A look at each of the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees
By Taylor Goins
January 21, 2016
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—The 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class officially inducted Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons Friday night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The night was filled with laughter, memories and a ceremony for the five inductees.
The class included a wide range of personalities, from a WWII Veteran to a Taxi Cab driver, whose paths in life all converged on two central threads: their shared love of NASCAR, and the success they had in pursuing this passion.
The five inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame received a ring and a jacket, made by Oxford clothiers (the same company that makes the green jacket given to Master's champions), but they also received something much more valuable: recognition for a lifetime of dedication to the sport we all love.
A pioneer in the world of NASCAR, Raymond Parks won the very first NASCAR Cup championship in 1949 with legendary driver Red Byron behind the wheel.
Parks, who made a lucrative living in real estate in Atlanta, had to persevere through early hardships to build his business. He grew up in poverty in Dawsonville, GA and ran away from home in order to get a fresh start and build a life for himself.
This proved to be a legacy-defining move for Parks, as he wasted no time making a name for himself in the business world. After earning enough money to get into auto racing, Parks backed driver Red Voght and dominated the scene in the late 1930s.
Parks' life took an unexpected turn soon afterwards, though, as he was called away from his start in racing to serve his country in World War II. Parks' selfless answer to the call of duty was admirable, and when he returned to the states, he picked up where he left off in the racing world.
Reuniting with close friend and founder of NASCAR Bill France, Parks provided money and support when France needed a hand in getting the fledgling sport off the ground. This backing proved to be instrumental in building the foundation for the sport as we know it today, and it paid off for Parks as well, as he won NASCAR's first two championships as a car owner.
He retired from the sport in the 1950s to focus on his business, but the groundwork he laid in building the sport with France has left a legacy that will live forever.
Before his passing in 2010, Parks was amazed at the appreciation he was being shown by fans, saying that "It's been so long, I thought everyone had forgotten about me." He can now rest assured by knowing that no one will ever forget about him.
Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, Benny Parsons was a fan-favorite as both a driver and a broadcaster.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. summed up an entire generation of NASCAR fans' admiration towards Parsons by saying that "Benny Parsons, to me, is our John Madden."
Known as the "everyman champion," Parsons went from a taxi driver in Michigan to winning the 1973 NASCAR Cup championship.
He was a model of consistency on the track and finished in the top-five of the championship standings for nine consecutive seasons. It was a moment in his 1973 championship campaign, though, that best epitomized what made up Parsons' spirit.
Going into the final race of the season at North Carolina Motor Speedway, Parsons was locked in a fiercely contested points battle. After being involved in an accident, his car was so badly damaged that many thought he would be forced to retire from the race and miss out on his chance for a NASCAR crown.
Parsons and his crew showed remarkable fortitude in the face of adversity though, and repaired the car in time to get back on the track in just a little over an hour. Parsons managed to earn enough points to win the 1973 NASCAR Cup championship. After a successful driving career, Parsons transitioned to an equally successful broadcasting career.
Parsons friend, Ned Jarrett, introduced him to the world of broadcasting and Parsons expressed doubt in his ability at first, remarking to his friend "Really, you think I could do that?"
He proved that he could, in fact, "do that," by becoming the voice and the face of NASCAR on television for an entire generation of fans. Described by Rick Hendrick as a man that "no one could say anything negative about," Benny Parsons most definitely earned his place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
One of the most successful and legendary owners in the history of NASCAR, Richard Childress has done almost everything there is to do in the sport.
Childress has done so much, in fact, that his grandson (and two-time NASCAR touring series champion) Austin Dillon shared a question that some will ask: "When will RC slow down?"
Dillon assures Childress' legion of fans that this slowdown will not occur anytime soon, as he offers one constant, unwavering response: "I have more to accomplish."
Childress, like many members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, had to work fiercely for everything that he earned. In essence, he turned a $20 car into a NASCAR dynasty when he bought a 1947 Plymouth and started his career in motorsports. Childress looks back at that purchase and gratefully refers to it as "the best investment I ever made."
A great driver in his own right, earning 76 top-ten finishes in NASCAR's top series, Childress made his biggest impact in the sport as an owner.
Best friends with the legendary seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, Childress recalls the moment that the famous friendship and racing partnership first developed.
