Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin among NASCAR HOF inductees for 2017

Photo courtesy of Infield Jen

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Their paths into NASCAR Hall of Fame might be different, but for 2017 inductees Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons and Mark Martin, it was never easy.

As NASCAR welcomed its newest members on Friday night in a ceremony held at the Charlotte Convention Center in North Carolina, the stories told are those of passion for racing, hard work, sacrifices and their no-quit attitude in a sport that’s driven by sponsorship. It’s the eighth class since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

Hendrick, owner of 15 national titles and 245 victories, was introduced on stage by one of his four current drivers and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson as well as retired four-time champ Jeff Gordon.

“Most of us simply know him as Mr. H,” Gordon said. “And now that H takes on a new meaning, Mr. Hall of Famer.”

Hendrick’s wife, Linda, who told the story of how the two met at a service station in Raleigh in 1971, inducted her husband into the Hall.

“That was 46 years ago, and I stand here tonight as a proud wife because of his hard work and passion for racing with the honor, on this 20th day of January, 2017, to present the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee ring inductee ring and officially induct my best friend and sweet husband, Rick Hendrick, into the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” she said.

Rick Hendrick, who initially owned a championship boat racing team, said he spent all week reflecting on the people behind his success in the sport. He thanked everyone, including the two doctors who he said saved his life from leukemia after his 1996 diagnosis.

“When we were boat racing, she was selling T-shirts out of the back of the trailer so we could raise enough money to go back and do it again,” Rick Hendrick said of his wife, Linda.  “So she sits in church on Sunday, so many Sundays by herself when I’ve been gone for 44 years doing what I love.”

Hendrick’s induction followed his good friend and fellow car owner Richard Childress, who won six premier series titles with inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt and was the first owner to win a championship in all three national series. Childress was introduced by grandsons and Cup drivers Austin and Ty Dillon. His wife, Judy, presented Childress with the ring.

“I’d like to start out by saying only in America,” Childress said.  “Only in America could a kid selling peanuts and popcorn at Bowman Gray Stadium have a dream of becoming a race driver some day, and then he goes out and buys him an old ’47 Plymouth, pays $20 for it, that was the best investment I ever made, and have a dream of being a NASCAR driver some day, be standing up here tonight to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Only in America.  What a great country we live in. “

Benny Parsons and Raymond Parks were both inducted posthumously. Parsons, who started out as a taxi driver before winning the 1973 NASCAR premier series title, died in 2007 at the age of 65. He was a commentator for NBC and TNT until his death. His widow, Violet, was on hand to accept the award.

Parks, one of the most successful team owners, died in 2010 at 96 years old. His granddaughter, Patricia DePottey accepted the award presented by 2014 Cup champ and Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick.

For Martin, dubbed the greatest driver never to win a Cup title, it was never about the trophies. He has 40 wins in the NASCAR premier series and 96 across all three NASCAR national series. He also won 49 times in what is today’s NASCAR XFINITY Series, which was a record that stood for 14 years.  He has finished runner-up in the Cup series five times.

“Because racing was my passion, the easy thing to do was to go to the trucking company that my dad owned and go to work there,” Martin explained. “I had no interest in that trucking company.  The only thing I knew was racing.”

And as he entered the HOF, an emotional Martin said it was the “grandest Victory Lane’ of all, we have made it.” He was introduced on stage by current driver Matt Kenseth, and presented by his former car owner Jack Roush.

And as for his return to the track? He said he now feels like he belongs there. After Martin retired, he never set foot back at the place where he used to go around in circles.

“So yeah, this makes me feel like I have a place, a little bit of a place,” he said.  “But the thing about racing is when you step out, the hole closes behind you so fast, it’s unbelievable, as a driver, as a crew chief, crew member, whatever.  I’m sure even doing your job, you step out for very long, that hole closes, man.  It ain’t easy to get back inside. “

In addition, Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles won the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Benny Phillips, who covered the sport for 48 years even while battling polio, was named the sixth Squier-Hall Award winner.

 

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