Son of the racing legend and two-time NASCAR Grand National champion Ned Jarrett and the father of former Busch Series racer Jason Jarrett, Dale currently races in the NASCAR Nextel Cup. He was the 1999 Winston Cup Champion.
Born the son of a NASCAR legend, Dale Jarrett’s path to NASCAR stardom appeared inevitable although it is not one that was easily achieved. A love for racing is what fueled Jarrett’s ambition early in his career. If not for his desire to race cars, Jarrett’s career path easily could have detoured down the route of another sport. As a successful athlete in high school, Jarrett excelled in football, basketball, baseball and golf. His talent on the golf course prompted the University of South Carolina to offer him a full scholarship. Ultimately Jarrett’s resolve to become a racecar driver proved greater and he decided to pursue his dream.
Jarrett’s racing career began in 1977 in the Limited Sportsman Division at his hometown track, Hickory Motor Speedway, where his father was the track’s current promoter. Just as he had in other sports, Jarrett displayed a determination and diligence that, combined with natural ability, would carry him to the top of his chosen profession.
A combination of raw talent and determination helped keep Jarrett in route to a racing career. In the early 1980s, Jarrett took a step forward when he began competing in what is now known as the NASCAR Busch Series. The series ran at various tracks located primarily in the southeast, and as a companion series to the then Winston Cup Series at several venues. While Jarrett yearned to race on Sundays, he knew time behind the wheel is what would get him to the Winston Cup Series. It was in the Busch Series where much of Jarrett’s maturation behind the wheel was developed.
Jarrett’s big break came early in 1990 when he received a call from the legendary Wood Brothers, NASCAR’s oldest team and one of its most respected. Jarrett stepped into the #21 Ford about five races into the 1990 season. The Conover, N.C. – native showed sparks of brilliance throughout the year, and secured the ride full-time beginning in 1991. During 1991, Jarrett scored the first win of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the fall event at Michigan International Speedway.
Towards the end of 1991, a unique opportunity with Washington Red Skins head coach Joe Gibbs was presented to Jarrett. Gibbs was leaving the NFL to start a NASCAR team. Jarrett, along with his wife Kelley, labored over the decision to leave the Wood Brothers and join the Gibbs operation. In the end, it was Gibbs’ charisma and spiritual strength that convinced the Jarretts to make the move. In addition, the move to Joe Gibbs Racing gave Jarrett the opportunity to work with his brother-in-law Jimmy Makar – an admired chassis man among his peers.
Jarrett competed with the Gibbs organization from 1992 to 1994, and it was during the three years with Joe Gibbs Racing that Jarrett won the race which catapulted his career to the next level – the 1993 Daytona 500. Aside from the prestige that goes with being a Daytona 500 Champion, Jarrett had to hold off racing ace Dale Earnhardt for the win.
Jarrett drove for Gibbs through 1994 when he started exploring the possibility of owning his own team. Several drivers had taken on the driver/car owner position and experienced success. While Jarrett was pondering the business move, renowned engine builder and car owner Robert Yates was experiencing a successful run with driver Ernie Irvan. An ill-fated accident at Michigan in August threatened to end Irvan’s career, sidelining him for the remainder of 1994 and through most of 1995. It left Yates looking for a driver to fill the seat of the #28 Ford for the 1995 season.
Although the driver’s seat was only available as a one-year deal, Jarrett saw endless opportunities in driving for Robert Yates Racing. He planned to take what he learned from Yates and build on that knowledge when he formed his own Cup team beginning in 1996. As the 1995 season progressed, both Jarrett and Yates realized that they might want to reconsider their plans for 1996. Jarrett scored a win at Pocono in July, along with nine top fives and 14 top 10s by season’s end. Rather than lose Jarrett’s talent, Yates made the decision to expand to a two-car operation, adding the #88 Ford with Jarrett as the driver.
No one could have predicted the level of success experienced by the first-year team. Jarrett with guidance from young crew chief Todd Parrott proved to be a powerful combination immediately by winning the 1996 Bud Shootout at Daytona. A week later, eyes were wide open as Jarrett nearly replicated his 1993 win in the Daytona 500 by again beating Earnhardt to the line for his second victory in the season-opening event. Jarrett added three more wins in 1996, including the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to close the year with 17 top fives and 21 top 10s, finishing a then career-best third in the point standings and establishing themselves as a championship threat for years to come.
The next two seasons featured similar results for the #88 team with Jarrett winning a career-high seven races in 1997 – a season in which he finished a mere 14 points behind Jeff Gordon in the battle for the championship. Jarrett was a strong contender in 1998, scoring 19 top fives, 22 top 10s and three wins – one of which earned the team a cool million-dollar bonus from former title sponsor Winston with the win in the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in October. The result was a third-place finish in the point standings – just missing the ultimate prize of a NASCAR championship.
Consistency and making the most out of each race were the mantras of Jarrett and the team during the 1999 season. Executing consistency each and every week, the team made the most of every opportunity. If the car was not performing well early in a race, Jarrett and the team worked diligently until they had a top-five car. At the end of 1999, Jarrett had secured four wins, 24 top fives and 29 top 10s in 34 events. Their prize was the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship – the first for both Jarrett and car owner Yates. Additionally, Jarrett and his father Ned became only the second father-son combination, along with Lee and Richard Petty, to win championships in NASCAR’s premiere series.
As NASCAR champions, Jarrett and Yates embarked on a winning tradition, opening the 2000 NASCAR season with yet another win in the Daytona 500 – Jarrett’s third win in the Great American Race. Jarrett scored another win that season in addition to 15 top fives and 24 top 10s before finishing the year fourth in the final point standings.
UPS took over primary sponsorship of the #88 team at the start of the 2001 season. With the company’s “Race the Truck” campaign, Jarrett’s popularity has soared in the NASCAR arena with fans old and young asking him when he will race the big, brown truck. On the performance side with UPS as primary sponsor, Jarrett and the UPS Racing Team have combined to score eight wins, 33 top fives and 65 top 10s over the course of the last five seasons.
The 2006 NASCAR season marks the sixth with UPS on board as primary sponsor. Hoping to avoid the pitfalls that plagued them in 2005, the UPS Racing Team will build on a foundation laid out by the RYR leadership and work toward re-establishing themselves as championship contenders.