NMPA Honors Racing Legends

NASCAR

Team owner Joe Gibbs (left), drivers Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte (center right) and team owner Rick Hendrick (right) celebrate after the 1996 NAPA 500 NASCAR event at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs and Al Unser Sr. were inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

The trio was recognized for their outstanding contributions to the motor sports world through-out the course of their illustrious careers.

Hendrick became a NASCAR car owner in 1983 actually winning an XFINITY Series race with Dale Earnhardt behind the wheel. A year later, his team made its Cup Series debut and driver Geoff Bodine won at Martinsville in what was then called the All-Star Racing team.

Hendrick drivers have now won 239 more Cup Series races, led by Jeff Gordon with 93 wins and Jimmie Johnson with 75 wins. His team has won eight Daytona 500s, the last coming in 2014 with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I get to do the two things I love most outside of my family, and that’s racing cars and selling cars,” Hendrick said in a video message delivered to the NMPA gathering. “Without a doubt the key to success in both businesses is people and I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the very best at Hendrick Motorsports.”

Gibbs entered NASCAR after a stellar career as an NFL head coach with the Washington Redskins where he won three Super Bowls.

A racing enthusiast, Gibbs first entered the motorsports world as an NHRA team owner, where his teams won two NHRA Pro Stock championships.

His first venture into NASCAR was in 1992 with driver Dale Jarrett and the next year they teamed up to win the Daytona 500.

Gibbs’ drivers have 128 Cup Series wins and his driver, Kyle Busch, won both the last race of the 2015 season at Homestead and the series championship.

“Thanks for this honor,” Gibbs said via a video message. “I want to thank the National Motorsports Press Association for honoring me and I really, really appreciate it. And I think also about what do you guys mean to our sport? You bring the information to our fans, which is hugely important for us. Our fans are what make us go.

“And then, of course, what’s different about our sport, motorsports, is the fact that you’ve got to have sponsors. OK? Football? Hey, we didn’t need a sponsor. You’re going to play football. But over here in racing we’ve got to have sponsors to get the resources to race our cars.”

Unser Sr. won a record-tying fourth Indy 500 in 1987 and holds the record for most laps led in Indy 500 history at 644.

“This is the first time I’ve inducted my father into any Hall of Fame,” said Al Unser Jr., who accepted the award for his father. “It was great looking up all the stuff like how he led the most laps in the Indy 500, how he won the fourth 500 after entering the year without a ride. You see all the races he’s run, including sprint cars, Can-Am and the IROC Series. He was such a great driver to be able to race and win in all of those different cars.”

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