NASCAR loves huge events, and it has three packed into just over a week with one of the biggest highlights coming on Wednesday. That was the announcement of the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class.
NASCAR unveiled its five new Hall of Famers on Wednesday afternoon:
Winning the first-ever Landmark Award was Anne B. France, wife of NASCAR founder Bill France, who was instrumental during the early years of the sport:
Names like Fred Lorenzen, Rex White and Joe Weatherly might not be household names in NASCAR today, but they have all certainly shaped stock car racing over the years.
Bob Pockrass, NASCAR writer for Sporting News, passed along a look at the entire voting panel for the Hall of Fame:
With the three aforementioned legends of the sport, Bill Elliott and Wendell Scott also made the class. Elliott, a 16-time winner of the Most Popular Driver award, drove his way to a points championship in 1988 and two Daytona 500 victories during his illustrious career.
NASCAR's vice president of communications Brett Jewkes spoke about how difficult this year's class was to induct, per Marty Smith of ESPN:
Brett Jewkes says the voting process for the 2015 NASCAR Hall class took 5 hours, and was the hardest voting process yet.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) May 21, 2014
Following classes where no-doubt Hall of Famers like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Bill France were inducted, this year's group was not quite as predictable.
Along with one of the most popular drivers in stock car history making the class, the most dominant driver in this era also made history:
Below is a full look at the 2015 class and analysis for some of the most notable members.
|Bill Elliott||Driver||Elliott was the 1988 premier series champion, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and 16-time Most Popular Driver.|
|Wendell Scott||Driver||The NASCAR trailblazer was the first African-American NASCAR premier series race winner and the first to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.|
|Joe Weatherly||Driver||Weatherly is a two-time NASCAR premier series champion.|
|Fred Lorenzen||Driver||Lorenzen has 26 wins and is a Daytona 500 and World 600 winner.|
|Rex White||Driver||White was the 1960 NASCAR premier series champion.|
The NASCAR Hall of Fame certainly isn't a popularity contest, but Elliott definitely has backing from fans and analysts as a member of the class.
Before Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned the Most Popular Driver award into a one-man race, Elliott was the man to beat. While Earnhardt's 11 wins since 2003 seem outrageous, Awesome Bill from Dawsonville took home the award an astounding 16 times.
Nate Ryan of USA Today compares Elliott to two other drivers who were recently named to the HOF:
A likable driver on and off the track, Elliott earned his Hall of Fame nomination through hard work in two eras that were dominated by Petty, Earnhardt and eventually Jeff Gordon.
Elliott commented on getting the nod, via Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
"I'm just totally speechless over this whole thing," Elliott said. "I just never imagined being in the Hall of Fame. I never imagined it in a million years that I'd ever end up here.
"I was shocked more than anybody, I would guess, but very much happy."
While Elliott is the first in his family to earn the nomination, son Chase Elliott might just be the next in line of outstanding drivers. At just 18 years old, Chase has dominated in his first Nationwide Series season and looks like a favorite to earn his first-ever Most Popular Driver award on that level.
After getting denied by the voting process last season by a narrow margin, Lorenzen finally made it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
He boasts 26 career wins, 84 top-10 finishes, two awards for Most Popular Driver and was the reason for one of the most memorable moments in 1966 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Driving a Junior Johnson-owned Ford car known by drivers as the "Yellow Banana," Lorenzen did so during the Ford boycott.
Bob Moore, who covered the race for the Charlotte Observer, spoke about his memories of the car, per Tom Jensen of Fox Sports:
They literally had to lift Lorenzen up and slide him into the driver's seat. There was no way he could climb in it normally, because the roof was slanted. And the front windshield was also sloped at an angle. The left side of the car was down about three inches lower than the right side of the car.
Because Ford was struggling to stay in the sport, NASCAR basically turned their back on this deal and said, ‘This is fine.’
Whether fans refer to Lorenzen as "Golden Boy" or "Fast Freddie," the now 79-year-old carved out a place in NASCAR that drivers today still work to emulate. Known as both a great competitor and a rebel on the track, Lorenzen now has a permanent place in the Hall of Fame.
One of the pioneers of NASCAR, Scott was the first African-American NASCAR driver to win at the highest level. His family rejoiced after his name was announced:
With Scott getting into the class, this also becomes the first year in which every name entering the Hall is a driver. Already a 1999 International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee, Scott now adds his name to a sport in which he was a trailblazer.
Though he had just one win, Scott nailed down 147 top-10 finishes.
What makes his success all the more impressive is that Scott drove with poor equipment against cars that were far superior to his, as Mike Joy of Fox Sports mentioned during the broadcast.
With his determination and great racing, Scott paved the way for African-American drivers in the sport.
Are you happy with this year's class?
With notable names like Rick Hendrick, Terry Labonte and Richard Childress all left off the list for this year, each of those names could be ones to look out for when the 2016 class is announced.
Some might argue that Labonte was more worthy of the induction with two points championships, but Elliott's mark on the sport and 44 wins make him more indelible to fans and analysts. Given another year, Labonte should have a shot at making it during his second year on the ballot.
The argument for both Hendrick and Childress is the same, but with Hendrick holding more points championships in the big three series—14 to 11, but who's counting?—the more dominant owner might find his way into next year's class.
While this year's list was the first with five drivers, don't expect the same next year with multiple big names once again returning to the ballot.
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