Daytona is just around the corner

The NASCAR season-opening Daytona 500 is only a few short weeks away. The events kick off with the Clash at Daytona on Feb.18, and then on Feb. 23 the Twin 125-mile qualifier races and on Feb. 26 the Great American Race will start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series.

Daytona also starts the season for the ARCA, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series as well. Dirt and short track asphalt teams are also making their way to various tracks in that area to compete in Speed Week activities leading up to the big track’s races.

A few weeks ago I briefly mention the inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame for 2017. I want to recognize these men that have contributed so much to our sport. Three team owners and two drivers were added this year.

First up was truly a founding father of NASCAR. Without the monetary support of this Atlanta businessman there may have never been a NASCAR. Bill France Sr. turned to this close personal friend for the support he needed to get his dream off the ground and running. Raymond Parks had a novelty, jukebox and vending machine business in Atlanta and had ties to the moonshine trade at the time. His chief mechanic for his “delivery” vehicles was a man named Red Vogt who was notorious for building fast cars. Vogt provided the cars and Red Byron drove them to the first two Championships in NASCAR. In 1948 it was the modified division and then in 1949 it was the Strictly Stock division, which eventually has become the premier series in stock car racing.

Driver Benny Parsons was the next one to be added to the HOF. Benny was a taxi driver in Detroit and was able to win the 1973 Grand National Championship. Benny was the picture of consistency; for nine straight years, from 1972-1980, he finished in the top five in national points. He won 21 races, including the 1975 Daytona 500. He had a total of 526 starts in the top series and finished in the top 10 an amazing 283 times, or 54 per cent of the time.

After his retirement as a driver, his humor and knowledge of the sport made him a wonderful color commentator for the TV broadcast teams he worked with. I had the pleasure of knowing this wonderful man and he always had a smile on his face and was truly an ambassador for the sport. Benny lost a battle with cancer back in 2007. His induction was accepted by his wife, Terri. His family donated his ring back to the museum so all the fans can enjoy seeing it.

The next two inductees are still contributing to the sport as two of the top team owners in NASCAR. First of these was Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing. Richard was involved himself for many years as a strong independent driver/owner. But his true success came when he was able to provide cars for his friend Dale Earnhardt Sr. He was the owner for six of Dale’s seven Championships.

Today he provides cars for four Cup teams, which include his two grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon. RCR has won a total of 11 points championships to date in the top levels of NASCAR. He seemed to be totally overwhelmed by the experience and shared it with his wife.

Team owner Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports was up next. Born on a small farm in southern Virginia, Rick started his career as a car dealer and drag boat racer. Along with the support of his wife and family, Rick has truly built a racing empire in Charlotte, North Carolina. Stats show 254 Cup wins to date and a total of 15 National Points Championships in the top series. He’s responsible for launching the careers of both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. He is a humble man and was so thankful to all the mechanics, employees and sponsorship partners. He mentioned his son Ricky, who along with 10 other team members died in a plane crash on approach to the airport at Martinsville, Virginia, in 2004, as he accepted this honor.    Last up was driver Mark Martin from Batesville, Arkansas. This man is very small in stature but he is the finest example of physical fitness of all of the NASCAR drivers. He is often referred to as the greatest driver to never win a National Points title. Mark started his NASCAR career in 1981 with a family owned team and after struggling with finances, he returned to his roots in ASA series short track racing. New team owner Jack Roush wanted a driver to help develop his team when he came to NASCAR from sports car racing in 1988 and he gave Mark his second chance at the top series. Mark didn’t disappoint. He went on to finish second in the points championship four times and amass 40 victories in the Cup series and a record 54 victories in the Xfinity series for a total of 96 wins in the top three series.

Mark also drove briefly for Hendrick Motorsports and finally ended his Cup series career with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013. Mark continues to be involved in auto racing, owning dirt late model racing teams. He was so thankful for Jack Roush giving him that second chance. He also dedicated his career to his wife and family and, of course, his teams.

I’m so excited to announce that The Inter-Mountain will continue its sponsorship of the Mud Bus modified for the coming season and that cars will be taking to those high banks of the Daytona International Speedway. I will be watching to bring you all the action because, remember, at the end of those long straightaways there’s always another left turn.

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