In an announcement made today, four greats from different fields of racing were named as 2001 inductees into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be April 9th, 2001 at the Hall’s Speedvision Dome
NASCAR star Neil Bonnett sprint car champion and Indy 500 winner Jimmv Bryan and nine-time motorcycle champion and Formula One driver Mike Hailwood joined Indy Car engine builder Fred Offenhauser as the four inductees for 2001.
Bonnett won 18 Winston Cup races while driving for such noted car owners as the Wood Brothers Junior Johnson and Richard Childress. Bryan won three national titles and the 1958 Indianapolis 500. Hailwood won nine motorcycle championships in three different classes, on three different makes of bikes. Offenhauser’s four cylinder engines powered 24 cars to victory in the Indy 500 in a 27-year span, from 1934 thru 1960.
Hall of Fame Executive Director Jim Freeman stated this voting was the closest in history. “We had originally planned to induct five new members in 2001, but we had a four-way tie for the fifth spot, so our Executive Committee discussed the situation and decided to go with only four instead of expanding the number to eight,” said Freeman.
Freeman stated that the vast majority of the 130 member voting panel did, indeed, cast ballots but unlike last year’s class, when several members were obvious choices, the nominees his time were very, very equal, thus posing a problem for the voters. He noted that less than half a dozen votes separated 4th from 1st place.
The four inductees-to-be represent the smallest class the Hall of Fame has ever chosen. “I think that makes this class very special because it is so elite, so hard to get into,” said Freeman.
The announcement, made at the Sheraton Civic Center hotel, featured original artwork of the inductees from Hall of Fame artists Jeanne Barnes and David LeFevers.
NEIL BONNETT (1946-1994)
Neil Bonnett excelled in everything he did. In addition to being a NASCAR Winston Cup Star, he was an accomplished television broadcaster, as well as a top notch hunter and fisherman. Winner of 18 Winston Cup races during his career. Bonnett started racing on the short tracks near his hometown of Hueytown, Alabama. He won everything in sight, including 80% of his starts in 1972.
Bonnett broke into Winston Cup racing in 1974, with his first win coming three years later During his career, he won several high-profile races, including the 1980 Talladega 500 and the Southern 500 in 1981. He also won at Charlotte and Daytona, and drove for such legendary car owners as the Wood Brothers, Junior Johnson, and Richard Childress.
An accident at Darlington in 1990 postponed Bonnett’s racing career, and forced him into a lengthy period of rehabilitation. During this time, he became one of the best color commentators in sports, and hosted a weekly TV show called ‘Winners’ on TNN.
Bonnett received clearance from the doctors to begin testing race cars. and on July 25, 1993, Bonnett resumed his Winston Cup career at his “home” track of Talladega. On February 11, 1994, Bonnett was killed in a single car crash during a practice session at Daytona International Speedway.
JIMMY BRYAN (1927-1960)
Jimmy “Cowboy” Brian, who earned his nickname busting broncos before his racing career began, could, and did, drive almost anything with wheels. He won three AAA-USAC national titles, won the Indianapolis 500 in 1958, and was also considered one of the best dirt track drivers ever.
After four years of racing midgets and sprints, Bryan’s first big win came in 1951 when he surprised everyone by winning the Tom Horn Memorial at Williams Grove Speedway.
In 1954, his friend and mechanic Clint Brawner got Bryan a ride in the Dean Van Lines car. This combination would prove to be one of the most successful in racing history. He captured his first national championship in 1954, then won seven dirt races in a row in 1955, but lost the crown.
Brian won the championship again in both 1956 and 1957. At Indy, he finished 2nd in 1954 in a dramatic run in an ill-handling car. After finishing third in 1957, he won the Indy 500 the next year. From 1954 thru 1958, Brian amassed more points than anyone ever had in a five-year period in champ cars. Also, during that time, he won the Monza Race of Two Worlds in Italy in 1956.
In 1960, at the age of 33, Brian died in a first-lap crash at Langhorne, where he had posted two of his most notable victories.
MIKE HAILWOOD (1940-1981)
Mike Hailwood began racing motorcycles in 1957, and over the next decade, he won some 300 races and nine motorcycle championships, riding Triumphs, Italian MV’s and Hondas. By his own estimate, he set “about 220” race or lap records.
He won his first world championship in 1961 on a 250 cc Honda. He then won four straight 500cc titles aboard the MV’s in 1962 thru 1965. Back with Honda, Hailwood claimed both the 250cc and 350cc championships in 1966 and 1967.
Hailwood drove his first four-wheeler, a Lotus, in 1961 at Silverstone, and crashed. For the next four years, he made infrequent and unsuccessful forays into auto racing, but he was used to winning, and returned to the bikes full time in 1965.
In 1969, Hailwood switched to cars again, this time for good, and raced the Formula 5000 series, winning at Brands Hatch and finishing 3rd in points in a T142 Lola-Chevy. In 1971, Hailwood was fourth in the Italian Grand Prix, and l5th in the U.S. GP, driving for John Surtees.
In 1972, still racing for Surtees, Hailwood won the Formula 2 European Championship, and finished 8th in Formula One points. He retired from Formula One after finishing 10th in points in 1974.
FRED OFFENHAUSER (1888-1973)
No engine builder, before or since, has dominated Indy Car racing like Fred Offenhauser did from 1934 thru 1960, a span of 27 years. During that period, his engines powered the winning cars in the Indianapolis 500 an incredible 24 times.
Offenhauser got his start working for another famed engine builder. Harry Miller. After gaining experience as a machinist and toolmaker, he joined Miller’s staff in 1913 as a designer. Working under Miller, he quickly mastered the skills and knowledge required to build or repair any part of an engine on any race car, foreign or domestic.
He was assigned many projects, among them the rebuilding of Bob Burma’s 1913 GP Peugeot for the 1914 season. Offenhauser also designed and built Barney Oldfield’s famous 1917 “Golden Submarine”.
In 1919, when designer Leo Goodness joined Miller’s staff, Offenhauser was promoted to plant superintendent and was placed in charge of production. He purchased the company from Miller in 1933 and then began producing the powerful four-cylinder racing engines that propelled two dozen cars to victory at Indy over the next 27 years.
The cigar-smoking Offenhauser preferred to remain in the background, making only infrequent trips to the race tracks on which his engines dominated.