By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
The enshrinement of three car owners of paramount importance to stock car racing, a driver who proved a prolific winner in NASCAR’s top-two series and a former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion who would become one of the most beloved storytellers in the history of the sport highlighted Friday night’s induction of the Class of 2017 into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Not only did the emotional proceedings usher one of NASCAR’s first car owners, Raymond Parks, into the Hall. Also recognized were the ongoing accomplishments of two owners – Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick – whose efforts have helped to produce a pair of seven-time champions.
Friday night also brought the induction of driver Mark Martin, who won 40 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, another 49 in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and who finished second in the championship standings at NASCAR’s highest level no less than five times.
Perhaps the most gripping moment of the night was the enshrinement of 1973 Cup champion Benny Parsons, a man of indefatigable good humor who flourished after his driving career as one of the most beloved broadcasters the sport has known.
Parsons lost his life on Jan. 16, 2007 after a courageous battle against lung cancer.
Appropriately, Parks was first to be enshrined. Introduced by Kevin Harvick and inducted posthumously by family friend Kyle Petty, Parks was a close friend of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and a pillar of the sport in its formative years.
Born in the mountains of north Georgia, Parks shares “moonshine” roots with such NASCAR pioneers as Junior Johnson. Parks later grew successful jukebox and vending machine businesses in Atlanta before venturing into NASCAR ownership.
Parks won NASCAR’s first two championships, in modifieds in 1948 and in Strictly Stock (NASCAR’s top division) with Red Byron behind the wheel and Red Vogt as crew chief.
“He put his money where his mouth was, investing in our great past time as an owner,” Harvick said. “The World War II veteran captured NASCAR’s first premier series championship in 1949 and nearly 70 years later has earned the highest honor from the sport he always believed in.”
“Without Raymond Parks, there would be no Richard Petty – there’s nothing to build on,” Kyle Petty said.
Introduced by fellow Michigander Brad Keselowski, Parsons won his only championship in 1973, an achievement that came during a string of nine straight years (1972-1980) in which Parsons finished in the top five in the final standings.
All told, Parsons won 21 races, including the 1975 Daytona 500, during a career whose hallmark was remarkable consistency. In 526 starts at NASCAR’s highest level, Parsons finished in the top 10 283 times, an enviable 54 percent.
“He’s from Detroit, and he came from being a Michigan taxi driver to a NASCAR champion,” Keselowski said. “Think about that. That seems like the script from a Hollywood movie. “But that is exactly what Benny Parsons accomplished in 1973.”
Childress’ grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon – both of whom are racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this year – introduced their “Pop Pop,” the car owner with whom inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class member Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven championships.
“My brother and I are so proud and honored to introduce Pop Pop,” Austin Dillon said. “There are countless family stories I could share of his true grit, persistence, determination, and love for others.”
Including Earnhardt’s six, Childress has won 11 titles combined in NASCAR’s top three touring series, second only to fellow inductee Hendrick’s 15.
“I’m honored to go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame with my heroes,” said Childress, who was inducted by his wife, Judy Childress. “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.”
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time titleholder Jeff Gordon did the introduction honors for Hendrick, their car 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. He’ll take the shirt right off his back for you. His accomplishments are endless, and his character is unrivaled.”
Hendrick accepted induction from his wife, Linda Hendrick.
“I humbly accept this tonight, and all the drivers that have been involved in our company, all the mechanics, everybody that’s ever been a part of it, I accept this on your behalf, past and present,” Hendrick said. “I know my son (Ricky Hendrick, killed in a 2004 plane crash) is watching tonight, and he’s so proud. Congratulations to Jimmie for winning No. 7, dedicating it to him…
“But I can tell you that the feelings that I have for this sport and for all the people in it, all the sponsors – and I’ve got so many here tonight I can’t name them all, don’t want to do that – 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.”
Introduced by former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth and inducted by team owner Jack Roush, Martin chronicled a career that began in 1981 and ended at Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013. In between, Martin finished second in the standings four times with Roush – the first in 1990 – and once with Hendrick, in 2009, during Johnson’s run of five straight titles.
Martin won 96 races across all three NASCAR national touring series, currently seventh all-time. He credited Roush with giving him a welcome opportunity to drive RFR Fords in 1988, after his career had stalled.
“He was hell-bent and determined as I was to make a name for himself winning races and competing for championships at NASCAR’s highest level,” Martin said. “Jack Roush gave me that second chance.”
During Friday night’s ceremony, Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles was recognized with the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Opened in 1947, Martinsville is the only track to have hosted races at NASCAR’s highest level in the sanctioning body’s formation in 1949.
The late Benny Phillips, former reporter and sports editor for the High Point (N.C.) Enterprise received the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. Overcoming polio to pursue his career as a journalist, Phillips also wrote for Stock Car Racing magazine for 27 years and spent 12 years covering racing with TBS.