On Friday night, five of NASCAR’s legends were recognized and enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, making their accomplishments inside the world of NASCAR everlasting.
Car owners Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Raymond Parks along with championship-winning driver/broadcaster Benny Parsons and five-time runner-up Mark Martin made up the 2017 class. It was an unforgettable evening for the inductees, as well as their families, friends and acquaintances that they’ve encountered along the way into the HOF.
The late Parks, a Dawsonville, Ga. native and the oldest of fifteen siblings, was introduced by 2014 Monster Energy Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick and inducted by longtime friend and NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Kyle Petty. Out of all his accolades, winning the first two NASCAR championships as the first “team owner” in 1948 and 1949 stand out.
He was also on the front lines for the United States, as he fought in World War II in the 99th Infantry Division. As one of the people in the late 1940s who kept the sport alive, Parks spent nine months of a one year and one day sentence in prison in the late 1930s for hauling around moonshine—which is how NASCAR got its start. Although Parks passed away at the age of 96 back in the summer of 2010, his memory will now live on forever in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Being a founding father of the sport, the honor was well deserved, and by some accounts, years overdue.
Childress is one of the most decorated car owners in NASCAR history. His team, Richard Childress Racing, has amassed seven championships (six of which coming with Dale Earnhardt), and still fields three full-time teams in the MENCS, along with four teams in the Xfinity Series. He was introduced by his two grandchildren who also happen to be drivers themselves—Austin and Ty Dillon—before Childress was officially inducted. Although he had a brief career as a driver, he enters the HOF as an owner.
"I’m honored to go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame with my heroes," said Childress, a 71-year Welcome, NC. native. "Just look around this wall and look at the greats that we'll be going in the Hall of Fame with. Unbelievable. And to go in the Class of 2017 with so many great inductees is quite an honor."
Rick Hendrick has won 12 MENCS titles, and 11 of those introduced him on stage. Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson and recently retired/unretired Jeff Gordon did the honors, and had some high praise for their team owner.
"The stats speak for themselves: 15 national series championship, 245 Cup wins, certainly impressive numbers, but more important than the wins and the championships is the person behind them," Gordon said. "He's the most loyal man I know. His accomplishments are endless, and his character is unrivaled."
"I know my son is watching tonight, and he's so proud,” Hendrick said. Ricky Hendrick was killed in an infamous plane crash in 2004. “But I can tell you that the feelings that I have for this sport and for all the people in it, all the sponsors […] but it's your faith, it's your family and your friends that get you through life, and that's the most important thing. When it's all over, it's the people that you touch and the lives you change that make a difference in this world."
Martin might have never won a MENCS championship, but he was a champion in everybody’s mind, and widely regarded as the greatest driver to never hoist the championship trophy. And on Friday evening, he was treated as such, as he went into the HOF. He won 96 races across all three series (49 in Xfinity, second all-time), retired from full-time competition in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing and was always considered a fan-favorite. After being inducted by longtime owner Jack Roush, “the grandest victory lane,” is where Martin resides now, as he so eloquently said. And it’s well deserved.
But perhaps the most touching tribute and honoring of the evening belonged to the late Benny Parsons. After losing his life in 2007 after a battle with lung cancer, “Buffet Benny,” as he was called around the NASCAR garage, Parsons’ legacy lived on in ways unimaginable to him. He won his only title in 1973, a Daytona 500 in 1975 and 25 Cup races. After his racing career came to an end, he could be found on Sunday’s on your television screen on NBC calling races as well as on radio with PRN. Fans were eager to let Parsons into their living room for those four hours of a weekend, and did so weekly.
"He's from Detroit, and he came from being a Michigan taxi driver to a NASCAR champion," fellow Michigan native and 2012 MENCS champion Brad Keselowski said, introducing Parsons. PRN’s Doug Rice’s show, “Fast Talk”, dedicated a whole week’s show to Parsons. Just search his name on Twitter to see what fans think of “’Ol BP.” Spoiler alert: you probably won't find a single negative comment.
Later this month, NASCAR will reveal the list of nominees for the 2018 Class. And later next month, cars will be on track in Daytona Beach, Fl. The offseason is almost over, folks. But for now, let’s celebrate five colossal men in the world of NASCAR and their ultimate achievement: becoming Hall of Famers.