CONCORD, NC – Last Wednesday, Jerry Cook was announced as one of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016, and on Sunday he was at Charlotte Motor Speedway to talk about his career. and how thrilled he is to have been one of five selected.
The six-time NASCAR Modified Champion has meant more to NASCAR than just a racer, because he has worked for the betterment of racing as a NASCAR employee since retiring from racing in 1982, helping create what is now called the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 1985, and with weekly racing for the past 33 years.
“At that point (1982) I had won six championships, hundreds of races and you start thinking sooner or later you’re going to have to figure out what you’re going to do next,” Cook told AARN in an exclusive interview following the press conference.
“I really didn’t want to build cars, although I didn’t mind building my own. In my whole life there’s never been a big plan. Everything has just sort of happened at the right time. Racing in the northeast was getting bigger and bigger. With that comes problems and everything else.
“I had always been a good friend of NASCAR. We had worked together on different stuff when I raced. At the end of that season they offered me the position to take care of the northeast and I took it. I think my first title was Northeast Technical Coordinator. I looked after whatever there was, going track to track, taking care of the problems and helping tracks.”
With a racing career that began in 1963 in Rome, N.Y., Cook won his first championship in 1971, and five more in that decade. He was known as a consistent top five driver, but Cook also won more than 300 feature races in his comparatively short 20-year career.
“We think back about how in the world we did all of that,” Cook noted. “The number of races that we ran every year, which was in the 90’s. The only thing I can say is we never quit and we didn’t know how to get tired. That is about what it took when you ran five to six days a week and there’s only seven days.”
Once hired by NASCAR, Cook could be seen visiting racetracks across the northeast, and that is something he still does today.
“Because I like it,” Cook replied when asked why he still makes stops at the tracks he used to race at. “I’ve worked in NASCAR in everything from weekly’s to the Cup. It didn’t matter to me. I will visit them (short tracks) again this year because I like those people. I like that kind of racing. I go to more weekly races than tour races.”
Cook seems to take great pride in the NWMT though even today, which he helped create in 1985.
“At that time I had already seen what was happening to the Sportsman (division) down south,” he recalled. “That ran weekly to the point where they had no cars, no races and I thought about that with the Modifieds, because some tracks had already dropped Modifieds because the purse was too high and this and that.
“I thought if I could start a tour, with all of the cars that were still there, that it would work, and NASCAR let me do it. At first it was tough because there were tracks running weekly. We’re running against each other in our own deal.
“There were all sorts of things that came up along the way, but when the smoke cleared it’s still there today and very successful.”
Cook, who turns 72 next month, admits that retirement from NASCAR is near, but right now, and for the next several months leading up to the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony next January is at the forefront of his mind.
“This has been far and above anything you could ever imagine, and I’ve been in the racing part of this for like 50 years,” Cook told the audience during the Charlotte press conference. “This is absolutely the very top. There’s been more calls, emails and texts than I ever knew you could put on one of these little (phone) things.
“The phone calls were like on top of each other as they were coming in. One was from my neighbor who lived across the road from us, who was just a kid then. It’s absolutely out of this world the people you hear from, the thngs that we’ve already done (since Wednesday’s announcement). It’s gonna’ be a real fun year for me for sure.”