As was expected, two-time Daytona 500 winner, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and one of NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was officially named a first ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer on Tuesday evening.
Versatile veteran Red Farmer and one of NASCAR’s most accomplished short track competitors Mike Stefanik will join Earnhardt in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2021. Earnhardt and Stefanik were selected from a group of 10 nominees on the Modern Era Ballot. Farmer from five nominees on the Pioneer Ballot, which featured nominees who established their careers prior to 1961
Ralph Seagraves - a longtime official with the R.J. Reynolds Company and considered a corporate hero to the sport for initiating and securing a 30-plus year sponsorship agreement with his company’s Winston brand – was named as recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
Earnhardt, 45, of Kannapolis, N.C., who now serves as a broadcast analyst for NBC Sports, joins his late father Dale Earnhardt in the sport’s prestigious hall of honor – his dad, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, was part of the very first induction class. The Earnhardts are only the sixth father-son pairing to receive NASCAR Hall of Fame honors
Earnhardt Jr. earned 76 percent of the vote, receiving induction honors the first year his name was on the ballot.
His sincerity in addressing the media immediately after his selection was announced was indicative of the humble and heartfelt manner he conducted his career. He insisted with a smile that he was more nervous Tuesday after a morning root canal at his dentist than waiting for the results of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting.
“When that list of nominees came out I was so honored to be on that sheet,’’ Earnhardt said. “I couldn’t believe my name was on that sheet to be honest with you. I know those guys and their body of work’’
“I was good with just being on the sheet and was going to be happy with that,’’ he added.
“It’s such a great feeling that someone feels like I made an impact on the sport,’’ Earnhardt said. “And I know my numbers, the wins, the lack of a championship, I know what my numbers are. And I feel like I was chosen based on that but also based on the impact off the race track and being an ambassador for the sport.”
A back-to-back champion in his two full seasons (1998-1999) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Earnhardt quickly established himself at the NASCAR Cup Series level as a master in the style of restrictor plate racing featured at both Daytona International Speedway and its superspeedway sister in Talladega, Ala. Earnhardt won 10 races at the two tracks – four at Daytona and six at Talladega.
His two Daytona 500 wins were in 2004 and 2014. He won four consecutive races at Talladega from 2001-03 – a streak of excellence unequalled since. He led 133 of 188 laps to win the April, 2002 race. Only one time since has the race winner led 100 laps at Talladega - Jeff Gordon led 139 laps en route to a 2005 victory.
After racing two years in the Xfintiy Series (1998-99) for his father’s team, Earnhardt earned 26 NASCAR Cup Series victories in a fulltime career for two teams that spanned the 2000-2017 seasons. The JR Motorsports team he co-owns with his sister Kelley has earned three Xfinity Series titles and won 47 races. His 15 consecutive Most Popular Driver Awards is second all-time to another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Bill Elliott’s 16 wins.
“There was a point in my career where I started to think, okay I’m not going to win seven championships, I’m not maybe even going to win one championship,’’ Earnhardt said of his legacy. “I’m not going to win 100 races, might not even win 40 races. So what can I do?
“If I can’t do that, and there were a lot of people that wanted me to be Dale Earnhardt, not just be the Intimidator but they wanted me to be as successful as he [his father] was and to drive like him, aggressively, spinning people out. Whatever they thought dad was, that’s what they wanted me to emulate.
“And when I realized that I’m not going to be able to win those races, I’m not going to be able to win a championship, I started to think of what I could do outside of that. What else could I control that would help the sport and be a good ambassador for the sport.
“I wasn’t always perfect, but I started focusing in those areas and being accessible, being available, being accountable and I feel like I did a decent job at that. I don’t want to sit here and measure it, that’s up to someone else, but I’m pretty happy with that part of my career when it comes to the impact I had on the sport. I’m very happy with it considering the fact I didn’t have that success my father did but yet I was able to move the needle a little bit in the mainstream media.’’
Stefanik, a Rhode Island native who was killed in an airplane accident last year at the age of 61, has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for years and long in the heart of diehard, weekend short track racers who in particular appreciated his massive talent in the touring series.
Stefanik earned a record-tying nine NASCAR championships – seven of those coming in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and two in the NASCAR East Series, a pair of highly-competitive touring series. He also won Rookie of the Year honors in the 1999 NASCAR Gander & RV Truck Series.
He holds the all-time record in championships (7), wins (74), pole positions (48), top-5 (223) and top-10 (301) finishes in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and in 2003 was named one of its 10 Greatest Drivers.
Farmer, 89, was born in Hialeah, Fla. but is better known as an original member of the famed “Alabama Gang” after relocating to the state and teaming up with fellow Florida-transplants Bobby and Donnie Allison and Alabama’s Neil Bonnett. Farmer, who is estimated to have more than 700 career victories, is still competing on local short tracks and was clearly moved by the opportunity to be named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame bridging stock car eras.
Speaking with the media after his selection, Farmer told a story about making his very first NASCAR start in 1953 and driving the actual race car (a Hudson) from his home in South Florida to Daytona Beach – a 350-mile trek – with a toolbox in the car ready for when he arrived to compete.
He raced against some of NASCAR’s earliest superstars such as Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund and Joe Weatherly. And today he suits up at short tracks around the country primed to take on the sport’s era of next superstars.
“I had to catch my breath there for a minute,’’ a smiling Farmer said of hearing the NASCAR Hall of Fame news. “This is the biggest honor you could ever get. … I started down there on the beach in 1953. I’ve been in NASCAR a long time and got to run against a lot of great drivers.’’
Farmer smiled proudly at the thought of his legendary career, spanning nine decades by his estimation. And now having earned that most honorable position in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.