Darrell Waltrip was close enough to taste it.
Waltrip was maybe 30 feet from NASCAR CEO Brian France on Wednesday as France prepared to read the names of the five men who would make up the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Waltrip had gone back and forth as to whether he'd get in this time. People he knew from racing and from his second career as a TV broadcaster kept telling the Owensboro, Ky., native he'd make it. He wasn't sure.
Whatever happened, D.W. was going to have to interview everyone who made it on TV — or else be interviewed himself. He sat there on an office swivel chair, under the glare of the TV lights, waiting like everyone else.
"David Pearson," France said.
This was the one sure thing. Pearson should have made it last year. Pearson was named on 94 percent of the ballots — far more than anyone else.
"Bobby Allison," France said.
Allison, Cale Yarborough and Waltrip are all credited with either 83 or 84 victories. The conventional wisdom was that the three men's careers were so similar — each ranks in the top five in all-time wins — they would go in together in the second class.
"Lee Petty," France said. Waltrip's face started to turn white. "Ned Jarrett," France said. Waltrip clapped politely. "Bud Moore," France said.
Sitting next to Waltrip, Kyle Petty clapped him on the leg sympathetically.
Waltrip's face showed no expression, but was so drained of color it looked like a sheet of typing paper. For a moment, the man who is so adept at talking into microphones that he long ago picked up the nickname "Jaws" was quiet.
OK, so you've seen people not win awards they wanted plenty of times. It happens every year at countless awards shows.
But how many times have you seen that same person then have to interview everyone who beat him on live TV?
That's what Waltrip had to do Wednesday. He held up well. He smiled and congratulated all the winners. But inside it gnawed at him.
After the TV lights dimmed, Waltrip talked to some of us reporters. "I'm disappointed," he said.
By then, after an hour on TV, Waltrip had regained his color and some of his normal good humor. "I haven't met anybody yet who didn't vote for me," he said. "I'm not sure — somebody needs to do the math."
In fact, of the 52 votes cast by folks from all corners of the NASCAR industry, by my math Waltrip had to have been left off of at least 29 of the 52 ballots (the fans did put him on their ballot, which counted as the 53rd vote).
Bud Moore, the well-known crew chief, owner and war hero, was the last man in on Wednesday. He got 45 percent of the votes.
It was the wrong decision, I thought. Both Waltrip and Cale Yarborough should have made it over Jarrett and Moore (both of whom also deserve to be in, of course, but in class No. 3).
Yarborough wasn't there, so at least he didn't have to lose publicly. He was home in South Carolina and was scheduled for oral surgery, he told a reporter earlier in the week.
Both Waltrip and Yarborough made some political enemies during and after their driving careers. Waltrip didn't think that was the reason he didn't make it. I think it was part of it.
"Believe it or not, I think it's because I'm 63 years old," Waltrip said. "I think they look at me as a guy who's going to be around awhile. Maybe it's not time. Maybe I'm not old enough to be in the hall of fame."
He has a point, but it's probably more than that.
Waltrip isn't as universally beloved in the NASCAR community as Jarrett, for instance, although his driving record in the top series is better and both have been TV broadcasters.
"I couldn't do any more," Waltrip said, and the emotion started to seep out of him then. "I did everything. In this sport, I've done everything they've ever asked me to do. I've won races. Championships. I've done everything I think I can do. And you know? It wasn't my time. I guess I might know a little bit how Pearson feels today when he left here last year (after not getting elected to the first class)."
It's hard to feel terribly sorry for Waltrip, of course. He's handsome, rich and relatively famous.
Yet I did feel sorry for him Wednesday.
I thought he should have made it, but he didn't. He wanted it badly, lost publicly and can't do a thing about it.
When do you think you'll get in? I asked him.
"You know," Waltrip said, "at this point I wouldn't make a prediction."
Then someone else needed him, and he had to go.
Waltrip swiveled his chair back around, facing a camera again, as one of the longest days of his life just kept on going.