everything in between, trying to keep the thing straight, get it back under control.”

Oh, he also did get spun during the scariest of three multicar wrecks (Jeff Gordon walked away after his No. 24 landed on its roof), but Busch still managed to charge from eighth to first in an overtime finish.

“I don’t know how many times I spun out and didn’t spin out,” Kyle Busch said. “Amazing race.  It was fun to drive when I wasn’t getting turned around.

Again, Stewart was the conciliatory runner-up.

“(Busch) had to catch it three times before he saved it,” said Stewart, who caught a trail of sparks from trailing behind the evasive maneuvers. “There’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t have caught that. I’m like, ‘Man, that’s the coolest save I’ve seen in a long time.’ ”

(P.S. If you like rankings and a dash of punk rock irreverence, I also spent the past 10 days counting down The Clash’s 10 greatest songs in honor of The Clash’s return. Click here for No. 1 and links to the other nine songs.)

Danica Patrick on retiring from NASCAR: ‘I felt like it wasn’t a space I wanted to be in anymore’

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Danica Patrick was unhappy much of her final season in NASCAR.

Patrick revealed that and a lot more in this past week’s Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

When asked how she felt during the 2017 season, Patrick admitted she was disillusioned at times.

“A lot of negativity to some degree, and it feels like a grind a little bit,” she told Rogan. “I felt like it wasn’t a space I wanted to be in anymore.

“I wanted to be in a happy space, doing things that bring me joy. I was noticing I was missing that – or wanting it more.”

That’s why Patrick decided early on that 2017 would be her final full season in racing.

The timing actually couldn’t have been better: her contract would not be renewed for 2018 by Stewart Haas Racing, she lost her primary sponsorship early in the 2017 season and the remaining sponsorship on her No. 10 Ford Fusion ran out at season’s end and there weren’t many other opportunities to remain in the sport.

If there ever was a time for Patrick to go in another direction and try something else, 2018 would be that time.

“It’s just life; just do things that make you happy,” she told Rogan.

So Patrick has begun building a new life. Sure, she still plans on competing in next month’s Daytona 500 and in May’s Indianapolis 500 – she’s calling it the “Danica Double” – she’s also begun creating a new life after and beyond racing.

She’s building upon herself as a brand rather than just a race car driver. She’s moving in a direction that, with the exception of Daytona and Indy, she’ll not be involved in racing for the first time in more than 25 years.

“Those are going to be my last two races ever,” Patrick said. “This is my Danica Double goodbye tour. I’m ready. I love racing but I love other things, too.

“I’m okay with transitioning out and there were a lot of things that were kind of pointing me in this direction in 2017, stuff that had never happened to me before to kind of, yeah, head towards the exit a little bit. But I’m good with it. I’m a very decisive person.

“This was one of them that I thought about a little bit how to be done or if to be done, I guess, but the how was the hardest part. My agent kept calling and asking me ‘what about this or what if you did that’ and I said no, no and no. You all have to be ready for me to be done, please.”

Patrick’s racing career began before she was 10 years old – she already was thinking at that age about going to college to become an engineer “so I could work on my race car.”

She began racing go-karts growing up in Roscoe, Illinois (about 2 hours from Chicago) and by 16 she was racing Formula cars in Europe.

So after nearly 25 years of racing, it’s time to move on – and Patrick is ready.

“In the last year, as far as an energetic space, it’s just so sad and negative a lot of the time,” she said. “Racing in general, most of the time it’s miserable. You have some days that are good, but most of time it’s not happy.

“You’re not satisfied, you wish somebody would have treated you better out there, there’s so many things to be negative about, and just the grind of it.

“Everybody is worn out. You have to be really careful about the people around you, everybody has to be in a good mood not to spiral out of control, because you see each other three, four days every week for 40 weeks of the year, so you’ve got to be in a good space with people.”

During her time in both IndyCar and NASCAR, Patrick became the face of and inspiration for female racers in all forms of motorsports over the past decade-plus.

