Dale Inman was a soft-spoken, hard working, natural-born creative leader who basically wrote the book on how to be a crew chief in NASCAR. Prior to his arrival in the sport in 1958, there wasn’t a blue print on how to get the most out of a race car, nor how to organize - or get the most out of - a team.“It was definitely a learning curve because it was all new to us,” said Inman, who will join his cousin Richard Petty and Uncle Lee Petty as a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on Thursday, May 2, at the Speed Dome just outside of Talladega Superspeedway. “There wasn’t any glamour to it, that is for sure, so you just did what you had to do. If you had to work all night and drive the truck with the race car to a track the next day, you did it. I can tell you it wasn’t always easy, but we learned something new each day.”
Today, Inman is known as not only a true mechanical innovator, but his ability to teach and lead separated him from others over the years. He is the most successful crew chief in the history of NASCAR, with a record eight Sprint Cup Series Championships and 193 Cup wins. Out of those victories, seven of them were at the Daytona 500 with Richard Petty behind the wheel. Seven of the championships were also with Petty.
Inman was born and raised in Level Cross, NC, right down the street from Richard. He spent most of his free time at the Petty’s where he put in timehelping three-time NASCAR champion Lee, the patriarch of Petty Enterprises, work on his race car.
“Richard and I were in diapers around the same time,” laughs Inman, now 76, who is 10 months older than Richard. “We played as small kids, participated in sports in school together, climbed trees together, and spent a lot of time around each other. You have to remember there were no TV’s back then. As we got older, it was only fitting for us to work on race cars.”
Upon graduating high school in 1954, Inman went into the Army Ordnance and was there for two years. Afterwards, he started working full-time at Western Electric, but in his spare time you could find him at Petty Enterprises.
In 1963 he decided to take the plunge and become a full-time employee at Petty Enterprises as a crew chief. During his first season with the team, they won 13 races—leading the series in wins. Just a year later the duo won their first Daytona 500 and accomplished their first NASCAR Championship victory.
It was during this time in the sport that mechanics were self taught, and in order to get an advantage over the others, they had to learn new skills on their own. Inman was one of those guys who pushed himself to learn – to make cars better, faster and safer.
“He had that magical touch,” said Petty of Inman. “He was totally dedicated to what we were trying to accomplish. He knew how to get the best out of me as a driver as well as the crew. He approached things with attitude, confidence and focus. He knew what to do to make the car the best it could be for me. He just made it all work.”
In 1967, the dynamic duo made a statement to the racing world, claiming 27 victories with an incredible 10 in a row, a feat that has never been matched. No other driver won more than six races that season. Richard said a lot of the credit went to Inman, a stickler for pre-race preparation who wanted the car ready to race when it arrived at the track.
“Dale was one of the first ones to take a car in and completely disassemble it from one race to another instead of waiting until something broke,” added Petty. “That made those cars almost bulletproof. That’s the reason we won so many races.”
“I think I was able to understand pretty much everything that Richard needed in a car,” said Inman. “It is probably because we grew up together. He understood what he needed to do on race day as a driver, and I understood what I needed to do as a crew chief on race day. Because of that, when the race started, Richard always thought he could win.”
Inman was an expert at relaying information to all crew members and his drivers. Inman, also widely known in NASCAR circles as a practical joker, was a master strategist on race day, especially when it came to pit stops. He was the first to use the “gas and go” strategy, which wound up being the right call for the No. 43 team to win both Petty and Inman’s seventh Daytona 500 in 1981.
Soon after that classic Daytona 500 triumph, Dale parted ways with Petty Enterprises and moved over to Osterlund Racing where he became the crew chief for reigning Cup Series Champion Dale Earnhardt. Later that year Osterlund sold his team to J.D. Stacy and Earnhardt walked as well. As a replacement driver, Tim Richmond took Earnhardt’s seat and won two races that season with Inman as his crew chief.
After his stint with Stacy, Inman moved to Hagan Enterprises where he became the crew chief for Terry Labonte. In 1984 Inman led the team to a NASCAR Championship, his record eighth (1964, ’67, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75, ’79 and ’84). After two seasons with Labonte, Inman returned home to Petty Enterprises in 1986, resuming his role as Petty’s crew chief. In 1988, he took a management role with the team.
Inman semi-retired in 1998. Today he serves as a consultant to the refurbished Richard Petty Motorsports., which houses teams for Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in the Sprint Cup Series. When he’s not at the track he divides his time between his wife of 55 years, Mary Inman, his children Jeff & Tina, and his four grandkids.
“I have met so many great people over the years in this sport,” Inman admitted. “I have made so many friends, been to so many places, and really been fortunate to have a lot of success, so it has been an incredible ride. I would not change a thing. It truly is an honor to go into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, especially with this year’s class.”