NASCAR inducts 2021 Hall of Fame Class

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 21: A general view of the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 21, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NASCAR welcomed three greats of the sport into its Hall of Fame in Charlotte Friday. Postponed a year due to the pandemic, the class of 2021 featured three members, dropping from the five of past ceremonies, to make the Hall 58 members strong. Honored was a pioneer of the sport, a local track legend, and a modern era celebrity. Ralph Seagraves, who handled sponsorship at RJ Reynolds tobacco company and who introduced Winston to the series it would sponsor for more than thirty years, was also given the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was honored not only for his racing but also for the impact he made on the sport. With 26 Cup wins, two Daytona 500s, and two Xfinity Championships, Earnhardt was also voted fifteen times as the sport’s most popular driver. He joins his father, who was voted in as part of the Hall’s first class in 2010. Earnhardt was introduced by his wife Amy.

Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon said, “In the time I have been involved in racing, nobody has impacted the sport more than Dale Earnhardt Jr. When he won, three-quarters of the grandstand stood up and cheered.” Earnhardt founded an Xfinity team and has remained within the sport with his popular Dale Jr. Download podcast series.

“My eyes are already watering,” Earnhardt said as the start to his acceptance speech.

He said joining his father in the Hall of Fame was “as good as it’s ever going to get.”

“I was a mechanic at a dealership. That was my destiny, or so I thought. I changed the oil in thousands of cars.”

Earnhardt recognized those in his life who have helped in his professional success: Uncle Tony Eury Sr., his crew chief; his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller, who spurred the growth of JR Motorsports and Earnhardt’s broadcasting career; team owner Rick Hendrick; and Steve Letarte, his crew chief at that organization. He also spoke about the struggles of coming out of his father’s shadow early in his career and trying to endear himself to the fans, something that gained him support not only within the sport but also outside as its most popular ambassador.

Key to his personal life, Earnhardt said, was wife Amy. “How do you explain someone who makes every day of your life better?” he said.

Red Farmer was part of the Alabama Gang and, though he raced in 36 NASCAR races during his career, he won an estimated 800 races during his career at tracks throughout the south and numerous local championships. He still races today at age 89.

Farmer summed up his career with the remark: “I’m going to wear it out, not rust it out.” He quipped that the biggest change in racing was “money,” saying that it wasn’t possible to race as much as he did now based on cost. In his day, though, he raced as much as he could, and always tried to win. Indeed, he turned down good-paying NASCAR offers in uncompetitive equipment because “I was not going to be an also-ran.”

Tony Stewart said of Farmer: “His stats speak for themselves. He’s a racer’s racer and he deserves to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”

“If these Hall of Fames were a Christmas tree with all the ornaments around it, this NASCAR award would be the gold star on top of that Christmas tree,” Farmer said.

Mike Stefanik was honored posthumously; he died in a plane crash in 2019. He holds the joint record for the most championships in the sport, with seven in the Modified Tour, where he also holds the record for wins, poles, top fives, and top tens. He also holds two championships in what is now the ARCA East Series over a nearly four-decade career.

Stefanik was remembered as “a hero” to aspiring racing drivers on the short track circuits by Ray Evernham. He was represented at the ceremony by his wife Julie, who recounted being “a team,” serving as his spotter and manager for much of his career, and said she was “always proud of him.”

As part of the Friday night program, the late Bob Jenkins was recognized with the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence for his pioneering work in television and radio broadcasting.

The late Ralph Seagraves was honored with the 2021 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. As an executive with R.J. Reynolds, Seagraves was instrumental in bring the Winston sponsorship to NASCAR’s foremost series, as well as to the grassroots racing NASCAR supported.

Greg Engle