Earnhardt Leads Hall Nominees
January 23, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
“The names of those elected this year reads like the book of racing royalty,” says Ron Watson, president of the Motorsports Hall of Fame. “Combined, they represent well more than 24 major championships, three Bendix air racing trophies, world speed records and a half century of engine design.”
The 2002 class for the hall of fame is not only diverse but also well-deserving. Toping the list is the late Dale Earnhardt, whose death last February caused shockwaves in the motorsports world. A legend in his own time, Earnhardt was a seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion who compiled 76 wins and $40 million in prize money during his 23-year career.
Joining Earnhardt is two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Gordon Johncock. The Hastings, Mich.-native amassed 25 wins during his illustrious career and earned more than $3 million in prize money. In 1976 Johncock came away with the Indy Car National Championship and continued racing in the CART series until fully retiring after the 1992 season.
Drag racing legend Eddie Hill is being honored for his contributions to both car and boat racing over the years. Hill began his career on the streets, serving as a pioneer in drag racing during the 1950s. His use of smaller front wheels, font wings, a face mask and drivers suit were all considered technical breakthroughs and he is largely credited for creating the “smoky burnout” maneuver.
Hill retired from drag racing in 1966 and went on to have a successful career in both motorcycle and boat racing. On the water he was dominate, winning several national titles and setting a world speed record of 229 mph in 1982. Hill returned to drag racing in 1985, and after struggling to keep up with his new competitors he finally took hold of the NHRA, winning the top-fuel championship in 1993.
Another former Indy 500 champion, Gaston Chevrolet, will also enter the hall in June. The youngest of the three Chevrolet brothers, Gaston won the 1920 race at the Brickyard in a car built and designed by his brother Louis. He died in the final race of the 1920 season in a two-car accident at the Beverly Hills Board Speedway.
Two more legends of open-wheel racing, legendary engine builder Fred Offenhauser and sports car specialist Brian Redman, have been inducted. Offenhauser built the very fast (and very popular) Offy engine that dominated open-wheel racing for nearly half the century. Redman meanwhile made his name in the Formula 5000 road racing series, winning the 1974, 1975 and 1976 titles.
The final two inductees include four time FIM World Road Racing motorcycle champion Eddie Lawson and famous movie and stunt pilot Paul Mantz, who helped popularize air racing.
Eligibility for induction into the Hall of Fame includes anyone who has driven, piloted, ridden, owned, designed, built, supported, maintained, prepared or promoted racing, endurance or other competition in any motorized vehicles. The Motor Sports Hall of Fame and museum spotlights more than 40 racing and high-performance vehicles in constantly changing exhibits and is at the Novi Expo Center in Novi, Mich.