She has given all of herself to racing on four wheels, be it in an open-wheel Indy car or a NASCAR stock car. Racing was all she wanted to do for so very long.

Heck, she has a tattoo on her back that starts out as an American flag and fades into a checkered flag. If that isn’t an example of a true bad-ass racer, what is?

Yet not having the success she hoped for and even expected in NASCAR left her becoming somewhat jaded, feeling like she was going in circles both literally and figuratively.

Still, her decision to retire from full-time racing at the age of 35 – she turns 36 on March 25 – caught some by surprise.

“I think everyone would expect with what I do, at the level I do it, that racing is the only thing I do, I love it so much I’ll do anything, I’ll drive every day – and the truth is, no,” Patrick said. “I like racing, but there’s a lot of things I don’t like about it, too.

“I’m grateful for everything it’s given me, but if you were to ask me what I do outside of racing, I don’t go to the racetrack, I don’t watch races.”

And after the upcoming Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and Indianapolis 500 on May 27, she’ll permanently not go to the racetrack or watch races, it would appear.

Now it’s on to a life as enhancing and expanding her personal brand, transitioning from being a race car driver to making and selling wine, designing and marketing clothes, writing books and so much more.

Click here to listen to the two-hour audio version of Patrick’s appearance on Rogan’s podcast.

Or, watch the whole interview on YouTube:

Robert Yates left us with a beautiful gift: his NASCAR Hall of Fame acceptance speech

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Dale Jarrett cried beforehand while preparing. Edsel Ford II cried during, as did countless attendees at Friday night’s annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.

They cried not just about the induction of legendary team owner and engine building genius Robert Yates, but also the touching and profound words Yates left as his legacy.

Knowing that his long battle with cancer could potentially take him from us before the induction – which it ultimately did on October 2, more than three months ago – Robert Yates left the NASCAR world with an emotional gift: some of his final words.

Before he passed away at the age of 74, Yates hand-picked fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to read those words, a task that was both a great honor but also very emotional for Jarrett, who won a NASCAR Cup championship and Daytona 500 while driving for Yates.

“It was an honor for the Yates family to ask me to do that and to be a part,” said Jarrett, now a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports. “It was a very difficult thing to do. (It took) a number of reads before I could get through it, as you could imagine.

“This was someone that we could have spent the entire two hours talking about how special of a man and hard worker Robert Yates was. He’s exactly what this Hall of Fame is about, that type of person that started at the bottom, worked his way to the top, and there’s nobody that’s been as good as him ever in this business.”

Jarrett said he wished it would have been Yates who was inducted into the Hall in 2014 so he could enjoy the moment, rather than Jarrett.

“Speaking strictly from a personal standpoint, I look at this, that I wish he could have been the one going in in 2014. It would have only been fitting that he was in here in the Hall of Fame before I was, and we could have heard that speech from his mouth and in his words.

“But I was honored to do that, and when I look at it and think about it, a lot of us drivers were fortunate to drive for Robert and Doug Yates and the Yates family and what they’ve meant to me. But in my case, he took an average driver that had a huge heart and a huge desire to win and made me think that I could do extraordinary things.

“I’m appreciative of that and the opportunity that he gave me to win races and a championship, and a special night for the Yates family.”

Here’s Robert Yates’ full, touching induction acceptance speech, in his own words, that were read Friday by Dale Jarrett:

When I started in racing, this was not the goal. All I wanted to do throughout my career was win races.

“I would always say, I don’t race for the money, I race to win. For me, that’s what it’s always been about, but to be part of this year’s induction class is a true honor.

‘There are a lot of other people I want to thank because this isn’t really about me; it’s about those who gave me the opportunity to do something I love.

“I want to thank Bill France Jr. He loaded me up with wisdom through the years, and while some of our conversations were tough, he taught me things about this sport that were invaluable.

“And Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company. When you get to know people like Edsel, you realize that you’re always part of the Ford family, and that means a lot.

