Diverse. In every sense of the word, the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame class is diverse, with a little something for every kind of racing fan, from the old timers to fans of more recent vintage.
It’s not easy being first; Wendell Scott knew that. NASCAR’s first African-American to win a NASCAR Grand National race overcame humble beginnings and prejudice to earn his place in racing history. Scott came of age in segregated drinking fountains, segregrated restrooms and even segregated schools. It took guts to get started, and even more to stick around. A testament to his character was that Scott made friends in racing, including those who cared enough to lend a helping hand when needed. He may have won only one race, but Wendell Scott’s contributions to NASCAR went far beyond trophies and prize money. His induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame says “He is one of us, no matter his skin color, and what he did mattered a great deal.”
If there’s one thing NASCAR could use today, it would be a Joe Weatherly. The two-time champion was a prankster and popular party boy. In ESPN’s documentary series on NASCAR, Tom Pistone shared the story of how Weatherly stole the keys out of everyone’s race cars before the start of an event. His death in a race at Riverside in 1964 cut short a brilliant career and colorful life.
In the 60s, another dashing young driver added a certain flair to a sport owing its beginnings to moonshine runners and farmers. You might say Freddy Lorenzen was the original Jeff Gordon or the original Kasey Kahne. A favorite the ladies, Lorenzen showed the big boys he was more than just one of the guys, with a flair for finding victory lane, though he generally ran on only a part-time basis. The Elmhurst, Illinois native won 26 race in just 158 starts over a 12 year career. In just 16 races in 1964, Lorenzen captured eight wins. In 1965, he won both the Daytona 500 and World 600. Deserving? Heck yeah, I’d say so.
1960 champion Rex White was a winner on the track and a winner with the people. at 5-foot-4, White drew comparisons to a popular actor/comedian of that era, George Gobel. He only raced for nine years, but he made his mark as a short-track specialist. He finished 70 percent of the races he ran in the top ten. Though his career ended 50 years ago, White’s name and face still surfaces with great frequency at a time when fewer and fewer faces from NASCAR’s early days are around.
Awesome Bill from Dawsonville- Bill Elliott is an American success story. Long before there was a Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott won the Most Popular Driver Award year after year after year. With 44 wins to his credit, the Georgian and 1988 Winston Cup championship, and was one of several fierce front-runners in a Golden Age that featured the likes of Earnhardt, Waltrip and Wallace. These days Bill is more famous for being Chase’s Dad. He’s more than happy with that, but it is fitting now to give the man who fought and scraped his way into NASCAR his due, given what he eventually accomplished.