Jeff Gordon leads impressive group into NASCAR Hall of Fame

Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion leads group of five legends to be inducted in the 10th class of the select group to be enshrined at NHOF in Charlotte, N.C.

Jeff Gordon leads impressive group into NASCAR Hall of Fame
Rick Hendrick, Leo Gordon and Ella Gordon present a ring to Jeff Gordon
Mike Helton speaks with Luke McKernan, Hunter McKernan and Dakota Hunter during the Landmark Award presented to Jim Hunter
Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney speak on stage as Roger Penske is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame
Felix Sabates presents a ring to Paul Andrews, Tony Gibson and Peter Jellen during the induction of Alan Kulwicki
Robbie Allison

Five of NASCAR’s legendary competitors – three drivers and two owners – were enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, Friday night during the Induction Ceremony held in the Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center.

An emotional Jeff Gordon led this year’s class, including Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush to now make the total of Hall of Fame inductees to 50.

Gordon, from Northern California, is credited for taking NASCAR from a southern-based sport to the mainstream across the United States and also 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 and finished his career third on the all-time wins list with 93 victories.

While being successful off the track he was also able to be the first to accomplish things such as hosting “Saturday Night Live,” and “Live with Kelly” talk show.

Gordon also set a record of 797 race consecutive starts during his NASCAR Cup Series career.

“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.”

Before his tragic and unexpected death at just 33 years of age in a helicopter accident, Allison was considered a top talent behind the wheel that produced 19 wins and 14 poles in the Cup Series before his untimely death.

He’s the son of 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Bobby Allison and 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.

One of the greatest underdog story in the history of American sports would have been that of Kulwicki.

After reaching success on short tracks throughout the Midwest the Wisconsin native 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 proved to everyone he belonged quickly winning Rookie of the Year honors with his self-owned team in 1986 and picking up his first win at Phoenix in 1988. Despite offers from established and better-funded teams 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.

Roger Penske has built successful business and motorsports empires after being involved in both ventures for more than 50 years.

His Team Penske team based in Mooresville, NC, 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).

He was also a track owner during his NASCAR career building Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in 1996 and he previously owned Michigan International Speedway and the no longer used Rockingham 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.”

Roush was a drag racing owner and enthusiast before the Michigan native 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 and 10 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 the public relations department for the company and many drivers and industry executives credit Hunter’s mentorship as the key to their NASCAR success.

In addition to the induction ceremony journalist Steve Waid was presented the seventh Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence earlier in the day at the Squire-Hall Exhibit in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

From the editor, also read:

- NASCAR IMC contributed to this story

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