“Working in the Holman Moody engine shop turned out to be the best education I could ever ask for. We worked day and night, but if it wasn’t for people like Jack Sullivan, John Holman and Ralph Moody, I wouldn’t have developed the skills I needed.

“Junior Johnson is a man of few words, but I’ll never forget, we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway one day, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Robert, I’ve got to have you.’ We worked out a deal where he basically allowed me to run my own shop, and nobody appreciated what I did during that time more than him. So, Junior, thank you.

“I learned what it was like to run a race team in 1976, when I took over as general manager for DiGard Racing. I worked with Hall of Famers like Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison and had 10 great years there.

“The Allisons have been a big part of my life. I won a championship with Bobby in 1983 at DiGard, and then got to work with Davey, who was always so positive.

“When I bought Harry Ranier Racing, I knew other people wanted to hire him, so we talked about it, and he said to me, ‘Robert, I’ll always work for you.  You don’t ever have to worry about me.’

“Losing Davey was painful. We shed a lot of tears and didn’t know how we would move on, but we did. As NASCAR started to move to more multi-car teams, Ford approached me about running the Quality Care car in 1995.

“I never liked the idea of two cars. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and I always talked about how, until they made two places for cars in Victory Lane, you only need one. So I wasn’t fond of running a second team, but it worked out well.

“We hired Dale Jarrett on a handshake deal done at the Raceway Grill in Darlington. We didn’t sign a contract until several months later.

“Todd Parrott came on as crew chief, and everything just clicked. We won the Daytona 500 in 1996 in our first race together, and then won the championship in 1999. It was a special time in my life with a special group of people.

“So to you, Dale, Todd, and everyone who worked at Robert Yates Racing or in our engine shop, you have my deepest appreciation.

“I’m also extremely blessed to have my assistant Kristi Jones. She’s meant so much to me and our family.

“To this point, I’ve talked about some of the people who have made a difference in my career, but none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the people who made a difference in my life: my family.

“My brothers and sisters were all good students, but I didn’t care about going to school. I was the only kid in my family that didn’t make straight A’s. That’s when my sister, Martha Brady, stepped in. I moved from Charlotte to Wake Forest and lived with her. She told me what classes I was going to take, and that was the first time I studied and made straight A’s.

“My sister, Doris Roberts, talked to me about going to Wilson Tech, and that was the best two years of school I ever had. I loved physics and geometry. So if it wasn’t for my two sisters, I don’t know where I’d be today.

“Another person I want to thank is my twin brother, Richard Yates.  He’s been a big part of my life, and I love him dearly.

“When I was working for Junior Johnson, I would take Doug to the shop. He was still in diapers, but the floor was clean, so I would put him down there, and he would sort out nuts and bolts.  He could sort them out and put them all in the right bin.

“I knew he was destined for a career in racing. Little did I know that would include working side-by-side with him for 20 years. Doug, I couldn’t be prouder of the man you are today. I love you.

“I used to give Amy rides on my dirt bike when she was only two years old. She would sit in front of me and laugh and hold the handlebars and say, “Faster, Dad, faster.” She’s a great mom to her four kids and the sweetest daughter a dad could ever ask for. Amy, you’re my baby doll, and I love you.

“Doug and Amy have given Carolyn and I eight wonderful grandkids.  Your futures are bright, and I love each of you dearly.

“It’s been 51 years since I took a four-day leave from the Army and made the best decision of my life: I married Carolyn. She’s been by my side ever since and has supported me every step of the way. I worked all hours of the day and night, but she never called to say, get home. She let me work.

“Carolyn, I don’t know where the time has gone, but it seems like yesterday we were in a one-bedroom apartment trying to make ends meet. You’re the light of my life. You’ve always been there for me, particularly this past year. Your devotion reminded me of our vows: In sickness and in health. And I love you.

“I never prayed to win a race. I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions. My creator didn’t always give me what I asked for, but he gave me more than I deserved.

“I thank you for this great honor.  Good night, and God bless.”

