Annual ceremony pays tribute to five racing legends
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Friday night, in a particularly moving ceremony, the NASCAR Hall of Fame welcomed one of the most significant classes since the induction of its inaugural class in 2010.
Perennial most popular driver Bill Elliott headlined a five-member class that also included NASCAR trailblazer Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver ever to win at NASCAR’s highest level and the first ever to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame; Fred Lorenzen, a supremely talented driver who won 26 of his 158 career starts; two-time champion Joe Weatherly, who won 25 races in NASCAR’s premier series and 101 races in the NASCAR modified ranks; and 1960 champion Rex White, who started 233 races and finished in the top five in 110 of them.
Introduced by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, Lorenzen, from Elmhurst, Illinois, was one of the first "northern" drivers to gain acceptance in what was, at the time, a predominantly Southeastern sport. Though Lorenzen never competed in more than 29 races in a single season, he won 26 times in 158 starts, a remarkable winning percentage of 16.46.
"One of the most pivotal moments of dad’s career came on Christmas Eve 1960, when Ralph Moody called dad and asked him to drive for Holman Moody," said Lorenzen’s son, Chris, in accepting induction on behalf of his father.
"Soon after, there he was at Darlington driving his Holman Moody Ford signature pearlescent white No. 28 to Victory Lane … Dad always said, ‘The sky is the limit, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ That has been dad’s most important saying in life, and he certainly lived by it."
Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon introduced the late Wendell Scott, whose Dec. 1, 1963 victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, stands as the first win by an African-American driver in NASCAR’s top series.
In a career that included 495 starts, Scott recorded 147 top-10 finishes.
"We have been led to this great celebration and enshrinement tonight because of the character, tenacity and determination of Wendell O. Scott Sr.," Scott’s son, Franklin, said in accepting induction on behalf of his father. "I believe dad envisioned a night such as this comprised of his family, friends and fellow competitors. Unfortunately, the love of his life, Mary Scott, is not here physically because of health reasons, but her spirit is definitely here in a very profound way.
"The legacy of Wendell Scott depicts him as one of the great vanguards of the sport of NASCAR racing. Daddy was a man of great honor. He didn’t let his circumstances define who he was. The Bible teaches that before a person can have honor, they must first have integrity and humility. In addition another one of his great attributes was perseverance. There were two words that were forbidden for us to use growing up in the Scott household. Those words were ‘can’t’ and ‘never.’
"In spite of the many obstacles, struggles and hardships he faced, he persevered. What seemed to be insurmountable odds to others, daddy considered it an opportunity. His intestinal fortitude to follow his dreams has placed him among the greatest to ever compete in the sport he loved — racing."
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick took the dais to introduce the third new member of the Hall of Fame, 1960 champion Rex White, who collected 28 victories and 36 poles in his 233 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
"Words can’t express how honored I am to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with the other Hall of Fame members, especially my 2015 fellow inductees," White said.
"No driver wins a championship by himself, and nobody enters the Hall of Fame alone. I am the symbol of a team effort. From my first race in 1953 until now, this effort spans 62 years."
Brad Keselowski, 2012 NSCS champion introduced Joy Barbee, niece of the late Joe Weatherly, who won championships in 1962 and 1963 before a crash in the fifth race of the 1964 season, at Riverside (Calif.) Raceway took his life.
Known as the "Clown Prince of Stock Car Racing" for his gregarious nature and proclivity for practical jokes (rubber snakes were a favorite), Weatherly won 25 races and 18 poles in 229 starts.
"Being the youngest of seven, I was only two-and-a-half when Joe was killed, so I really don’t remember him at all, but what I can share with you is a memory that I will hold forever in my heart and that is a memory about the love of a brother and a sister, Joe and my mother Betty.
"I feel like I knew Joe through her, through the stories she would tell us as kids, and the passion you could hear in her voice when she spoke of him … I must say that standing here tonight is such a great honor, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here accepting this award on behalf of my Uncle Joe."
Kasey Kahne, who took over the No. 9 car from Elliott, introduced his racing hero, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville," the most prolific winner of the 2015 Hall of Fame class with 44 victories in NASCAR’s top series, 16th on the all-time list.
Elliott won the Cup championship in 1988 after becoming the first driver in series history to claim the Winston Million in 1985 with victories in the Daytona 500, Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway and Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Champion crew chief Ray Evernham performed the official induction of Elliott, who advanced to NASCAR’s highest level from a small family operation in Dawsonville, Georgia.
"It’s just an honor to be here, guys," Elliott said. "If you look on the walls here at the people who are already inducted into this great Hall of Fame, it’s just incredible … One thing that I look at out here today, guys, is one common bond with all these racers is the hard work and the dedication all these guys had.
"And for me to stand up here among the guys that have already been here is totally incredible."
Anne Bledsoe France, wife of founder and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill France Sr., was honored with the first Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Familiarly known as "Annie B," Anne B. France handled the business end of NASCAR racing while "Big Bill" grew the sport into a national phenomenon.
Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation, accepted the award on behalf of her grandmother.
Renowned Charlotte Observer racing writer Tom Higgins received the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, joining Ken Squier, Barney Hall and the late Chris Economaki. NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes aptly referred to the quartet as the "Mount Rushmore" of motorsports journalism.