CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Another class has been immortalized amongst the sport’s greatest and most important figures.
Five new inductees, comprised of Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons and Mark Martin, were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the eighth class inducted into the hall since its opening in 2010.
The members of this class have, between all five individuals, 19 combined championships amongst the three owners and 61 wins amongst the two drivers.
First to speak was 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick to introduce Raymond Parks.
He talked about Parks “[installing] professionalism” in the early days of NASCAR.
“Like Bill France Sr., he, (Parks) foresaw that with the proper guidance, rough and tumble stock car racing could become a nationally recognized sport,” Harvick said. “He put his money where his mouth was, investing in our great pastime as an owner.”
Parks’s granddaughter, Patricia DePottey, accepted his induction into the hall on his behalf.
She was asked if it hit her just how important Parks was to the formation of the sport.
“It does, and I will tell you knowing my grandfather, anybody who knew him, he could speak a whole book in two words,” she said. “And the first time, to let you know how he was, I asked him, ‘How did you get into racing?’ And in less than 10 minutes, he told me his whole life story. His story was, ‘Well, I got some cars, and I just started winning.’
“And I went, ‘Okay.’
“And you could go into his store, and he had that wooden table that you saw in the picture. He had his trophies. And I’m not kidding you, if you went over to look at one of the trophies, he would stand there and he’d say, well, oh, I got that when Red Byron won the championship.
“That was the end of the story.
“But what really hit me, I think, was the first time I went to the Daytona Speedway, I was sitting in the stands, and it hit me, because everything I had heard growing up, I could see all of them in the Streamline Motel. I could see the cars racing around in the sand. I could just envision everything that he accomplished, and it was like all of the stories became real.
“And I think that was just a very momentous time for me.”
The second induction was the late Benny Parsons.
He was introduced by 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, who compared Parsons’s rise from a Detroit taxi cab driver to a NASCAR champion as being something straight out of a Hollywood script.
“The people of Michigan love their champions, and as I can attest and Benny can attest, he was a champion that made everyone in the state very proud,” Keselowski said. “And racers in Michigan were a tight-knit community, and the automotive hub of Detroit, starting with Benny and my grandfather, incredible relationship, and the Keselowskis and Parsons that developed a bond that still exists today. That’s why it’s such an honor for me to be here tonight. But beyond Benny’s work behind the wheel, it was his work in the broadcast booth that really stood out and brought his knowledge and love of the sport to the rest of America.”
Parsons’s widow, Terri Parsons, accepted his induction on his behalf. She thanked people who were part of his racing career in ARCA and NASCAR. She said there were numerous “old crew members” who “worked on numerous cars” he drove.
“Most of all, the most important thing about tonight for him would be the people and especially the fans, understand how much they meant to him and how much he loved each and every one of you,” she said. “You all have such great stories, and tonight is really a celebration of his life. This is not sad, this is happy. I’m the only one that’s sad.”
When asked what the family would do with the ring, she said it would be left on display in the hall.
“We’re going to put it in the Hall of Fame, because we think about it, the people at home, the fans that are visiting the Hall of Fame, never get to see a ring because we all take them home with us, so we thought we’d like to share this with the people that come through the Hall of Fame so they can see what an actual Hall of Fame ring looks like,” she added.
H. Clay Earles, the founder of Martinsville Speedway, was awarded the 2017 Landmark Award. Clay Campbell, grandson and current track president, accepted the award on his behalf.
After being introduced by his grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon, Richard Childress was officially inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
He started by saying that being surrounded by the greats of the sport he’d be joining in the hall, combined “with so many great inductees [in this class] is quite an honor.”
“Raymond Parks, a pioneer car owner, who paved the way for owners like Rick Hendrick and myself; Benny Parsons, a great driver and a champion; Mark Martin, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, buddy,” Childress said. “You can win at anything. And Rick Hendrick, my friend, what an honor to go in this Hall of Fame with you. You’re a champion. You did so much for this sport. It’s an honor to go in with you. Thank you. Congratulations to all of the inductees tonight.”
