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2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Honors Five NASCAR Legends

Allison, Gordon, Kulwicki, Penske and Roush Officially Enshrined

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2019) – Five of NASCAR’s legendary competitors – three drivers and two owners – were enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight during the Induction Ceremony held in the Crown Ball Room at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Davey Allison, Jeff Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush comprise the 10th Class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame – now home to 50 inductees.

A phenom from Northern California, Gordon is credited for taking NASCAR from a southern pastime to the mainstream. He became the youngest driver in the modern era to win a premier series title as a 24-year-old in 1995. The leader of the Rainbow Warriors – named for his colorful Chevrolet – went on to win three more championships (1997, ’98, 2001). In 1998 Gordon won a modern era-record 13 races. He finished his career third on the all-time wins list with 93 victories. The youthful, flashy Gordon served as the perfect rival to the rugged Dale Earnhardt Sr. and was the first NASCAR driver to host “Saturday Night Live.” He retired from full-time NASCAR racing as the sport’s iron man, boasting a record 797 consecutive starts.

“What a special evening. I’m so honored to be here surrounded by friends, family, fans and many people that have worked very hard behind the scenes for me over the years,” Gordon said. “Thank you to the fans who make racing the great sport that it is. You make being a race car driver a dream come true.”

Allison is regarded as one of the top pure talents to ever take the wheel of a race car. He won 19 races and 14 poles before his tragic death in a helicopter accident in 1993 at 33 years old. The son of 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Bobby Allison, he finished second to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500 as the pair became the only father-son duo to finish first and second in NASCAR’s biggest event. Allison would later win ‘The Great American Race’ in 1992.

An accomplished short-track racer from Wisconsin, Kulwicki moved to Charlotte in 1984 with only a pickup truck and self-built race car with the hope of competing in NASCAR’s premier series. He quickly made his dream into a reality earning Rookie of the Year with his self-owned team in 1986 and picking up his first win at Phoenix in 1988. Despite lucrative offers, Kulwicki never raced for anyone but himself. In 1992, he overcame a 278-point deficit with six races left to capture the NASCAR premier series championship on the strength of two wins, 11 top fives and 17 top 10s. Unfortunately, Kulwicki never got the chance to defend his title after dying in a plane crash on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway in 1993. He’ll forever be known for his trademark “Polish Victory Lap,” a celebratory cool-down lap with the driver’s window facing the fans.

One of America’s renowned entrepreneurs, Roger Penske has built a motorsports empire involved with racing for more than 50 years. Penske has won 114 NASCAR premier series races, two Daytona 500s (Ryan Newman, 2008; Joey Logano, 2015), four Xfinity Series owner titles, and two premier series owner championships (Brad Keselowski, 2012; Joey Logano, 2018). Outside of competition, he built Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in 1996 and previously owned Michigan International Speedway. NASCAR Hall of Famers Rusty Wallace (36 wins) and Bobby Allison (four wins) have raced for Penske.

“This Hall of Fame honor and this moment is very special to me, and I am so glad to share it with my family and friends,” Penske said. “Racing has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. It is a common thread that is woven throughout all of our Penske business. Racing is simply who we are.”

A graduate-level mathematician and engineering entrepreneur from Michigan, Roush was a drag racing owner and enthusiast before he decided to try his hand at NASCAR in 1988. Since entering the sport, he’s won a record 324 races across NASCAR’s three national series and boasts five owner championships, including two premier series titles (Matt Kenseth, 2003; Kurt Busch, 2004). Roush initially built his powerhouse team by pairing with 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Mark Martin, who won 83 national series races for Roush from 1988-2005.

“‘When I announced my plan to start a NASCAR Cup team in January 1988, few if any knowledgeable fans and even fewer Cup team personnel would have given me favorable odds of surviving for more than three decades as I stand before you tonight,” Roush said.

In addition to the five inductees enshrined today, Jim Hunter was honored as the fifth recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Hunter’s career in the NASCAR industry spanned more than 50 years as a NASCAR executive, track president, public relations professional and journalist. He worked for a decade as an award-winning journalist before transitioning to public relations for Dodge, then Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. In 1983, Hunter was named NASCAR vice president of administration. Ten years later, he became president of Darlington Raceway and corporate vice president of the International Speedway Corporation. Hunter was a close confidant of Bill France Jr. who lured him back to NASCAR in 2001 to lead an expanded public relations effort aimed at responding to the needs of burgeoning media coverage. Many drivers and industry executives credit Hunter’s mentorship as the key to their NASCAR success.