Ray Evernham on NASCAR Hall of Fame induction: ‘This is forever’

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Ray Evernham has been successful in virtually everything he’s done in his life.

That includes an amateur boxer, race car driver, 3-time NASCAR Cup championship crew chief, Cup team owner, TV and radio personality, racetrack owner, businessman and so much more.

But nothing will ever personify and speak to Evernham’s career success like Friday night’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

It’s without question the pinnacle of his career, celebrating a man who has done so much in the sport – as well as for the sport.

“You dream about it and you work hard to get there, and the whole time you’re doing it you never really think that you could ever make a mark in a sport that would get you at this level,” Evernham told reporters after his induction.

“I can tell you it still really blows me away. To stand up on top of that stage there and look at the banner and look at the people sitting there in front of me and when I turned around people were on their feet and clapping, it was like very surreal.

“It was just like being in a movie. I thought, ‘Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ But I can tell you it’s the greatest moment of my career.”

Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ … It’s the greatest moment of my career.” — Ray Evernham

Evernham was presented for induction into the Hall by Jeff Gordon. When asked how much of a role he played in Evernham’s career, Gordon was gracious in his reply.

I think (Evernham) played a larger role in my career,” Gordon said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of this.

“What he’s meant to me with my driving career and as a friend because of all we’ve gone through – I mean, we’ve seen one another go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, on the track or off the track.

“And when you go through that and you have the kind of relationship that we had, the business relationship that then turned into the friendship, when you see somebody honored like Ray was tonight, which is so deserving – this guy sacrificed – I think that’s why I love seeing people.

“Listen, don’t get me wrong; I love seeing the drivers. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, all of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But to me, the drivers already get a lot of rewards or accolades or written up, but guys like Ray, even though he got his fair share, but it was never enough for the effort, the sacrifices and the things that he did to make that car, the team and me really shine the way that it did.”

While Gordon and Evernham teamed together for the first time in Gordon’s NASCAR Cup debut, the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, something magical happened when they first got together two years earlier in a 1990 test.

“I knew it immediately, we just clicked,” Evernham said of Gordon. “I liked him a lot and he liked me. We spoke the same language. He was a kid, might have been 19.

“I had seen the best drivers in the world. I knew talent. What I saw him do that day at Charlotte with the car that we had that wasn’t that special, I believe it was a Buck Baker school car we went and tested with, and he was quick, I think second quick overall that day to Davey Allison.

“He did some pretty amazing things, and the way that he spoke to me and the way that he described what the car was doing and what he needed in the car, I thought to myself, this guy is way too young. That’s not experience; that’s pure talent and that’s ability.”

Gordon concurred.

“It was the same for me,” Gordon said. “It clicked right away. … I came home from that test, and I just said, ‘You’re not going to believe this guy.’ He had a clipboard. He’s writing down every word that I say, and he’s like, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this, we’re going to put this spring in.’

“I was like, ‘What’s that going to do?’ I didn’t know anything about springs or shocks. I was racing dirt sprint cars and midgets. He said, ‘Well, it should do this,’ and I’d go in the corner, and it did it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is a genius.’ So we clicked immediately.”

Evernham, now 60, admits that his induction had him choked up.

“It’s been emotional to me,” he said. “I mean, certainly you look at this as a cap-off on your career, and you look back, as I said – I meant it when I said I’ve seen some of the toughest, most articulate guys we know stand on that stage and be emotional.

“Tonight it’s very special to me because Ray J (Evernam’s son) was up there, Jeff was up there and Ben Kennedy, again, because his dad Bruce and I were close, to have all three of them up on the stage. When I walked up there, I said, I hope I can get through it without crying, but that’s normally Jeff’s deal. But I get it.

“It’s a tremendous, tremendous honor, and when you start to … when you realize that it really is all about the people and the relationships that you’ve made, because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies, man.

“When you win at the Cup level, you get to enjoy it for four days, and then there’s 39 more guys trying to knock you off that pedestal. They’re not going to let you have fun. Friday morning, it’s back to square one.