He then went into how only in the United States “could a kid selling peanuts and popcorn at Bowman Gray Stadium have a dream of becoming a race driver some day, and then he goes out and buys him an old ’47 Plymouth, pays $20 for it, that was the best investment I ever made, and have a dream of being a NASCAR driver some day, be standing up here tonight to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
He went on to thank his family, sponsors and drivers who’ve made Richard Childress Racing the racing organization what it is today.
But he thanked the late Dale Earnhardt in particular.
“I wouldn’t be standing here tonight without him,” he said. “He was a great friend and a huge loss to all of us and to our sport. I knew Dale for over 25 years. We spent 18 seasons together racing. I have so many great memories. Winning our first championship, winning the Daytona 500, Indy, and many more.
“He is a seven-time NASCAR champion.
“But most of all, he’s a champion to all of his fans, his friends and his family. I’ve got so many Dale stories, I was asked to tell a Dale story.
“The only one I can think of that really stands out, it’s the first time I met Dale and we were racing. We were racing down at Metrolina Speedway on the Grand National race that Ned Jarrett put together that day, and was coming into Turn 3, Cale Yarborough and myself was racing for the win, and we got together going into Turn 3. I made it back around and won the race.
“After the race, we was standing there having us a few cool ones, Dale was there, and in his ol’ Dale Earnhardt style, he walked over, poked me in the chest, and he said ‘Next time I race with you, I will win.’ What history never knew from that day.
He also spoke of the 1969 Talladega 500, which most of the regular drivers boycotted.
“Bill Sr., 1969 when we had the boycott in Talladega, I’d ran the race on Saturday, and he gave us the deal money back then to come and race plus what you’d win in the purse,” he said. “When the boycott happened he stood on that bench down there, and he said, boys, if y’all race tomorrow, I’ll give you more deal money and you can take the purse. I left that day with probably more money than I’d ever seen at once in my life, probably 3 or 4 thousand dollars. I didn’t think I’d ever have to work again. Hell, I’m still working. That was the break that really helped RCR get going. I’ll never forget it.”
He closed out his speech by thanking the fans of NASCAR, the U.S. armed forces and the staff at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Hendrick was next to be inducted. He was introduced by seven-time and reigning Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon.
Hendrick started his speech by praising the other inductees into the hall. He said Martin “made a difference in every organization that you’ve ever been in,” including Hendrick Motorsports. He said BP “was one sweet man. He loved everybody. He lifted everybody. He was such an ambassador to our sport. He was a champion, but he was a champion in the booth. He was a champion person. And when you go through life and no one has anything to say ugly about you, can say anything negative, then you are a true champion,” and Parsons was that guy. He said he’s read and watched videos about Parks and stated he probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for owners like him paving the way.
Hendrick also took time to thank his wife Linda.
“I don’t know if you remember this, I’m sure you do, 44 years ago this month, we swapped rings,” he said. “So this ring is as much for you as it is for me because there’s nobody that’s sacrificed what you’ve sacrificed for me to do what I’ve done. She stood in the back of the grocery store with me, and we counted our money before we went to the checkout line. Our bed in our first house had three legs and Muncie four-speed gearbox for the fourth leg.
“When we were boat racing, she was selling tee shirts out of the back of the trailer so we could raise enough money to go back and do it again. So she sits in church on Sunday, so many Sundays by herself when I’ve been gone for 44 years doing what I love.
“Tonight, this is as much yours, probably more, than it is mine. I love you, and thank you for all you’ve done.”
He told the story of starting Hendrick Motorsports.
“I think back to Linda and I moving to Charlotte and I was selling parts to all the race teams that weren’t funded, and I got a call one day when Richard Broom and I were drag boat racing, and we were looking for a sponsor, and Max Muhleman called me, and he said ‘Would you like to own a race team with maybe C.K. Spurlock, the All-Star Race, and Richard Petty would be the driver?’ And I thought, ‘Is this a trick question? Am I really — are you serious?’
“I met this guy, Harry Hyde, who was a better salesman than I am. Harry Hyde convinced me if he could build one car that he could go win a race, and I believed it. And when we formed All-Star Racing in that little tin building on the hill, we had five employees. I was renting the transmissions, renting the equipment, and Harry was making $500 a week.
