DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – official series release — Lance King/Getty Images photo —
Five legendary drivers with distinct styles and contributions to NASCAR 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.
Those who added their names to the list of now 30 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees, included: Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White.
The group makes up the Hall’s sixth class in its history.
Bill Elliott – a fan-favorite with a record 16 NASCAR Most Popular Driver Awards – compiled numerous accolades that put him near the top of many all-time NASCAR lists. In his 37-year driving career, “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” notched 44 wins (16th in NASCAR history) and 55 poles (eighth), but his most prestigious accomplishment came when he won the 1988 premier series championship. Elliott always performed on the biggest of stages, winning the Daytona 500 twice and the Southern 500 three times.
“One thing I look at out here today is one common bond with all these racers, it’s the hard work and the dedication all these guys had,” Elliott said. “I mean, for me to stand up here among the guys that have already been here, it’s just totally incredible.”
Fred Lorenzen – one of the first “outsiders” to capture the fancy of NASCAR’s early southeastern crowds – was one of the sport’s first true superstars, even though he never ran more than 29 of the season’s 50-plus races. The Elmhurst, Illinois, native won 26 races from 1961-67, with his best overall season coming in 1963 as he finished with six wins, 21 top fives and 23 top 10s in 29 starts. The victor of the 1965 Daytona 500 and World 600, Lorenzen boasts the fifth-highest career winning percentage (16.86) in NASCAR history.
“Dad always said, ‘The sky is the limit and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,’” said Lorenzen’s son, Chris, who spoke on his behalf. “That has been dad’s most important saying in life, and he certainly lived by it. He also believed people made their own luck and that luck just doesn’t fall upon people.”
A true trailblazer, Wendell Scott was the first African-American to race fulltime in NASCAR’s premier series, as well as the first to win a NASCAR premier series race. Scott posted 147 top 10s in 495 starts, as well as finished four seasons in the top 10 of the championship points standings. He won more than 100 races at local tracks before making his premier series debut, including 22 races at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Virginia, in 1959 en route to capturing both the Sportsman Division and NASCAR Virginia Sportsman championships.
“The legacy of Wendell Scott depicts him as one the great vanguards of the sport of NASCAR racing,” said the late Scott’s son, Franklin, who accepted the induction on his behalf. “Daddy was a man of great honor. He didn’t let his circumstances define who he was.”
Joe Weatherly claimed consecutive premier series championships in 1962 and 1963 and won 25 career races before his untimely death in January 1964 at Riverside (Calif.) Raceway. Known as the “Clown Prince of Racing” due to his jovial personality, Weatherly displayed impressive versatility beyond his premier series dominance. A decade earlier in 1952-53, he won 101 races in the NASCAR Modified division, capturing that championship in 1953. He even tried his hand in NASCAR’s short-lived Convertible Division from 1956-59, winning 12 times.
“He loved his family and he was very generous, but I am sure there are many memories the fans could share as well, maybe ones of the practical jokes he enjoyed playing on fellow drivers,” said Joy Barbee, Weatherly’s niece. “He definitely had a sense of humor, he loved a good laugh and he loved to have a good time. He always had a big smile on his face; he was a character to be around and definitely lived up to the title given to him – the ‘Clown Prince of Racing.’”
One of the greatest short-track racers ever, consistency was the hallmark of Rex White’s NASCAR career. He finished among the top five in nearly half of his 233 races and outside the top 10 only 30 percent of the time. Of his 28 career wins in NASCAR’s premier series, only two came on tracks longer than a mile in length. Driving his own equipment, White won six times during his 1960 championship season, posting 35 top 10s in 40 starts. He finished in the top 10 six of his nine years in the series, including a runner-up finish in 1961.
“Words can’t express how honored I am to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with the other Hall of Fame members, especially my 2015 fellow inductees,” White said. “No driver wins a championship by himself and nobody enters the Hall of Fame alone. I am the symbol of a team effort.”
Each of the five inductees had an inductor who officially welcomed them into the hall. The inductors for the five inductees: Ray Evernham for Bill Elliott; Amanda Gardstrom (daughter) for Fred Lorenzen; Wendell Scott Jr. for Wendell Scott; Bud Moore for Joe Weatherly; and James Hylton for Rex White.
Active drivers introduced each inductee during tonight’s program: Kasey Kahne for Bill Elliott; Tony Stewart for Fred Lorenzen; Jeff Gordon for Wendell Scott; Brad Keselowski for Joe Weatherly; and Kevin Harvick for Rex White.
In addition to the five inductees enshrined on Friday night, Anne B. France was awarded the inaugural Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
France, paired with her husband, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., created what today is one of the largest and most popular sports in the world. Anne played a huge role in the family business. “Big Bill” organized and promoted races; she took care of the financial end of the business. She first served as secretary and treasurer of NASCAR, and when Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, served in the same roles for the International Speedway Corporation. She also managed the speedway’s ticket office. France remained active in family and business life until her passing in 1992.
Prior to tonight’s Induction Ceremony, long-time Charlotte Observer reporter Tom Higgins was awarded the third Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.
Higgins was the first beat writer to cover every race on the NASCAR schedule, a role he held from 1980 until his retirement in 1997. He started his journalism career in 1957 at the weekly Canton (N.C.) Enterprise where he covered racing for the first time. Higgins joined the sports staff at The Observer in 1964 as an outdoors writer and soon began covering stock car racing as well. He has continued to write motorsports nostalgia columns for the newspaper and its website ThatsRacin.com since his retirement.