The NASCAR Hall of Fame announced Tuesday its three inductees for the Class of 2021, with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Stefanik and Red Farmer set for enshrinement next winter.
The three-member class was the first elected under new voting rules, with nominees divided into Modern Era and Pioneer Era groups. Two were chosen from a field of 10 Modern Era nominees, and one was selected from a group of five on the Pioneer Era ballot for legends whose careers began more than 60 years ago.
Earnhardt — a two-time Daytona 500 winner who was chosen as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver 15 times — led all nominees with 76 percent of the vote, winning induction on his first year on the ballot. Stefanik — a nine-time champion in Modified and Busch North (now ARCA East) competition — was the other Modern Era selection, appearing on 49 percent of ballots cast in his seventh year of eligibility. Ricky Rudd and Neil Bonnett were the next top vote-getters in the Modern Era category.
Farmer, a founding member of the Alabama Gang and a four-time regional champion in NASCAR’s early days, topped the Pioneer Era list with 71 percent of the vote. Hershel McGriff and Banjo Matthews were the next-highest candidates receiving votes.
Ralph Seagraves, the R.J. Reynolds marketing chief who lifted the sport during the Winston Cup era of growth, was chosen as the 2021 Landmark Award winner for outstanding contributions to NASCAR.
Earnhardt retired from full-time competition in 2017, compiling 26 premier-series wins and collecting two championships in what is now called the Xfinity Series in his career. The 45-year-old has stayed active in the sport since stepping away from a full-time role, maintaining the JR Motorsports organization as a team owner in the Xfinity Series and joining NBC Sports as an on-air analyst in 2018.
His sincerity in addressing the media immediately after his selection was announced was indicative of the humble and heartfelt manner he conducted his career. He insisted with a smile that he was more nervous Tuesday after a morning root canal at his dentist than waiting for the results of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting.
“When that list of nominees came out I was so honored to be on that sheet,’’ Earnhardt said. “I couldn’t believe my name was on that sheet to be honest with you. I know those guys and their body of work. I was good with just being on the sheet and was going to be happy with that. It’s such a great feeling that someone feels like I made an impact on the sport. And I know my numbers, the wins, the lack of a championship, I know what my numbers are. And I feel like I was chosen based on that but also based on the impact off the race track and being an ambassador for the sport.”
Stefanik amassed 74 Whelen Modified Tour wins in a wide-ranging career that included winning Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 1999 at age 41. He also won Modified and Busch North titles in the same season twice (1997-98). Stefanik died last September in a plane crash at age 61.
Farmer, 87, still competes as a short-track weekend warrior, but his career spanned a variety of series. He made just 36 Cup Series starts, but was a three-time Late Model Sportsman (now Xfinity Series) champion and a one-time Modified title winner. Staying true to his racer roots, Farmer said that earlier Tuesday he was working on getting his backup car ready for this weekend’s events at the Talladega Short Track after a bump-up competing last week.
“I had to catch my breath there for a minute,’’ a smiling Farmer said of hearing the NASCAR Hall of Fame news. “This is the biggest honor you could ever get. … I started down there on the beach (at Daytona) in 1953. I’ve been in NASCAR a long time and got to run against a lot of great drivers.”
Voting Day was held the previous Tuesday on June 9, with the voting panel conducting a virtual meeting through a video teleconference as COVID-19 restrictions remain in place. The panel consisted of 65 former drivers, inductees, NASCAR executives, industry leaders and media members, plus one vote reserved for fan balloting.
The official fan ballot, which counted as a formal vote, was for Earnhardt Jr., Neil Bonnett and Farmer.
Contributing: Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service