Where Are They Now: NASCAR Hall of Famer Jerry Cook
The NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee continues to recover.
Every year since it opened in 2010 the NASCAR Hall of Fame has honored the greats of the sport inducting five members each season. Earlier this year the NASCAR Modified Tour welcomed one of its greatest champions to the hallowed grounds of the facility located in Charlotte, North Carolina – Jerry Cook.
Cook, 73, had already been inducted into three other halls of fame and was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers during the organization’s 50th anniversary season in 1998. However, getting word that he would become part of the seventh class to be inducted was what he called ‘the ultimate honor from NASCAR’ in his career.
While Cook has enjoyed the past year attending events on behalf of the NHOF, there was a time it appeared Cook might not make it to the ceremony or even live to hear his name officially called as a member.
While vacationing in 2015, Cook fell ill and spent several months in the hospital recuperating from an illness that almost took his life. Fast forward to 2016 and while Cook still isn’t moving as fast as he would like to be, the Rome, New York native is back on his feet and ready to keep being a part of NASCAR.
A year ago I was in a wheel chair and having a tough time. “I worked really hard to get my strength back because nothing was going to keep me from attending the induction ceremony.
Despite a rare winter storm that forced officials to adjust the schedule of the ceremony, Cook was there – and standing – during his induction ceremony. While it was a long road back to get to the stage, for many who know Cook knew nothing was going to stop the hard-nosed racer from upstate New York.
“I’m back walking now and have been working with a personal trainer for three days a week to get my strength back and I’m now able to walk a little,” Cook added.
Cook raced at Utica-Rome Speedway in modifieds and would go on to win the 1969 track championship. He then moved up to what is now known as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 1970 and went on to win six championships by 1977.
Cook credits the Hollebrand family for helping him reach his level of NASCAR success that led to his HOF numbers over the next decade.
“We had a good run up to that point but even back then I had done about all I could out of my pocket and thankfully I teamed up with Pete Hollenbrand and his son Pete Jr. who owned Hollendbrand Trucking and they helped give me the resources to move up,” Cook said. “We just wanted to win one championship and we wound up winning six. I can’t thank them enough for supporting me and my family all of those years.”
NACSAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley added Cook is a well-deserved member of the organization.
“Jerry's well-deserved induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is based on his multidimensional contributions to NASCAR,” said Kelley. “From his incredible success as a driver with six Modified Division championships to his administrative roles with the sanctioning body, including helping set up what is now the Whelen Modified Tour and serving as the tour's first director in 1985, Jerry has been an integral part of so many aspects of our sport and industry for more than 50 years.”
While Cook’s illness slowed him down the past year, just like he did on the race track, he’s not interested in slowing down anytime soon.
“Well I know I’ll never race again, I plan on staying involved around NASCAR and working with the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Cook said. “The Coupe on display at the NHOF belongs to Ray Evernham and there is another car being built so I’m sure we’ll be busy showing them around and I plan on being involved.”
Cook, who will celebrate 49 years of marriage to his wife Sue in January, appreciates everyone who has stayed in touch with him since he retired from NASCAR at the end of 2015 and driving in 1982.
“The great thing is I always wanted to step out of the race car while I was still capable of winning and I thank NASCAR for coming along and offering me something that allowed me to be a part of the sport in 1982 and I’m blessed that now through the NHOF my granddaughter – who never saw me race – now knows as much about my career as people who followed my career all those years ago,” he said.
Jerry Cook Bio
Born: June 20, 1943 (Rome, New York)
Children: David and Kristi
NASCAR Championships: 6 (1971-72; 1974-1977)
Race Starts: 1,474 (1963-82)
Race Wins: 342
Honors: Named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers (1998)
Member of the following halls of fame:
NASCAR Hall of Fame (2016)
International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2009)
New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame (1993)
National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (1989)
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