NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees a who’s who of stars

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Stock car racing giants ranging from Bill France Sr. and Junior Johnson to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt are among the 25 nominees for NASCAR’s first Hall of Fame class.

The announcement Thursday night comes 10 months before the Hall of Fame’s scheduled opening in downtown Charlotte. An inaugural class of five will be chosen from the group that includes the bootleggers who helped create the sport to the drivers, owners and officials who made it popular.

NASCAR patriarch France and his son, Bill France Jr., were among the candidates selected by a 21-member panel. The drivers include Petty, Earnhardt, Johnson, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarbrough and Glenn “Fireball” Roberts.

Car owners are represented, too, including Bud Moore, Raymond Parks, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Glen Wood.

A panel of people in the sport and a fan vote will decide the first class, which will be announced in October. Induction will take place in conjunction with the Hall’s opening in May.

“That first class, just like the first baseball class that has the likes of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, is going to be extremely special,” Hall of Fame director Winston Kelley said.

The list of nominees is a cross section of the sport’s history. Yet the star quality in the group begins with Petty and the late Earnhardt, who share the NASCAR record with seven championship titles.

Earnhardt, who died in a last-lap crash at the 2001 Daytona 500, won 76 races and his black No. 3 car remains one of the signature symbols of NASCAR.

Petty is a Hall of Fame lock. His staggering 200 career victories, 123 poles, 10 consecutive wins and seven Daytona 500 victories are all records. He remains involved in the sport by helping run a race team, now called Richard Petty Motorsports.

The nominating committee included all areas of the sport in choosing the candidates.

France and his son, both deceased, help create NASCAR, and the France family still runs the enterprise. Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett were successful drivers-turned-broadcasters. Richie Evans became a star racing modifieds. Joe Weatherly went from dominating modified racing to winning two Cup championships.

The drivers cover all the sport’s eras. Red Byron won NASCAR’s first sanctioned race in 1948 on Daytona’s beach course. Buck Baker was the first driver to win consecutive points titles in 1956-57. Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500. Roberts, Tim Flock, Herb Thomas and Curtis Turner were other early stars nominated.

Johnson, who honed his skills outrunning the police in souped-up cars during Prohibition, won 50 races before becoming a successful car owner. Waltrip won his three Cup titles working for Johnson before embarking on a broadcasting career.

Pearson starred in the 1960s, winning three championships. His 105 career wins are second overall. Waltrip and Allison are tied for third with 84 wins each. Yarbrough dominated much of the 1970s, winning three consecutive Cup titles and amassing 83 career wins.

Several drivers and owners, including Richard Petty, have donated items to the Hall of Fame. The facility, under construction since early 2007, will include 40,000 square feet of exhibit space, a theater, racing simulators, restaurants and retail outlets.

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