Childress had just won a race in Atlanta, beating Earnhardt, when Dale walked up to him, put a finger in his chest in classic Earnhardt-style and declared "The next time I race with you, I will win."
This statement proved to be prophetic, as Childress earned six championships and 67 wins as Earnhardt's car owner between 1984-2000.
More important than any win or championship, however, is Childress' humble dedication to those around him. When asked what he should provide to the NASCAR Hall of Fame to commemorate his induction, Childress' only reply was "A ten foot by twenty foot granite wall," which would include the names of all those who helped him achieve his success.
Owner of Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick has something that no other car owner in NASCAR history can claim - a record 12 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series titles.
Hendrick, a self-made automotive magnate, started from humble beginnings in a fashion akin to his race team.
At age 27, Hendrick became America's youngest Chevrolet dealer and built that start into what would become Hendrick Automotive Group, which today sells nearly 200,000 vehicles per year.
Hendrick's remarkable ambition and drive translated into his motorsports career, as he formed All-Star Racing in 1984 with only five full-time employees and fielded just a single NASCAR Cup Series ride.
From that small seed, Hendrick proceeded to construct the most powerful NASCAR dynasty ever assembled, winning titles in NASCAR's highest division with Jimmie Johnson (7), Jeff Gordon (4) and Terry Labonte (1) and amassing an astounding total of 242 wins (good enough for second-best all-time).
Rick Hendrick epitomizes the drive that every successful person in life, not just motorsports, possesses. At one time, Hendrick recalls being "in the back of the grocery store, counting our money before we went to the checkout line."
But an unquenchable desire to succeed pushed Hendrick past those tough times, and through it all, he never lost track of his values. His true Hall of Fame legacy lies in his principles and how he treats people. He describes his personal value system by saying that "You need to take care of people, if you want people to take care of you."
Hendrick has practiced what he preached, as current Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr says that "the way he treats his employees is something I've learned a lot about. You work really hard to make him happy." Former Hendrick Motorsports driver and four time Cup champion Jeff Gordon was able to place the perfect exclamation part on Hendrick's legacy, concluding that "We call him Mr. H, and now that H takes on a new meaning: 'Mr. Hall of Famer.'"
Mark Martin, hailed by many as the "best NASCAR driver without a championship," is more than worthy to wear the badge of "champion."
Martin's peers agree wholeheartedly, as fellow competitor Dale Earnhardt Jr. emphatically states that "there was no doubt in anybody's mind that raced with him, that he was one of the best."
Martin's former teammate summed up the gentleman racer from Batesville, AR with three succinct words: "toughness, grit, and determination." Martin began his racing career in ASA and moved up to NASCAR's Cup series in 1982, experiencing immediate success with two pole awards in his first five races.
However, a non-paying sponsor and a series of unfortunate events left Martin out of a ride in 1983. Standing outside the fence at the 1984 Daytona 500, Martin claims that he can clearly remember longingly staring in and thinking to himself: "I can beat those guys."
Martin got the second chance that he needed in NASCAR from car owner Jack Roush in 1988, and the rest is history. The pair combined to dominate the NASCAR circuit from 1988-2006, earning a total of four runner-up finishes in the final championship standings. Martin retired from full-time driving in 2007, but his unparallelled dedication to physical fitness and his world-class training regimen prepared the then 50-year-old to stay in racing-shape.
Beating peers who were nearly three decades younger than himself, Martin enjoyed an impressive resurgence, earning yet another runner-up finish in 2009 and five more victories in his comeback with Hendrick Motorsports. Then Hendrick Motorsports co-worker Steve Letarte says that Martin "showed up like he had never won a race" every single week.
No, Martin did not win a championship or a Daytona 500 trophy. However, he did win 96 times across NASCAR's three national series (seventh-best all time) and was never outworked on or off the race track.
His lack of a title "wasn't for lack of talent, effort, desire, or drive," according to former Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon, and you would be hard-pressed to find one person who has worked in a NASCAR garage over the last four decades with a different opinion.
Martin is adored among his peers and his legion of fans, and he was able to sum up his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame by stating that "To say it's an honor would be an understatement. To say it's the culmination of a lifelong dream would be a fact."
Five Legends Honored
Five legends from NASCAR's past and present were deservedly honored by receiving a recognition that will last a lifetime. Equally as important, these individuals have worked tirelessly to build a foundation that will allow the sport that so many love to thrive for generations into the future.