NASCAR Legends Immortalized in Talladega
by Steve Dearborn
Home to the longest NASCAR oval — Talladega Superspeedway — the Alabama city has an unrivaled connection to auto racing, as NascarThreeSixty.com points out. Originally called Alabama International Motor Speedway, the motor sports complex was the realization of NASCAR founder William H.G. “Bill” France Sr.’s dream to construct the world’s fastest and largest superspeedway. It only made sense that when France envisioned an International Motorsports Hall of Fame (IMHOF) shortly after the superspeedway’s opening, it was also built in Talladega.
What began with the induction of 20 legendary motorsports stars on July 25, 1990, has now grown to more than 130 inductees as well as the Motorsports Museum that helps draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Through the years, numerous NASCAR legends such as Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, and Darrell Waltrip have been inducted to IMHOF, in addition to Formula One, Indianapolis 500, and drag racing drivers. The Hall of Fame also includes visionaries and pioneers in other motorsports, such as hydroplane driver Bill Muncey, an individual who American Boat Racing Association Unlimited historian Fred Farley wrote was “the unchallenged superstar” of the sport. It also includes Kenny Roberts, the motorcycle racing legend who detailed to People magazine in 1979 how he would continue to ride at speeds of 180 mph even when his motorcycle parts were on their last legs and his tires were so worn out it was like riding "on balls of grease."
This past May, IMHOF inducted three more former NASCAR champions as well as a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) championship owner, according to MotorSportsHallofFame.com. All four of these latest inductees were men of tremendous color whose resumes boasted significant accomplishments:
Rusty Wallace — In addition to being a NASCAR champion in 1989 when it was known as the Winston Cup Series, Wallace was also named the 1984 Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year and the NASCAR Illustrated Person of the Year in 2005. Wallace was always considered a class act, and one of his most memorable moments came in 1993 when he won a Cup Series race the day after a plane crash killed defending champion Alan Kulwicki. Wallace, who the Johnson City Press reported was the late driver’s closest friend among drivers, performed Kulwicki’s “Polish Victory Lap,” an entire backwards lap that day and as part of his routine after every Bristol victory.
Dale Inman — This past June, Fox Sports’ NASCAR blog named Inman the greatest crew chief of all time. In addition to helping Richard Petty to seven championships between 1964 and 1979, Inman also served as crew chief for Terry Labonte when he won the 1984 Winston Cup Series Championship.
Rick Hendrick — As owner of the NASCAR team Hendrick Motorsports, Hendrick has been responsible for 14 championships and, in May 2012, he became only the second owner to reach the 200-win milestone. According to Hendrick Motorsports, he also chartered the Hendrick Marrow Program, a nonprofit fundraising effort that has raised more than $12 million and added more than 100,000 potential donors to the Be The Match Registry.
Don Schumacher — According to his Don Schumacher Racing website, the two NHRA world championships his teams earned in 2012 gave the pioneer of Funny Car racing 11 world titles. Schumacher began the year with 196 “Wally” trophies, the awards named after NHRA founder Wally Parks that the organization calls “drag racing’s most prestigious trophy.”