Prior to tonight’s Induction Ceremony, journalist Steve Waid was presented the seventh Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

About NASCAR

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States. NASCAR consists of three national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™, NASCAR Xfinity Series™, and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series™), three regional series, one local grassroots series, three international series and the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA). The International Motor Sports Association™ (IMSA®) governs the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, the premier U.S. sports car series. Based in Daytona Beach, Fla., with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. For more information visit www.NASCAR.com and www.IMSA.com, and follow NASCAR on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Snapchat (‘NASCAR’).

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Drivers Still Covet Victory In The Southern 500

There is a first time for everything and so it was for me in 1972 when I covered my first Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

When it came to being a motorsports writer I was as green as they come. I covered my first race in 1971 when I was at the Martinsville Bulletin. Of course that race was at Martinsville Speedway and was won by the late Bobby Isaac.

I hardly knew what I was doing. Let me give you an idea. During the race when a leader pitted under green and surrendered the lead to another driver, I would ask the guy next to me, “How did that driver get the lead?”

With the help of other writers who tolerated my questions, I reckon I made do.

By the time the 1972 Southern 500 rolled around on Labor Day I had been covering the majority of the races on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. My knowledge of the sport had increased significantly.

But I did not know everything. I had heard of what a special race the Southern 500 was – steeped in tradition and held on NASCAR’S oldest superspeedway.

However, when I got to the speedway I thought, “This is nothing more than a run-down track. Nothing special about this place.”

The speedway appeared as if had been designed by cross-eyed engineers. It was misshapen with one set of turns wide and the other narrow.

The garage area was little more than a set of tin roofs. There was also a metal slab over most of the frontstretch seats, offering a bit of shade. To me, that was the “VIP section.”

Drivers were offered a small locker room that didn’t offer much in the way of amenities. The bathroom was a two-seater with doors.

Those doors were home to a hefty amount of graffiti, nearly of which had been scribbled by competitors.

Some of the stuff was hilarious. So much so that on my next trip to the track I was determined to do a story that featured much of it. Couldn’t use some scribblings, as you might imagine.

I’ll never forget what happened. While I was in the toilets writing down some of the stuff, Bud Moore came in and saw me.

He let loose with a hearty laugh. “I knew it!” he said. “Most of the stuff these guys write comes right out of the crapper!”

Never wrote the story. Couldn’t use about 95 percent of what I saw.

Back to the Southern 500. As I patrolled the garage area I heard several drivers comment on the racing surface. It was bumpy, rough and extremely hard on tires. That, and the speedway’s configuration, was going to make it difficult to race.

“Lucky if we go 10 laps on a set of tires,” one driver said, noting that Darlington had not been repaved since 1950, the year of its birth.

I had to have someone speak for the record. So I approached Buddy Baker, who was never shy about speaking his mind.

“I am hearing a lot of complaints about this track,” I said to him.

Baker thought for a moment and said, “Heck, we complain about all of them sooner or later.”

So much for an expose. I figured I would just cover the race and let it speak for itself.

It spoke volumes. Two days before the race the speedway’s infield and surrounding areas were swollen with campers. They made their own city, complete with vehicles of all types, homemade viewing stands and, yes, Confederate flags.

The sleepy old speedway was teeming with life. It became abundantly clear that the Southern 500 was going to serve as a Labor Day holiday for thousands. Believe me, they knew how to celebrate.

On race day the grandstands were packed. It appeared to me the race was a virtual sellout.

It was an electric atmosphere, one I could have never anticipated.

The race itself was dramatic. Sure enough, the rough surface put tire wear at a premium. More than one driver found himself into the wall after one of his tires shredded in a plume of smoke.

Passing was at a premium. There were only a couple of places that it could be done. One of them was the entrance to turn one, right below the press box.

One car would shoot inside another and then close ahead of him by inches at the entrance to the turn. Any miscalculation meant a crash into the wall. Yes, it happened.

Bobby Allison, in his first and only season with Junior Johnson, and David Pearson, who was starting a remarkable string of seasons with the Wood Brothers, outran all the competition and engaged in a one-on-one duel which saw them swap the lead 13 times over the last 300 laps.

