NASCAR Hall of Fame holds first induction ceremony
1:00 pm
Mon May 24, 2010

NASCAR Hall of Fame holds first induction ceremony

Seventy-one years ago, baseball inducted its first ever Hall of Fame class. Yesterday in uptown Charlotte, NASCAR held its first induction ceremony. It was the culmination of weeks of story telling about some of the most iconic names in the sport.

Among those remembering the past lately was Cathy Horn, a Kannapolis native whose family runs a restaurant in their hometown. Taking a break before the lunch rush, Horn recalls what it was like sitting next to Dale Earnhardt in high school English class.

"He'd just sit there in the back and he'd get me in trouble sometimes," Horn says. "The teacher would always look back and say 'Are you talking back there?' I'd say 'No ma'am. He's making motor sounds again.'"

Horn says it was pretty obvious that cars - and not education - were in Earnhardt's blood.

"When he turned 16. . . and the day he quit school, he looked up and told everybody bye and said he was out of there," Horn says.

Dale Earnhardt would go on to make Kannapolis proud by reaching legendary status in NASCAR. Before he was killed nine years ago in an accident in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt had amassed 76 wins and seven championships. And yesterday, he was one of five NASCAR superstars to be inducted into the sport's new Hall of Fame.

The two-and-a-half hour ceremony in a massive ballroom honored Earnhardt, along with Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, as well as Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr. Petty has the most wins in NASCAR history. Johnson is a moonshine bootlegger-turned driver-turned team owner. Bill France, Sr. started NASCAR 62 years ago and his son Bill France, Jr., led the sport's transformation from regional to national sport. Only two of these men - Petty and Johnson - are still alive. Each received a standing ovation. Petty spoke to the crowd wearing his new navy blue Hall of Fame blazer. And of course, that famous cowboy hat and wrap-around sunglasses.

"I appreciate being inducted," Petty said. "I appreciate the guys who voted for me. I look forward to what's coming down the road. I guess I'll do like Gomer Pyle and say thank you, thank you, thank you."

Jim Powell came to Charlotte from Pittsburgh to see his favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, inducted. He says when Earnhardt's wife and family took the stage for the induction, it was one of those "priceless" moments.

"It brought tears to my eyes," Powell says. "My man being inducted into the Hall of Fame was great."

The five inductees were chosen last year by a panel of voters. One of the voters, NASCAR's vice president of competition, says it was tough picking a first class because there were many who could've been picked. But, he thinks, for those who were selected, making it into the hall on the first ever ballot is a big deal.

"Absolutely," Pemberton says. "Because at the end of the day, when the debate came down, these are the top five. These were the top five out of that 25 and they were the top five out of potentially hundreds of other names that were submitted."

Each of the five inductees now have permanent tributes in the facility's Hall of Honor. There are also temporary exhibits that will stay there until next year, when the Hall of Fame's second class gets inducted.

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