Charlotte, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. headlined the five
inductees into the first Hall of Fame class, a group that drew mixed
reactions to the inclusion of France's son instead of driver David
France, who formed the National Association of Stock Car
Racing in 1947, was the first inductee announced Wednesday in a
ceremony that followed a lengthy voting session at the Charlotte
Richard Petty, the seven-time Cup champion and
NASCAR's all-time wins leader, was the second inductee revealed by
current NASCAR chairman Brian France, who received the five envelopes
one at a time from an independent accounting firm.
Next up was
Bill France Jr., son of the NASCAR founder who spent nearly 30 years at
the helm of America's top motorsports series.
"When I seen the two Frances was in, I knew I didn't have a chance," Pearson said moments after the ceremony ended.
final two nods instead went to Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR's other
seven-time champion, and Junior Johnson, a former driver and car owner
whose early days of running moonshine through backroads of North
Carolina stands as a symbol of NASCAR's start.
Pearson's exclusion surprised many, including Petty.
into the ballroom moments after the inductees were announced, the King
had to be told who had been selected with him for next May's induction
"That wouldn't have been my pick," he said.
upon by a panel of 50 NASCAR executives, journalists, former
participants and one combined fan vote from NASCAR's official Web site,
the voters had a list of 25 nominees to consider. Petty, who was not on
the panel, said he made his own list and had Pearson as his top pick.
"Anybody that won 105 races and didn't make the cut — somebody ain't adding right," Petty said of Pearson.
as the "Silver Fox," Pearson ranked second only to Petty's 200
victories on NASCAR's all-time win list. The three-time Cup champion
had a winning percentage of 18.2 percent in a career that spanned 27
years — but never a complete season.
Had he ever run a full schedule, many believed he could have challenged Petty's marks.
was hard to tell if Pearson felt snubbed. He spoke for less than a
minute after the ceremony, citing the need to get fellow nominee Cotton
Owens home to his ailing wife.
"The same people don't like
everybody," Pearson said. "So there got to be some people voting for
other people. If they don't like me, they're going to vote for somebody
else anyway, so that's all right. I'm happy."
opinions created a strange dynamic through the convention center, where
the voters gathered earlier Wednesday to debate the nominees before a
secret ballot. As many of NASCAR's pioneers discussed the selections,
six women clad in black dresses, dark sunglasses and fake
Earnhardt-like mustaches distributed invitations to a celebratory
reception hosted by Earnhardt's widow, Teresa.
Some of the voters
lingered and described an emotional two-plus-hour meeting that was
moderated by NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter. A presentation was made for
each of the 25 nominees, and then the floor was opened for discussion.
was a meeting like I've never been in in racing, because I think
everybody wanted to do the right thing and I think NASCAR was really
nervous about the two Frances getting in," said voter Humpy Wheeler,
longtime motorsports executive.
"There was definitely a division
there of people who felt 'Hey, lets get the guys in that started this
thing first, and then we'll move on from there.' That was argued about."
Sr., widely known as "Big Bill," began as a promoter of beach racing in
Daytona Beach, Fla., until he gathered several principals at the
Streamline Hotel to form a governing body that became NASCAR.
as one of the most influential figures in the history of American
motorsports, he ruled with an iron first from NASCAR's first race in
1949 until his 1972 retirement, when he handed control over to his son,
"Billy" France led NASCAR through a period of extreme
growth and was at the helm as the sport began to push past its Southern
roots to become a national series. He held the top role until 2000,
when he handed control to current president Mike Helton as he battled
But France Jr. stayed on top of the family business as
chairman of a newly created board of directors, a position he held
until turning leadership over to his son, Brian, in 2003.
was a lot of discussion about having two France family members in the
same year," Brian France admitted after, "so I was surprised, but very,
very proud. Look, all the inductees easily could have made first
ballot, but I also know how hard my father and grandfather worked. They
poured their whole heart into this sport. It's a proud day for the
NASCAR did not release the voting totals and said
the order in which they were announced did not reflect the results.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Bobby
Allison were the next three highest vote getters but did not reveal in
Still, there was a sense that the final slot was a
close vote between France Jr. and Pearson, and that the pre-vote
meeting definitely factored into the selections.
"The mood of the
room clearly shifted a couple times," said Landmark Newspapers reporter
Dustin Long, the president of the National Motorsports Press
Association. "It was very dramatic shifts, and it dealt with the France
There was still some celebrating.
made a rare public appearance, and invited almost everyone in
attendance to a reception to celebrate her husband, who was killed in
an accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
who knew him respected him," she said. "I can't imagine how difficult
it was to choose five. It's such an honor to narrow it down and include
Earnhardt's children did not attend the announcement but
released a statement later that included reaction from Earnhardt's
mother, brother, sister, and two of his four children.
"He was the man, plain and simple," said Dale Earnhardt Jr.
meanwhile, didn't attend the announcement after serving on the voter
panel. Winner of 50 races as a driver, and another 132 and six
championships as a car owner, he said in a statement his inclusion left
"I'll tell you, this is a big, big deal to me," he said. "It's the greatest thing that's happened to me in this sport."