NASCAR Hall of Fame inducts league's heavy hitters
Also inducted were France’s son, Bill France, Jr., seven-time champions Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and driver and championship-winning car owner Junior Johnson.
Sunday’s ceremony was a culmination of the seven years of effort on the part of NASCAR and the city of Charlotte to finally give the sport of stock car racing a place to honor its history, its visionaries and its superstars.
Bill France, Sr. – known as “Big Bill” founded NASCAR on February 21, 1948 and opened up the sport’s first superspeedway – Daytona Int’l Speedway – in 1959.
France would preside over the sport for nearly 25 years, nurturing it through it’s infancy and into a new era as R.J. Reynolds came on board in 1970 as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s premiere series, the Winston Cup Series – the precursor of today’s Sprint Cup Series.
France was the first member of the Hall of Fame to be inducted on Sunday, accepted by his son and former NASCAR president, Jim France
“If Dad were here today, he would be proud, as well, but in a different way,” said Jim France. “He would be proud mostly for NASCAR. He would be proud of this Hall of Fame, a commitment made to honor our past and to recognize the individuals who are responsible for making NASCAR what it is today, for their great accomplishments.
Upon his retirement in 1972, Big Bill literally gave the keys to the company to his son, Bill France, Jr., also known as “Bill Jr.”, who guided the sport up from it’s grassroots beginnings and into the mainstream as the sport evolved into one of the premiere sporting organizations in the county.
France, Jr. retired in 2000 and later turned the reins over to his own son, current NASCAR CEO Brian France, who accepted his father into the Hall along with France’s daughter, and daughter, Lesa France Kennedy.
“You know, this business, when you're in our family, all the families that represent this industry, it's tough,” said Brian France. “But it all works because somebody has the vision at the time to look out for the sport and what's good for everyone. That was my father.
Richard Petty will always be remembered as one of the sport’s first superstars, following in the footsteps of his father, Lee Petty.
Known as “The King”, Petty was NASCAR’s first seven-time champion and still holds the NASCAR record for most victories with 200 to his credit, the last coming at Daytona Speedway in 1984.
“I appreciate being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Petty. “I appreciate the guys that voted for me. You know, look forward to what's coming down the road. I guess I'm going to do like Gomer Pyle, I'm just going to say, Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Johnson ran his first race 1953 and chalked up 50 wins in his 14 year career. After retiring, he won six championships as a car owner fielding rides for Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip.
Johnson, once called “the Last American Hero”, still hold onto his moonshiner’s roots – helping the Hall of Fame build an authentic moonshine still that’s now on display.
“Being inducted into this Hall of Fame, it could never, never do anything I appreciate anymore,” said Johnson. “With that I'll just thank you. Glad to be a part of this Hall of Fame.”
Closing out the ceremony was the induction of the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who is heralded as one of the sports greatest superstars.
Coming up from humble beginnings, Earnhardt garnered a reputation as the toughest and most determined driver on the track throughout his career.
“If you were on a hunting trip with Dale and you shot a bigger elk, boy, it was going to be a long, long ride home,” said Richard Childress, who won five championships as Earnhardt’s car owner. “If you were headed to an airport after a race, you better hold on because he was going to try to get there first.”
Earnhardt, who lost his life in a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, was inducted by his widow, Teresa Earnhardt, and his children Kerry, Kelley, Dale Jr. and Taylor.
“Dale Earnhardt was a man who personified the American dream,” said Teresa Earnhardt. “He worked hard. He earned everything he had and he enjoyed it. This is an achievement of a lifetime. To be able to celebrate it, for me this is a moment of pride for Dale that I just can't put into words.
“Dale Earnhardt was definitely a hero to his family. No one can say more about that than his children. Through them, his friends and fans, through this Hall of Fame, through you, Dale Earnhardt, the legend, lives on.”
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