NASCAR Hall of Fame grows by five members
NASCAR team owners and 2017 Hall of Fame inductees Richard Childress (left) and Rick Hendrick prior to the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday in Charlotte, N.C. (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)
By AMANDA VINCENT
On Friday evening, NASCAR honored some of its legends, with the inductions of Mark Martin, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Benny Parsons and Raymond Parks into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the recognition of H. Clay Earles and Benny Phillips with the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR and the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, respectively.
The three living members of the 2017 class of inductees — Childress, Hendrick and Martin — were in attendance, and Parsons was represented by his widow, Terri Parsons, while Patricia DePottey spoke on behalf of her grandfather, Parks.
Martin emerged on the NASCAR scene in the early 1980s, but after getting off to a roaring start, he and his race team struggled and fell off the NASCAR map by the mid ’80s. He returned, though, paired with team owner Jack Roush and both Martin and Roush’s NASCAR careers took off.
“Sometimes you just need a second chance,” Martin said. “Jack Roush gave me that second chance.”
Martin, who retired from racing at the end of the 2013 season has been regarded as the best driver never to win a Cup championship, but he came close, taking runner-up honors five times.
Martin’s Cup stats include 40 wins. He also was a force to be reckoned with in the Xfinity Series, where he was the all-time wins leader until being surpassed by current series wins leader, Kyle Busch. Martin has 49-career Xfinity Series wins, along with seven victories in the Camping World Truck Series.
“For every person that ever worked on any of our teams, I salute you,” Martin said. “This is your moment, our moment. The road was long, and sometimes the mountains seemed insurmountable. But in the end, here we stand in the grandest victory lane of all. We made it to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
Parsons’ NASCAR career also had two acts, but only one as a driver. After a driving career that included 21 wins and the 1973 championship in the premier series, Parsons retired from driving in 1988 and shifted his focus to broadcasting.
Parsons was a part of NASCAR broadcast team for TBS, ABC, ESPN, NBC and TNT before his death in 2007.
“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,” Terri Parsons said. “You all have such great stories, and tonight is really a celebration of his life.”
While Martin and Parsons are considered NASCAR drivers inducted to the Hall, Childress, Hendrick and Parks are considered, primarily, team owner inductees. Childress, though, was a driver early on. That being said, his greatest success came when he climbed out of the car, handing driving duties over to Dale Earnhardt late in the 1981 season.
Six of Earnhardt’s seven championships came from behind the wheel of the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet. After winning Cup titles in 1986 and 1987, the pairing of Earnhardt and RCR won four championships in five years, doing so in 1990, ’91, ’93 and ’94.
Childress lost his friend, Earnhardt, in a fatal crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, but his race team has continued, currently with his grandson Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard as drivers for the three-car Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series effort.
Kevin Harvick, who stepped in upon Earnhardt’s death but left RCR in 2014, has been the most successful driver for the team since the Earnhardt era. Harvick claimed the first 23 of the 36-career Cup-level wins with Childress.
“Only in America could a kid selling peanuts and popcorn at Bowman Gray Stadium have a dream of becoming a race driver someday,” Childress said. “And then he goes out and buys himself an old ’47 Plymounth, pays $20 for it; that was the best investment I ever made. And have a dream of being a NASCAR driver someday, be standing up here tonight to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Only in America.”
While Childress has been successful as a NASCAR team owner, Hendrick has been the most successful. He is the sport’s all-time winningest car owner across NASCAR’s three national series with 245 Cup wins, 26 in the Xfinity Series and another 26 in the Camping World Truck Series.
Hendrick has 15 NASCAR national-level championships, with 12 of those coming at the top level, including the 2016 Sprint Cup Series championship. The seven most recent championships, including five-straight between 2006 and 2010, came with Jimmie Johnson as driver. Jeff Gordon contributed four to the tally and Terry Labonte another. Gordon’s first three championships, along with Labonte’s 1996 title, made Hendrick the championship car owner for four-consecutive years between 1995 and 1998.
Parks, meanwhile, was one of NASCAR’s earliest car owners. He even was a race car owner before NASCAR was born. Parks participated in the 1947 meeting at the Streamline Hotel near Daytona Beach, Fla., that led to the formation of NASCAR. Then, when NASCAR got started, Parks claimed its first championship as a car owner, taking the 1948 modified championship. A year later, he was the first championship car owner in the series that eventually became today’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“Well, I got some cars, and I just started winning,” DePottey said her grandfather told her when she asked how he got his start in racing.
Earles’ Martinsville (Va.) Speedway also preceded NASCAR and was a player in the sport’s early days. Earles built his track in 1947, and today, Martinsville stands as the only track still on the Cup schedule that was on NASCAR’s original schedule.
Meanwhile, the late Phillips was recognized for his contributions as a long-time NASCAR media member through his life-long battle with polio.
He was a commentator of NASCAR races on TBS for 12 years, but most of his career was spent in the print world. He was the Sports Editor of the High Point (N.C.) Enterprise for 48 years and covering racing for Stock Car Racing Magazine for 27 years. Phillips wrote four books, including an Earnhardt biography.