“And we raced for six races with Geoff Bodine, and I said, Harry, we wrecked Darlington, and I said, ‘I can’t go any further. If we don’t get a sponsor we’ve got to close the doors.’
“Now, true story, Linda is here. I had promised her we’d go to a revival. So on the Martinsville race, the seventh race, I was in church, and I went to a pay phone after church, and I called my mother, and I said, ‘Mom, how did the race end up in Martinsville?’ She said, ‘You didn’t hear?’ And I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘Geoff blew up,’ and I said, ‘Blew up, okay.’ She said, ‘No, he won.’ I said, ‘He won the race?’ So everybody was wrapping his yard in toilet paper.
“But I think I had divine intervention that day because I was in church.
“But we got a sponsor that year, and kind of the rest is history.”
He concluded by saying he humbly accepts this honor.
The final inductee of the night was Mark Martin.
He was introduced by Matt Kenseth, who stated Martin was one of the earliest drivers to be dedicated “to precise nutrition and rigorous workouts” and build a career that ran four decades.
“As his former teammate, I had the privilege of witnessing my mentor’s talent and fortitude first hand,” Kenseth said. “Now he gets to take his rightful place amongst NASCAR legends in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
After being inducted by former car owner Jack Roush, Martin started his speech, being as modest as always, by thanking his wife Arlene Martin.
“We met Christmas 1983, and Arlene, from that day, that day and every day since then, you have made me better,” he said. “It’s incredible what we’ve seen and what we’ve done to get here.”
He was at a loss for words trying to state how it felt standing up on stage, saying his “words could never do justice.”
“To me, it’s an honor — to say it’s an honor would be an understatement,” he said. “To say it’s a culmination is a fact. It’s an honor beyond the wildest imagination of a kid from Arkansas that just loved to drive fast cars and win races.
“Most importantly, it’s the recognition of hard work, determination, drive and focus, not of myself, but of those that gave their blood, sweat and tears to put me up here tonight. I want to thank all the Hall members, all the ones that came before me. If not for the groundwork they laid with their relentless passion and effort and sacrifice to the sport, there might not be a NASCAR at all, and there certainly wouldn’t be no Hall of Fame.”
Martin transitioned into thanking those who helped him achieve his goals, including his parents, Larry Shaw, Larry Phillips, Banjo Grimm, Rex Robbins, Ray Dillon, Bud Reeder and a host of others.
With Reeder, he said he went from a ride in 1981 to leaving Daytona broke in 1982.
“I was just a kid like Jeff Gordon was when he came along, 22 years old, I had never failed at anything, and it looked like it was going to be pretty easy,” he said. “I sat on two poles out of five races, worst I ever qualified was sixth, led two races decisively, and finished third, seventh and 11th in those two races. It looked like it was going to be pretty easy.
“So I started off 1982 and left Daytona broke, a sponsor that never paid, and I proceeded to just struggle all year long. Pretty much lost everything.
“But you know, you can never, ever give up.
“So then in 1984, I’m standing outside the fence looking in the garage area at Daytona. I was watching the mechanics changing springs, the engine tuners working on the carburetors, crew chiefs going over their notes, and the drivers walking back and forth from the cars to the transporters, and I said, ‘I can beat those guys.’ Now, understanding I wasn’t waiting to go inside and get in my car. I wasn’t worried about sitting on a pole or winning a race. I didn’t even have a credential. I was on the outside looking in.
“Sometimes you just need a second chance. And I needed that second chance.”
He said that second chance came in the form of a man wearing a full-brimmed hat who “used more words than most of us know.”
“Jack, we battled side by side for nearly 20 years, and I never once questioned your will to win or determination to succeed,” Martin said. “We not only won a lot of races, but you helped mold me into the man I am today. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me, for everything — for the opportunity to even stand up here tonight on this stage, or more importantly, the role you played in me becoming the person I am today.”
He closed out his speech by thanking his sponsors he had over the years, NASCAR, the France family, the fans, his crew chiefs and pit crew members over the years and even took time to thank the media.
“And to the media, I didn’t always agree with you, but I always admired your dedication to the sport I loved so much,” he said.
The 2017 class and the living inductees of the hall took to the stage to take part in a group photo to close out the ceremony.