NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. headlined the five inductees into the first class of the Hall of Fame, a group that drew mixed reactions to the inclusion of France's son instead of driver David Pearson.
France, who formed the National Association of Stock Car Racing in 1947, was the first inductee announced Wednesday in a ceremony that followed a lengthy voting session at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Richard Petty, the seven-time Cup champion and NASCAR's all-time wins leader, was the second inductee revealed by current NASCAR chairman Brian France, who received the five envelopes one at a time from an independent accounting firm.
Next up was Bill France Jr., son of the NASCAR founder who spent nearly 30 years at the helm of America's top motorsports series.
"When I seen the two Frances was in, I knew I didn't have a chance," Pearson said moments after the ceremony ended.
The final two nods instead went to Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR's other seven-time champion, and Junior Johnson, a former driver and car owner whose early days of running moonshine through backroads of North Carolina stands as a symbol of NASCAR's start.
Pearson's exclusion surprised many, including Petty.
Ushered into the ballroom moments after the inductees were announced, the King had to be told who had been selected with him for next May's induction ceremony.
"That wouldn't have been my pick," he said.
The differing opinions created a strange dynamic through the convention center, where 50 voters had gathered to debate the nominees before a secret ballot. As many of NASCAR's pioneers discussed the selections, six women clad in black dresses, dark sunglasses and fake Earnhardt-like mustaches distributed invitations to a celebratory reception hosted by Earnhardt's widow, Teresa.
The Class of 2010:
Earnhardt co-holds the record for most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships (seven) with Richard Petty. In only his second full season, 1980, Earnhardt nabbed his first championship. He won consecutive titles on three separate occasions (1986-87, ’90-91 and ’93-94). Earnhardt’s 76 victories rank seventh all-time.
He is the all-time leader in race victories at Daytona International Speedway with 34, though the most prominent of them was a while in the making.
In 1998, Earnhardt won his most coveted race – the Daytona 500. The scene was a memorable one, forever etched in the minds of race fans. As Earnhardt’s black No. 3 rolled down pit road, a Daytona 500 winner at last, every crew member from every team lined up to congratulate one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.
Bill France Sr.
Called “Big Bill,” only partly because of his 6-foot-5 stature, France spearheaded NASCAR from its beginning and directed it to its present status as the world’s largest stock-car racing organization. In 1936, he helped lay out the first beach/road course in Daytona Beach; in the first race on the course he finished fifth. Starting in 1938, he helped promote races on the sands of Daytona Beach. In 1947, France became the driving force behind the establishment of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. NASCAR, it was called, resulting from a famous meeting at the Streamline Hotel on State Road A1A in Daytona Beach – a structure that stands to this day, as a racing landmark. “Big Bill” France passed away in June 1992. He left behind a lasting legacy.
Bill France Jr.
William Clifton France is remembered – and revered – as the man who followed his visionary father at NASCAR’s helm, in the process becoming a visionary himself, as he guided NASCAR to unprecedented levels of popularity.
France became NASCAR’s president in January 1972, replacing his father and becoming only the second president of the world’s largest auto racing sanctioning body. His emergence coincided with the sport’s emergence, and its eventual ascent to become America’s No. 1 form of motorsports and the nation’s second-most popular sport overall.
France, often referred to as “Bill Jr.,” remained president until November 2000. At that time, France announced the formation of a NASCAR Board of Directors on which he served as chairman and CEO until October 2003 when he was replaced by his son, Brian Z. France. After that, he continued to serve the sport for the remainder of his life as NASCAR Vice Chairman.
Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson is unique in NASCAR history, with tremendous success both as a driver and a car owner.
Johnson won the second annual Daytona 500 in 1960 and in the process, became credited with the discovery of “drafting” on the massive superspeedways. He won 50 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series then surprised many people by retiring from driving to become an owner. As an owner, Johnson never missed a beat; through the years, his drivers won 132 races. There also were six series championships produced with Cale Yarborough (1976-78) and Darrell Waltrip (1981-82, ’85).
Named one of NASCAR’s “50 Greatest Drivers” in 1998, Johnson resides in Wilkesboro, N.C., and remains one of the sport’s most enduring – and endearing – personalities, at the age of 78.
Known as “the King”, Richard Petty’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series records are staggering: Most wins (200), most poles (123), tied for most championships (seven), most wins in a season (27), most Daytona 500 wins (seven), most consecutive wins (10) and most starts (1,185).Petty’s success continued even after his retirement from driving in 1992. He would still hold the top spot in the family business – Petty Enterprises, and now, Richard Petty Motorsports. In all, Petty Enterprises totaled 268 victories before merging with Gillett Evernham Motorsports for the 2009 season to become Richard Petty Motorsports.
(Inductee information provided by NASCAR.)