Five legendary NASCAR competitors – three drivers, two owners – were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., at a ceremony held in the Charlotte Convention Center. Davey Allison, Jeff Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush comprise the 10th Class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, now home to 50 famed inductees.
Hailing from California, Gordon is often considered responsible for transforming NASCAR from a southern pastime to a mainstream phenomenon. In 1995 he became the youngest driver in the modern era to win a premier series title at the age of 24. Speeding down the track in his Rainbow Chevy, the leader of the Rainbow Warriors – named after that colorful car – went on to win three more championships in ’97, ’98 and 2001). In 1998, he won a modern era record of 13 races. Completing his career third on the all-time wins list, he boasts 93 victories. Young and vibrant, Gordon made an ideal rival to lower-key, rugged Dale Earnhardt Sr. He was the first NASCAR driver to host “Saturday Night Live.” He retired from full-time NASCAR racing as the sport’s iron man with a record 797 consecutive starts.
“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.”
Allison famed for his sheer talent behind the wheel of a race car. He won 19 races and 14 poles before his tragic death in a helicopter accident in ’93, only 33 years old. Son of 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Bobby Allison, he finished in second place to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500, making the pair the only father-son duo to finish first and second in NASCAR’s biggest event. Allison later won ‘The Great American Race’ in 1992.
Having already excelled as a short-track racer from Wisconsin, Kulwicki moved to Charlotte in 1984 with nothing but a pickup truck, a self-built race car and the intention to in NASCAR’s premier series. He made his dream into a reality, earning Rookie of the Year with his self-owned team in 1986 and taking his first win at Phoenix in 1988. Despite receiving multiple potentially lucrative offers, Kulwicki never raced for anyone but himself. In 1992, he overcame an enormous 278-point deficit with six races left to capture the NASCAR premier series championship with two wins, 11 top fives and 17 top 10s. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to defend his title – Kulwicki died in a plane crash on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway in 1993. He’ll forever be remembered for his signature “Polish Victory Lap,” a celebratory cool-down lap made with the driver’s window facing the fans.
Penske is greatly renowned for building a motorsports empire involved with racing for over 50 years. He’s 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 built Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in 1996 and previously owned Michigan International 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.”
A graduate-level mathematician and engineer from Michigan, Roush was a drag racing owner and enthusiast before deciding to have a go at NASCAR in 1988. Since entering the sport, he’s won a record 324 races across NASCAR’s three national series and can claim five owner championships, including two premier series titles (Matt Kenseth, 2003; Kurt Busch, 2004). Roush first 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 NASCAR industry career 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 ’83, he was named NASCAR vice president of administration. Ten 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 convinced him to return to NASCAR in 2001 in order to lead an expanded public relations effort aimed at responding to the needs of burgeoning media coverage. Many drivers and industry executives credit Hunter’s mentorship as the key to their NASCAR success.
Prior to tonight’s Induction Ceremony, journalist Steve Waid was presented the seventh Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.