After months of debate, speculation and millions of fan votes, the cardinals of NASCAR have settled on the first five men to permanently reside in the Hall of Fame.
Shortly after noon today, a small puff of white smoke rose from the Hall of Fame chimney, signaling a decision had been made and a gathering would be soon.
The gathering took place at 4 p.m. EDT in Ballroom C of the Charlotte Convention Center. The dark and dreary rainy day outside didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of those gathered inside.
As each name was announced by Brian France, a resounding applause came from those sitting in the reserved seats, as well as those gathered in the standing room-only areas around the periphery.
The five men—in the order they were announced—were Bill France Sr., Richard Petty, Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt Sr., and Junior Johnson.
It is fitting that Bill France Sr., founder of NASCAR, was the first inductee.
There is certain to be debate about the remaining four.
One could speculate the theme or commonality among the voters was one of passing the torch.
Bill France, Sr., brought NASCAR from its birth into adolescence and watched as his baby continued to grow year after year. When it came time to step back and hand over the reigns, “Big Bill” called on his eldest son and namesake, Bill France Jr.
Bill France Jr., aided in the continued growth of NASCAR and brought it first to Main Street and then to Wall Street.
Richard Petty was the man to beat during the 1960s and 70s. It has been said that when Petty showed up, the bet wasn’t on who would win, the bet was on who was finishing second.
Richard Petty won 200 races and a record seven championships. His final championship came in 1979, the same year a man named Earnhardt would be crowned Rookie of the Year.
In 1980 Dale Earnhardt won the first of his record-tying seven championships, and like Petty, would be the one to beat for the next two decades.
Junior Johnson captured 46 poles and won 50 races in his 13 year career as a driver. Almost immediately after his final race as a driver in 1966, Johnson became an owner.
As an owner Johnson continued his winning ways, collecting 139 more wins and six championships.
Today’s announcement left 20 nominees to wonder if next year will be their year. David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and Bobby Allison were the bridesmaids of voting this time around, finishing sixth, seventh, and eighth respectively.
A new crop of nominees will be named next year. There is no guarantee the 20 who didn’t make it this year will be on next year's list, and if they are, with five new nominees added to the mix, there will be a whole new set of caveats to overcome.
Photo Credit: David Yeazell