NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett reflects on career, golf scholarship from South Carolina

Before Dale Jarrett got behind the wheel of a race car, he swung a golf club, and his skills on the golf course almost made him a Gamecock. 

The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup champion has a knack for the leisurely sport. A self-taught golfer, his hobby began after an outing with his father Ned and older brother Glenn.

“We went to a golf course down the road from Camden, where we were living at the time. Dad went into the woods to make a shot and he broke his club. We went back to the race shop, and he made it into a club for me,” Jarrett said.

Over time, he fell in love with the game and continued to play while in high school. His natural talent garnered the interest of the University of South Carolina in 1975. The school offered him a full-ride scholarship, which he declined.

“I didn’t feel like I would give the studying the respect it deserved,” Jarrett said. “My parents would’ve preferred me going after golf. In the back of my mind, I wanted to give racing a try.”

The Jarrett clan is one of the leading families in the sport — the surname ranks among Petty and Earnhardt. 

Ned won two championships in his heyday, earning the nickname "Gentlemen Ned." He transitioned into calling races in his retirement. Glenn gave racing a try and is now a pit reporter for Motor Racing Network. 

With competition in his blood, the youngest Jarrett son went on to create a legacy of his own. He ended up winning 32 races  — including three Daytona 500s and two Brickyard 400s — against NASCAR’s heaviest hitters.

“I feel very fortunate to race and survive,” Jarrett said. "I’m thankful I could race against the greatest drivers of all time ... [Richard] Petty, [Dale] Earnhardt, [Darrell] Waltrip, [Cale] Yarborough, [Bobby] Allison …”

Jarrett has a competitive edge, which is reflected in what he chooses to remember of his racing days.

“The memories that stand out are the details of races I should’ve won. I can’t remember what happened last week, but I can remember all the times I came close to winning and didn’t," he said.

Jarrett joined the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014, an honor that his father received in 2011. The common ground only made the induction more special.

“I knew I would never measure up to what he did. [Being inducted into the Hall of Fame] meant more to me than anything else because of Dad,” Jarrett said. “Aside from Richard and Lee [Petty], we’re the only other father-son champions. That’s special.”

After retirement, he went into broadcasting like his father and brother. He now works for NBC, and the station will televise NASCAR races starting in July.

His years of experience allow him to give insight on a vastly different era of racing.

On NASCAR’s evolution, Jarrett said, “[The sanctioning body] is always trying to make the competition as close as it can. [The sport’s] level of competition is better than other sports. I like the idea of teams having ingenuity, but it’s a fine line, a tough balance.”

When Jarrett isn’t adding commentary to the sport, however, he’s participating in his other favorite hobby.

“I love golf because it’s a great game. You’re in charge," Jarrettsaid. "It strengthens you mentally. It helped my racing career because of that. I play a lot, and my day plays whenever it’s nice. It builds friendships and relationships.”

Even though its been many years since he declined the golf scholarship from the Gamecocks, Jarrett still respects South Carolina and really likes head football coach Steve Spurrier. 

“I’m a huge Steve Spurrier fan. I think he’s done a lot for college football,” Jarrett said. “I hear he plays a good game of golf, too.”

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