“The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people. … That’s what’s really special about the Hall of Fame, because this is forever.”

Ron Hornaday Jr. kept up a cold tradition with Hall of Fame induction

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The call came “out of the blue” in November.

The name “Horny” flashed on Wayne Auton’s phone.

The nickname belonged to Ron Hornaday Jr., four-time Camping World Truck Series champion and one of Auton’s closet friends.

Earlier in the year, the former Truck Series director and current manager of the Xfinity Series had been the one to call Hornaday and let Hornaday know he was one of the nominees for the 2018 class in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Hey, buddy, I need you to do something for me,” Hornaday said. “I want you to induct me into the Hall of Fame.”

Auton needed a moment.

“Ron, did you just say what I thought you said?” He eventually responded.

“Yeah.”

“Damn man, you need to let somebody in your family do that.”

“No, you are my family.”

Auton began crying.

For two days Hornaday couldn’t sleep.

The 59-year-old native of Palmdale, California, fretted over the speech he’d give Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center as the first Truck Series champion to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“This is really the crown jewel of everything he’s done,” Hornaday’s wife, Lindy Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He was scared he was going to forget somebody and I said, ‘Everybody knows you and they know that you’re thankful to everybody. So don’t thank anybody specifically. Just thank them all.'”

Friday morning, Hornaday woke up without a speech set in stone.

“I got up at 9 o’clock this morning and it was like *makes gagging noises*,” Hornaday said. “I walked away, took a deep breath, come back and I couldn’t do it again. And I said to hell with it. When I started seeing my friends and family, something will come to me instead of trying to read this speech off that prompter. I got back to the room and I’ve never had an anger deal, I don’t know what it’s called in your stomach, but my stomach was turning over so bad. I was regurgitating air for about four hours. I finally fell asleep for a little while. My wife wanted to go to lunch. I sent her with all the family to lunch. I finally thought about thinking about what this really means and still didn’t know what it meant until I started seeing friends, family, peers, the Hall of Famers. They really just got me into a different mood. I did that one sober. Usually I get a couple of beers in me before I speak.

“Everybody’s telling me, ‘be yourself, take your time.’ How can you do that? It’s the freakin’ Hall of Fame!”

Those are the same words Hornaday bellowed at the beginning of his unscripted speech, with both arms raised high.

“That was the best part about the whole thing,” Hornaday said. “Had to break the ice, just to get somebody to giggle. And I knew I could get on a roll.”

Hornaday said he only forgot to mention Chevrolet, the manufacturer he earned all 55 of his NASCAR wins with.

Wayne Auton, left, poses with Lindy Hornaday and Ron Hornaday Jr. (Photo: Daniel McFadin)

During the two days Hornaday fretted over his speech, Auton was with him.

The two first encountered each other in 1995, the inaugural season of the Truck Series.

“He was there at every one of my wins,” Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He’s the one that gave me the words of wisdom, he’s the one that pulled me down and closed doors and told me what I had done wrong on the race track. He’s the one that chewed my butt out, he’s the one that when he got all done and said I’d chew his butt out. We got all done and said and we’d get a beer together.”

For 18 years, the two were “friends, enemies and warriors,” said Auton.

“Whether he won, whether he lost … when we were inside the gate we had a job to do,” Auton said. “When we walked outside the gate we were very good friends. We had to have a beer together. Cold beverage. We knew each other’s family like they were our own.”

Leading up to the ceremony, the two pestered each other about what the other would say when the time came.

“I said, ‘Ron, I just hope I don’t pee in my pants,'” Auton said.

“When he was up there speaking, I seen him shaking pretty good,” Hornaday said. “I’m glad I got back to him and made him as nervous as I was.”

Standing on the auditorium floor afterward, Auton described the moment as “the biggest honor” he could ask for.

“I’ll never top that.”

When they left the stage, it took them awhile to get back to their seats.

Auton said they stopped to have a cold Coors Light.