CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame class is an eclectic group but all five members share at least one thing in common.
They all are responsible for monumental contributions to the sport of stock car racing.
The 2018 class includes NASCAR first champion, Red Byron; one of the sport’s greatest innovators as a crew chief, Ray Evernham; a premier engine builder and champion team owner, Robert Yates; the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series record holder for victories and championships, Ron Hornaday Jr.; and a broadcaster who was instrumental in putting the sport on the map, Ken Squier.
The winner of NASCAR’s modified championship in 1948 and the first champion the Strictly Stock Division a year later, Byron was the last of the original class of nominees from 2010 to gain induction.
“I couldn’t tell you why it took so long,” said NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton, who announced the 2018 Class and the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR, won by Jim France. “We’re going to have current champions, we’re going to have future champions, but we only have one first champion.
“I think last year with (first champion team owner) Raymond Parks sort of paving the way, they said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, Red Byron was part of that, too.'”
Byron was a war hero as well as a titan of the asphalt. He suffered a leg injury in World War II that forced him to drive with a special brace attached to the clutch pedal.
“The five characters that we just announced I think contributed across the board in different ways, in different styles of character and in different time frames,” Helton added. “And so I think it’s another ideal class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
In a span of four years, Evernham won three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships with driver Jeff Gordon. As a crew chief he guided Gordon to a remarkable 47 victories and 30 poles in 213 starts in NASCAR’s top division.
Evernham was on the pit box for two wins in the Daytona 500 and two in the Brickyard 400. In 2001, Evernham led the return of Dodge to top series racing as the owner of his own team.
Despite the stats, Evernham was surprised at his election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“The emotion really overwhelmed me, and I’ve been at a loss for words since,” said Evernham, who spoke with reporters by phone after the announcement. “It’s an overwhelming feeling. … I’m honestly just blown away.”
Yates has been on the ballot four times and had come close to induction in the past. This year, he was the leading vote-getter in the 2018 class, being named on 94 percent of ballots.
As an engine builder, he provided the power that enabled Hall of Famer Bobby Allison to win a championship in 1983. As a team owner, he fielded the cars that carried fellow Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title in 1999.
“It’s really good to be here when you win,” said the 74-year-old Yates, who has been battling liver cancer but appeared in great spirits at the Hall of Fame announcement. “It’s all about winning, isn’t it?
“This is a different deal. This is about people you worked against, maybe for or with. … I think my son (engine builder Doug Yates) deserves a lot of it. I think my family deserves a lot of it. (Wife) Carolyn deserves a lot of it. She let me work night and day.
“But over time, to have everybody remember those days … I can look at the pictures of where we came from and ‘Wow, I wasn’t too bad looking a guy back then.'”
Hornaday leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with 51 victories and five championships. Discovered by the late Dale Earnhardt, Hornaday himself has returned that courtesy over the years to such aspiring drivers as Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain and Ricky Carmichael, to name a few.
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Hornaday always had a couch for the up-and-comers to sleep on while they established their careers.
“I got that call from Earnhardt, and now I’m in the Hall of Fame,” said Hornaday, still incredulous at his selection. “My wife should be standing here. She’s the one who did all this. She’s a trooper. I was done racing because somebody stole our tool box, and she saved the $1,700 to buy the tool box and a new helmet to go racing.
“Sacrificed for the whole family—and this is pretty damn cool.”
Perhaps best known for calling the 1979 Daytona 500 on CBS, the race launched NASCAR’s meteoric popularity, Squier co-founded the Motor Racing Network. The Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, housed in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, bears his name and that of the late Barney Hall.
“I’m just tickled that, just because we played all those hard towns and kept on coming back, that it meant something,” Squier said.
The son of Big Bill France and the brother of Bill France Jr., Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR winner Jim France founded the Grand-Am sports car series and shepherded the merger between Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series to create what is now the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship.
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Currently serving as chairman of the board of International Speedway Corporation, France was also a driving force behind the revolutionary Daytona Rising project that transformed the marquee venue of NASCAR racing.