Distributed by The Sports Xchange
NASCAR's perennial most popular driver and a competitor who faced the most difficult of struggles just to get to the racetrack headlined the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame class chosen and announced Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Bill Elliott was the top vote-getter in the sixth NASCAR Hall of Fame class, appearing on 87 percent of ballots cast by the 53-member voting committee and in an aggregate fan vote that counts as the 54th ballot.
Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver to compete full time in NASCAR's premier series -- and the only African-American to win a race in NASCAR's top division -- was named on 58 percent of the ballots.
Elliott and Scott are joined in the 2015 class of inductees by NASCAR champions Joe Weatherly (53 percent) and Rex White (43 percent) and by prolific winner Fred Lorenzen (30 percent).
The 2015 class will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 30, 2015.
Anne B. France, wife of NASCAR founder and Hall of Fame inductee Bill France Sr., was selected by voters to receive the inaugural Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Anne B. France's role in the financial end of the racing business -- where she served as the first secretary and treasurer of NASCAR -- -was crucial to the growth of the sport.
The suddenness of the announcement of his selection took Elliott by surprise.
"I never imagined that I'd be in the Hall of Fame, especially starting out as a little red-headed, runny-nosed kid from Dawsonville, Georgia," said Elliott, who won 44 races and the 1988 championship at NASCAR's top level. "I was shocked, more than anybody, I would guess, but very much happy, not only for myself but for (brothers) Ernie, Dan, a lot of guys who worked hard on my team throughout the years. ...
"I've done a lot, and I've been blessed with what I've done, and I'm just so happy to be here."
Scott posted 147 top 10s in 495 starts at NASCAR's highest level after collecting more than 100 victories at local tracks on his way to the elite series. While Scott's competitive record may not be the equal of Elliott's, the obstacles he overcame and the contribution he made to stock car racing are inestimable.
To those who might question Scott's credentials, his daughter, Sybil Scott, had a ready answer.
"I would challenge them to look at the other facts and the other qualifications and the strides that he made, and the fact that it was a different era," she said. "The climate was so different. With what has happened today, no one else will ever have to operate and strive and struggle under that particular climate. ...
"I am thankful to those who made the final decision that they opened up their minds, and they did the research, and maybe some of them opened up their hearts."
White, the 1960 champion of NASCAR's premier division, was a short-track specialist who won 26 of his 28 races on tracks measuring 1 mile or shorter. Driving his own car during his championship run, White won six races and finished in the top 10 in 35 of his 40 starts.
Nevertheless, White was surprised at his election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"I didn't feel like I would beat the guys that were nominated this year," he said. "Hoping ... but, anyway, I made it."
That does not mean, however, that White thoughtt he was undeserving.
"I kind of thought that eventually I'd get in this Hall of Fame. Pretty good stats, if that means anything. If they overlooked me and didn't put me in, I think that would be kind of an injustice -- if I didn't get in at all.
"A NASCAR champion should be in the Hall of Fame."
Weatherly won back-to-back titles in 1962 and 1963. His first championship came behind the wheel of cars fielded by legendary owner Bud Moore, himself a Hall of Fame member. Weatherly won his 1963 championship driving for nine different owners.
The winner of 25 races at NASCAR's top level, Weatherly crashed at Riverside, Calif., in the fifth race of the 1964 season and succumbed to head injuries suffered in the wreck.
Lorenzen never was a full-time driver at in NASCAR's premier series, but the Elmhurst, Ill., driver nevertheless enjoyed two of the most spectacular seasons in the history of the sport. In 29 starts in 1963, Lorenzen won six times and posted 21 top fives and 23 top 10s in 29 races, finishing third in the final standings despite missing 26 of 55 events.
In 1964, he won eight of the 16 races he entered. All told, Lorenzen won 26 times in 158 starts.
For the first time since the NASCAR Hall of Fame was established, all five inductees in a class are drivers.
"I think that's the way it just worked out this time," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "Wendell Scott has been close in the past, or certainly someone that was discussed a lot. Joe Weatherly, Rex White, Fred Lorenzen -- those guys certainly put a big stamp on the sport in its early days.
"And then Bill Elliott kind of made an exclamation mark for his era of building the sport."
After the five inductees, the next three highest vote-getters were Jerry Cook, Robert Yates and Benny Parsons.