Allison took the lead with six laps to go and held off Pearson by a couple of car lengths to win for the fifth time in seven races.

When Allison came to the press box he was red-faced and soaking with sweat. I wasn’t sure he would be able to stand up.

But he did and spoke about how he was mentally fatigued because he concentrated so hard on not making a mistake in the closing laps.

Then he spoke about how meaningful it was to win at Darlington. It was NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway that had remained virtually unchanged. It was tricky, difficultand hard on cars and drivers. It was steeped in tradition.

And there wasn’t a single NASCAR driver who did not want to with the Southern 500. Allison said that when a driver does win, he’s made a name for himself. If he doesn’t win again it doesn’t matter. His career is made.

After witnessing all I had in 1972, I understood what he meant.

Darlington has changed dramatically over the years but the status of the Southern 500 has not. It remains at the pinnacle of NASCAR, one of the most anticipated events of the season.

And drivers still covet a victory for all the reasons Allison said years ago.

Just ask them.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: A Few Drivers Dominated Bristol In The Past – And For Good Reason

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Bristol Motor Speedway was a sleepy little half-mile track at which you could buy a ticket on the day of the race.

It was pretty much the same at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. However, Bristol was different.

It was a high-banked track, which separated it from all other short tracks. Forty years ago its turns were banked at 36 degrees, larger than any other NASCAR facility.

Speeds at Bristol were easily the fastest of any short track. That was the track’s selling point – it has been so for years – but still, filling the grandstands was no easy matter and was seldom accomplished.

It was a simpler time. Communications technology was in its infancy. Television didn’t care much about NASCAR. Track PR personnel had to work long and diligently to lure the press and fans.

And, too, Bristol was not the behemoth it is today. Its two concrete grandstands could accommodate maybe 40,000 fans – far fewer than the reported 160,000 of today.

There were only a couple of VIP booths and the press box was miniscule. Can’t say the same of any of today’s tracks.

Bristol had its loyal followers and I daresay it does today. There just weren’t as many of them.

As enamored as they were of Bristol races and the incredible speeds therein, there was a time when loyal fans began to grouse and mull the notion of not coming back.

I have always reasoned there was a good reason for that.

They began to tire of seeing the same winner – race after race, year after year.

Over a period of more than a decade a small handful – make that very small – dominated Bristol races. They won so often that if indeed a different driver earned a victory it was considered a major upset, or, perhaps, a matter of luck.

Bristol ran its first race in 1961 and just three years later the single team dominance began. The vaunted Holman-Moody organization won eight races from 1964-71 with drivers Fred Lorenzen, Dick Hutcherson and David Pearson.

That changed in 1972. Bobby Allison swept both Bristol races amid a short-track war he waged with Richard Petty, also a multiple Bristol winner.

Cale Yarborough replaced Allison in 1973 and he picked up where his predecessor left off. He won once at Bristol that year and then, remarkably, compiled seven more wins in 12 races, including a streak of four in a row in 1976-77.

Perhaps Yarborough’s dominance was no more obvious than in the Southeastern 500 in April of 1977.

Yarborough won by an astonishing seven laps. It wasn’t the largest margin of victory in NASCAR history, but it was enough to put the crowd – announced at 30,000 – to sleep.

The guys in the press box were through filing their stories before Yarborough’s team had loaded up and departed. After all, there wasn’t much to say.

The best quote of the race came from Dick Brooks, the distant runnerup.

“The only way I could have beaten Cale,” he said, “was to have someone in the pits shoot out his tires.”

Yarborough’s last Bristol victory came in 1980. A year later another driver began his dominance at the track with a sweep of the 1981 events. His name was Darrell Waltrip.

Incredibly, counting ’81, Waltrip won seven consecutive races at Bristol. Terry Labonte broke his string in 1984.

Allison, Yarborough and Waltrip all had one thing in common, one thing that served as the catalyst for nearly all their Bristol victories.

They drove for Junior Johnson.

Johnson was easily the top team owner at Bristol – and at nearly all of the short tracks, for that matter.

His cars, mostly Chevrolets, were so strong on the short tracks that they were expected to win. They did with such regularity that sometimes boredom set in.

Johnson was never one to obey by the rules – well, perhaps it is better to say he never strictly obeyed them. Nearly everyone believed he had more than one trick up his sleeve when it came to short-track racing.

