For the first time ever, car builders, not drivers, dominate the Class of 2003 to be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame next April.
Three of the five inductees-to-be built their way into the Hall of Fame, with two driving their way in.
Renowned Indy Car builder A. J. Watson, NASCAR builder Ray Fox, and sports car designer/builder Briggs Cunningham make up a majority of the Class of 2003.
The pair of drivers in the Class of 2003 are among the very best as well. Formula 1 and CART champion Emerson Fittipaldi, and Mel Kenyon, perhaps the greatest Midget Car driver in hi story, represent the behind-the-wheel contingent.
“As has been the case in the past few years, we have an excellent cross-section of the world of auto racing within this class of inductees,” said Executive Director Jim Freeman. “We have drivers, crew chiefs, car builders, engine builders and designers represented from six major sanctioning bodies. This is quite a class.”
Watson’s cars carried Bob Sweikert, Pat Flaherty, Rodger Ward, Jim Rathmann and A. J. Foyt to victory in the Indianapolis 500. Fox built winning cars for Hall of Famer’s Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Jr. Johnson, Buck and Buddy Baker, and Bobby Allison.
Cunningham was one of the pre-eminent builders of sports cars, competing with American cars at LeMans and providing cars for such notables as Dan Gurney, Roger Penske, Bruce McLaren and Stirling Moss.
Fittipaldi won two Formula One World Championships, and was a two-time winner of the Indy 500 as well as CART champion in 1989. Kenyon claimed seven Midget Car titles and 111 career victories, plus two Top-5 finishes in the Indy 500.
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In a related announcement, Executive Director Jim Freeman announced a new ticket policy that would give preferential ticket privileges each year to those individuals who have purchased tickets the previous year. In the past, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame has treated each induction ceremony as a different entity. Freeman said that will change.
“Over the years, we have had numerous individuals who have purchased tickets each year, and we feel it is time to reward these individuals by allowing them to purchase their tickets before they go on sale for new ticket purchasers,” said Freeman. “There will be a period of three-four weeks for renewals before we open it up to new ticket buyers, much like season ticket sales at major sporting events.
“We feel this will protect our long-time ticket buyers, and ensure that they will get good seats each year.”
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INTERNATIONAL MOTORSPORTS HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2003
BRIGGS SWIFT CUNNINGHAM (1907 – 2003)
Briggs Cunningham was a great athlete who excelled in everything from bobsledding to golf to yachting, but his burning ambition was to build American cars with American drivers that could compete with the finest Europe had to offer. After World War II, Cunningham began racing and tinkering with sports cars, once putting a Buick engine in a Mercedes. In 1949, he hooked up with Phil Walters and Bill Frick, who had also experimented with engine swapping, and together they formed Cunningham, Inc. in 1950. For five years they built the preeminent U.S. sports car, with the high point being a 3rd place in the 1954 24 Hours of LeMans. After racing the Cunningham, he switched to Jaguars and in 1962, at the age of 55, he finished 4th at LeMans in an XK-E. Cunningham was one of the great patrons of sports car racing, providing cars for Walters, John Fitch and Bill Spear in the early days, then for Dan Gurney, Roger Penske, Bruce McLaren, Stirling Moss and others later on.
EMERSON FITTIPALDI (1946 – )
The son of a well-known Brazilian motor racing journalist, Emerson Fittipaldi, or “Emmo”, as his many fans knew him, had racing in his blood. In 1967 he designed and built a Formula Vee car for himself. With this car he won five of seven FV races that took place in Brazil that year, and placed second in the other two. In 1970 he had moved to Europe and finally graduated to Formula One by becoming the third member of the Lotus team. He won the United States Grand Prix clinching the first World Championship for his team leader, Jochen Rindt, who had been killed earlier that year. Fittipaldi won his first World Championship in 1972, making him, at age 26, the youngest World Champion in history. After coming in second in 1973, he claimed the World Championship again in 1974. Fittipaldi retired from Formula One in the ’70’s, but made a comeback in the IndyCar series in 1984. The comeback lasted 12 years and resulted in two Indianapolis 500 victories. His final career CART numbers include one championship, 22 victories and 17 poles out of 195 starts.
RAY FOX (1917 – )
Ray Fox made many significant contributions to auto racing during his career, and what a career it was. Fox was a major player, not for just a few years, but for an entire generation. After coming south from Massachusetts to Daytona after World War II, Fox worked for a carburetor company and drove Modifieds in Florida and South Georgia. In 1956, he discovered NASCAR. From then on, he earned a reputation as a master builder of both cars and engines, an outstanding crew chief and someone willing to give a young driver a chance. Fox put Fireball Roberts in a winning Modified to show what he could do, and David Pearson won three races in his rookie year in a Ray Fox Pontiac. Junior Johnson took a year-old Fox-prepared Chevrolet and won the 1960 Daytona 500. Others who drove for Fox include Buck Baker, Marvin Panch, Lee Roy Yarbrough, Buddy Baker and Bobby Allison. In the late 1960’s, Fox acquired Holman-Moody’s old Airport shop in Charlotte and moved his family to North Carolina for a while. Fox finished his career as a NASCAR inspector after having moved back to Daytona.
MEL KENYON (1933 – )
One of the greatest midget car drivers in history, Mel Kenyon started his career in modified stocks in 1955, then switched to midgets two years later. His first title was NASCAR’s Florida midget series in 1962, but he switched to USAC in the middle of ’62 and wound up 5th in that series. Kenyon was second in 1963, then won the first of his USAC titles in 1964. Kenyon had gotten a Champ car ride in ’65, but his career was seriously threatened by a wreck and fire in June. Kenyon returned to racing the next year, despite losing part of his left hand. He finished second in midgets, and also fought his way to 5th place in his first Indy 500. Kenyon won 17 of 49 features to claim the midget crown in 1967, then placed 3rd at Indy and won the Midget title again in 1968. His career included 111 victories and seven USAC Midget championships. Kenyon still races from time to time, and won the 1993 Indianapolis Speedrome Midget Car Series. The Mel Kenyon Classic for midget race cars at IRP was so named to honor him.
A.J. WATSON (1924 – )
A.J. Watson witnessed his first auto race in 1947, moving him to build a car with a friend. After a one-lap career behind the wheel (he spun out), he changed his focus and became one of the greatest mechanics of all time. Within a year, he was asked to join an Indy crew. After a succession of drivers and owners, Watson built a car for Bob Sweikert in 1955 that claimed his first Indy 500 win. The next year, with the track repaved, Watson knew the speeds would go up causing more tire wear. He built a much lighter, slimmer car for Pat Flaherty, who won the race. In 1959 Watson teamed with Rodger Ward and team owner Bob Wilkie to form the potent Triple W team. Ward and Jim Rathmann finished 1-2 in Watson’s cars, then swapped positions in 1960 to give Watson his second consecutive 1-2 finish. Ward won again in 1962, leading a parade of six Watsons in the top eight. In all, Watson built some 23 roadsters, including the last Indy 500 victory for a front engine in 1964, driven by A.J. Foyt. Watson remained partners with Wilkie until Wilkie’s death in 1970.