While most everyone expected Dale Earnhardt to be among the five individuals that will be honored next April with induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, very few would have anticipated the overall strength of the Class of 2006 being what it is.
“This is one heck of a class for 2006,” declared IMHOF Executive Director Jim Freeman. “We are pleased to announce that we will induct Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Janet Guthrie, Jack Roush and Humpy Wheeler next April 27th.”
Earnhardt, of course, is the seven-time Winston Cup champion and Gant is one of the all-time greats in both Cup and Busch racing. Guthrie is the first female to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Roush’s race teams have won titles in drag racing, sports cars, Craftsman trucks, Busch Series and Nextel Cup Series. Wheeler is the long-time innovative promoter at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte.
While the quintet has a definite NASCAR flavor, three of the future inductees also have made names for themselves outside of the stock car world. Guthrie, and Wheeler have been involved in sports cars and Indy cars during their careers, while Roush has been successful in several different racing series.
DALE EARNHARDT (1951-2001): One of the most popular drivers in the history of racing, Dale Earnhardt earned his legions of fans with aggressive and sometimes unbelievable driving. His career success includes seven NASCAR championships, 76 wins and 26 poles. The domination he maintained includes 70 second-place finshes, 281 top five finishes, and wound up in the top ten 428 times in 676 career starts. He led more than 25,000 laps and 406 races, and won more than $40 million. Earnhardt also won 21 Busch races. He was successful in the IROC Series as well with records in wins (11) and championships (4) against the best drivers in all forms of racing. He won the Busch Clash six times and the Winston three times, both records. He was named Driver Of The Year three times. As a car owner, Earnhardt was just beginning to develop DEI, Inc. into a formidable racing operation. In the 2001 Daytona 500, as he lost his own life, his two DEI entries raced across the finish line first and second.
HARRY GANT (1940 – ): For more than three decades Harry Gant served the sport of racing by working hard, winning, and asking for very little fanfare. A product of his small-town North Carolina roots, Gant had an old-school, no-nonsense approach to working and racing. His strong work ethic helped him to dominate the NASCAR Sportsman (now Busch Series) series during the 70’s while still building housing to make a living. He won more than 300 short track races, including 21 in the Busch Series. In the early 80’s he teamed with co-owners Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham, crew chief Travis Carter, Mach One Racing and Skoal to create the “Bandit” car. This new partnership took Gant’s career to a higher level. He was chosen to compete in the IROC Series several times, and won it all in 1985. Gant left Winston Cup in 1994 with a record of 18 wins, 35 second place finishes, 17 poles, and 123 top fives out of 474 starts. He also raced in a limited number of Craftsman Truck Series races in 1996.
JANET GUTHRIE (1938 – ): Janet Guthrie is the first woman ever to compete in the Indianapolis 500 (May 1977) and the Daytona 500 (February 1977.) She finished 9th in the 1978 Indianapolis 500 with a team she formed, owned and managed herself. This remained the highest finish by a woman in the Indianapolis 500 until 2005. Guthrie twice set fastest time of day at Indianapolis (May 7 and May 22, 1977.) Her Indy-car career totaled 11 races spread over five years, none with a high-ranked team. Her best Indy-car finish (5th, Milwaukee, 1979) and best qualifying position (4th, Pocono 500 Triple Crown, 1979) were not bettered by a woman until more than twenty years later. In NASCAR Winston Cup (now Nextel Cup) stock car racing, Guthrie finished as Top Rookie in the Daytona 500 and in four other Winston Cup races in 1977. She led the Winston Cup race at Ontario, Cal., in 1977. Her top Winston Cup finish (6th, Bristol, 1977) and qualifying positions (9th at Talladega and at Bristol, 1977) remain the best by a woman in the modern (superspeedway) era. She competed in 33 Winston Cup races spread over five years. Prior to Indianapolis, Guthrie had 13 years of experience in sports car racing, including First Under-2-Liter Prototype (1970) and First GT6 (1967) in the Sebring 12-Hour race. She was a pilot and flight instructor and an aerospace engineer. Her helmet and driver’s suit are in the Smithsonian Institution. She is a charter member of the Women’s Sports Foundation International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her own book on her racing adventures, “Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle” (Sport Classic Books, May 2005) was published to critical acclaim.
JACK ROUSH (1942 – ): The success that Jack Roush has enjoyed in motorsports may well cover more different forms of racing than anyone else. Roush began his career at Ford, working in engine development, where he gained a fascination for Ford’s racing program, and also got involved in drag racing. He quit Ford in 1969 to do development work for racing teams. He teamed with Wayne Gapp in 1970 and over the next five years, the duo won one championship each in NHRA, IHRA and AHRA Pro Stock. He also provided engines for race teams in other sports such as the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb and various powerboat and oval track series. Roush got into GTX and GTP road racing in 1982, with such drivers as Kevin Cogan and Bobby Rahal, then in 1984 began an incredible domination of SCCA and IMSA. He won the manufacturer’s championship for Lincoln-Mercury the first year, going on to win 119 races and 24 national championships since then. He has also won the sedan class in ten consecutive 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1988, Roush moved to NASCAR, where he has claimed championships in Cup, Busch and Craftsman Trucks, and has also made major safety contributions to stock car racing, including roof flaps.
H.A. “HUMPY” WHEELER (1938 – ): For close to three decades, H. A. “Humpy” Wheeler has been the innovative president and general manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. Using his own style of entertainment promotion and his extensive motorsports background, Wheeler has helped make LMS one of the premier racing facilities in the world. Under Wheeler’s direction, the speedway was the first to utilize an advanced lighting system to host night races, was the first to offer extensive VIP Suites and condominiums, as well as extravagant pre-race shows. Wheeler has worked as a sports writer, a television director and operated several dirt tracks. He was also the Director of Racing at Firestone Rubber & Tire Co. during its most visible years in the sports. Among his numerous awards, Wheeler has been honored as the National Auto Racing Promoter of the Year, the Hugh Deery Award for outstanding service to the motorsports industry, and the Bill France Award for outstanding achievement in auto racing.