Maybe he did. But he was never caught. His cars routinely passed pre and post-race inspection.

Waltrip is Bristol’s all-time winner with 12 victories, 10 of which came with Johnson. All of Yarborough’s nine wins were in Johnson’s cars. Allison’s sweep in 1972 – two of his four wins – were accomplished in Johnson’s Chevrolets.

Johnson tops Bristol’s list of winning team owners with 16, but in reality, he has five more as a partner with Charlotte Motor Speedway President Richard Howard.

Howard may have been the designated team owner, but he had nothing to do with the construction and preparation of the cars.

That was all Johnson. And it is one reason he is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Fisticuffs Part Of NASCAR, Nothing New Here

Fights, dust-ups, physical confrontations, whatever you want to call them, they have always been a part of NASCAR and always will be.

I think the reason is basically simple: Drivers, crewmen and others who make their living driving fast cars or making them go fast have a keen sense of competition. They are dedicated to victory or, at the very least, doing the best job possible.

They do not like to be denied their goals. And when they feel that has happened due to the deliberate misdeed of another, they react.

They can’t help themselves.

Usually they do things like shout, cuss and call the offending competitor something far less than human.

But sometimes the ire spills over and things turn physical.

A fight can take many forms. Now, there’s not a Jackie Chan or Muhammad Ali in the garage area so scraps are never things of pugilistic beauty.

More often they consist of one or two punches (which almost never make contact) followed by chest bumping, grabbing and a melee after bystanders jump in.

Sometimes a duelist falls to the ground but almost as soon as that happens NASCAR officials are on hand to break up the combatants.

There have been instances when entire crews have gone at it. They converge into what looks like a mini-riot. It looks intense but it doesn’t last long. Their drivers are nowhere to be found.

As strange as this may sound fights can be good for NASCAR – especially if they are seen by a large television audience.

The best example of this is, of course, the 1979 Daytona 500. It was seen by millions thanks largely to the “perfect storm” that locked in snowbound viewers in the northeast.

That race would have been very dramatic if Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough had finished their intense last-lap duel.

Instead they wrecked down the backstretch, which ultimately allowed Richard Petty to take the victory.

Not long afterward CBS announcer Ken Squier blurted, “There’s a fight in the infield!” And the cameras caught Allison, brother Bobby (who had stopped to “check on Donnie”) and Yarborough going at it.

There was shoving, tackling, semi-chokeholds and leg grabbing. It looked more like a football scrimmage than a fight.

But millions had seen it. They had tuned in to, partly, find out what this NASCAR stuff was all about. Afterward they went slack-jawed.

That, and the resulting publicity, launched NASCAR into new heights of popularity.

You know that story. And you also know that no other episode of fisticuffs (or just plain belly thumping) has had as large an effect.

But make no mistake – it indeed has an effect. And it’s a good one for NASCAR.

After the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas social media – and let’s face it, the media itself – was lit up over the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano post-race fracas.

It was everywhere. Written reports, photos, video (a lot of that), reactions and opinions posted on Facebook, Twitter and everything else. It was presented from Yahoo to ESPN.

Even the guy who does my taxes, a NASCAR novice, saw it and called Atlanta “an exciting race.”

NASCAR can’t buy this kind of publicity. Yes, it’s a fight and undoubtedly it would prefer to have everyone buzzing about an intensely exciting race.

But it has to take what it can get, especially in today’s environment of dwindling interest and TV ratings.

I think that’s one reason why it took no action against Busch, the instigator who felt he was wronged.

Frankly, that is the right decision. My take has always been that the sanctioning body should stay out of physical confrontations because, if for no other reason, they are part of the sport and always have been.

However, there are exceptions. If one competitor uses a weapon in any form against another, NASCAR must respond.

And by weapon, cars are included here. Deliberately creating a wreck as a form of retaliation must be dealt with severely. Lives are at risk.

As we’ve seen, NASCAR has responded harshly and appropriately in the past.

Of course, there are mitigating circumstances that could force NASCAR to take action where it normally would not.

But they have been, and will be, rare.

Remember the phrase NASCAR CEO Brian France uttered years ago when he wanted to make clear the shackles were being taken off the competitors: “Boys have at it.”

What we saw at Atlanta will happen again.

It is inevitable.

Therefore, stay the course.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.