The NASCAR Hall of Fame has inducted five new members into its annals; the names had been announced in May 2018. In a ceremony on Friday evening, Jeff Gordon, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske, and Jack Roush were honoured and enshrined.
The owner of the famed Roush Fenway Racing was the first to be inducted, with current RFR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and former team driver Mark Martin introducing their boss. Since the team’s formation in 1988, it has become one of NASCAR’s most iconic organisations and a premier Ford team, winning eight national series driver’s championships and over 300 combined races across the three top series.
“His skills developed as a mathematician and engineering entrepreneur made him a good team owner. His eye for talent and his competitive spirit made him a great one,” Stenhouse stated in his speech. “Always found at the track with his trademark Panama hat and sparkle of life, he holds the record for wins across all three national NASCAR series and boasts eight national championships.
“I’m proud to have driven for this legend my entire career and even more proud to be here tonight and honour this legend, Jack Roush.”
The late Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup championship in one of the tightest battles in NASCAR history. A noted perfectionist, he stood out in the NASCAR garage as a successful owner/driver, operating and racing the #7 Ford Thunderbird (affectionately nicknamed “Underbird”) for AK Racing.
2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth introduced his fellow Wisconsite. Members of the AK Racing team, including crew chief Paul Andrews and crewmen Tony Gibson and Peter Jellen, accepted the honours on Kulwicki’s behalf.
“If he was here tonight, he’d be embarrassed,” Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner Felix Sabates, who oversaw Kulwicki’s estate and assets following his death in 1993, quipped as he presented Kulwicki’s Hall of Fame ring.
Prior to his death in a helicopter crash, Allison was one of NASCAR’s rising stars, winning nineteen Cup races and finishing third in the standings in 1991 and 1992. The 1992 Daytona 500 winner joins his father Bobby in becoming the third father/son driver duo to be inducted.
Robbie Allison introduced his father.
“Two things that I heard a lot about my dad growing up were that he was determined and he was dedicated,” Robbie said in his speech. “Something I’ve learned in my life is that I think he got the determination from his dad, but I think he got the dedication from his mom Judy.
“One of the people closest to my dad this week told me he wouldn’t want tonight to be about him. He’d want it to be about everybody else, but this ring’s for him and he earned it.”
Allison’s widow Liz tweeted a photo of the Hall of Fame ring:
Look y’all!!! pic.twitter.com/ObMZ0oQC4O
— Liz Allison (@Lizallison28) February 2, 2019
Over the years, Team Penske is one of motorsport’s most renowned names, achieving success in many disciplines of racing. In NASCAR, Penske has enjoyed two Cup driver’s championships and 109 wins, including the 2018 title with Joey Logano.
Penske’s trio of Cup drivers — Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Blaney — introduced their boss, while television host and automotive enthusiast Jay Leno honoured him with an NBCSN segment. Leno visited Penske’s shop in August 2018.
“There’s an old saying: ‘You never want to meet your heroes.’ Boy, that could not be further from the truth,” Leno said. “Meeting you, shaking your hand is one of the seminal moments of my life. Getting to hang out and see how you conducted your racing, how you conducted your life, how you conducted your business is really an inspiration to Americans everywhere. You’re really what American business should be: strong, tough, competitive, but filled with kindness and compassion.
“What you’ve done in Detroit was truly mind-boggling. Riding around with you that day and seeing how clean the streets were, and the pride you took in this and helping the homeless and working with people, it really made me feel good about America and where we’re going. So thank you, my friend, thanks for being a role model, thanks for shaking my hand.
“I’m sure this is not the first hall of fame you’ve been inducted into, but it won’t be the last.”
On Twitter, Logano posted, “RP took a chance on me at a pivotal point in my career and told me he could make me a champion. Since then he has done that and so much more. He leads by example and expects perfection. I could not be more proud to be part of his team and excited to celebrate him tonight!”
The four-time Cup champion and one of NASCAR’s most decorated names was the last to be inducted, with current Cup driver and childhood fan Kyle Larson introducing him. Afterward, Larson tweeted, “Such an honor tonight to introduce someone who has had such a big impact on all of Motorsports and especially helping to pave the way for us dirt racers to make it to Cup! Thank you and congratulations @JeffGordonWeb on your @NASCARHall induction!”
“When you’re growing up, you have a dream,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said, “and my dream was all about racing. And for that to happen, it takes a lot of help from a lot of people. But nobody has made that dream come true more than Jeff Gordon.
“He’s like a son, like a little brother, and most of all, a great friend.”
“Rick, there’s no way to describe it any other way other than ‘You’re a great man.’,” Gordon stated. “You’ve been far more than just a team owner to me. You constantly set the bar to make everyone around you want to be a better person at their job, a better person every walk of life, and that includes me. So I will forever be grateful for your friendship, your mentoring […] and the faith that you put in me as your driver with our partnership that still happens today.
“All those fans that are back there (in the crowd): thank you, thank you, thank you. And to the ones that aren’t here: I know you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway. You’re the heartbeat that makes racing the great sport that it is. You have made being a race car driver an absolute dream come true.”
The NASCAR community voiced their support for Gordon on social media. The NASCAR Cup grid issued their congratulations in a video:
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 2, 2019
“I was in 8th grade when @JeffGordonWeb was the ROY,” Alex Bowman‘s crew chief Greg Ives tweeted. “I was a senior, he won 3 championships. Then a teammate from 2004-2015, he retired with 93 wins. A part time stint in 2016, I would be his crew chief. To be a fan, teammate, and CC of this Hall of Famer is an honor.”
Sam Bass, who designed Gordon’s cars throughout his career, posted, “What a FANTASTIC induction of @JeffGordonWeb into the @NASCARHall of Fame tonight! I am so proud to have been his designer for 24 years!! I am so happy for him! An incredible talent, a trailblazer, and a great friend!! Congrats!!!”
Bowman and William Byron, both sponsored by Gordon’s longtime sponsor Axalta Coating Systems, said the following:
— Axalta Racing (@AxaltaRacing) February 2, 2019
“Words cannot explain how much we appreciate all of #NASCARHOFers,” the NASCAR Hall of Fame tweeted. “Thank you all for making tonight so special, and congratulations again to our newly inducted Class of 2019 NASCAR Hall of Famers.”