With the previous 75 inductees into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame representing nearly all forms and aspects of racing, it is hard to imagine very many “firsts” remaining. The class of 1999, however, has not one, but two significant firsts.
Heading the five members of the incoming class is 82-year-old Louise Smith, the first woman ever to be voted by the media into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Smith, a pioneer in the early days of stock car racing, raced Modifieds from 1946 thru 1956, winning 38 times.
She is joined by the first black driver to win a NASCAR race, Wendell Scott, who won at Jacksonville 35 years ago. He continues to hold that distinction today.
Harry Hyde, who built cars and served as crew chief for drivers who won championships and set world records, was also selected. The fourth member of the “Fab Five” is Gordon Johncock, the 1976 USAC national champion and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Completing the class of 1999 is Formula 1 legend Alain Prost. Prost won four World Championships from 1980-1993, and his 51 career wins in Formula 1 are the most ever.
“This class is very special, with the induction of the first woman and the first black to be so honored,” said IMHOF Executive Director Don Naman. “You can say history in the last century has surely been captured by the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.”
The announcement of the final class of this century came at a news conference at the Radisson Hotel in Birmingham this morning. The induction ceremony will be Thursday evening, April 22, 1999 in the Speedvision Dome at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Tickets may be purchased by calling 256/362-5002.
HARRY HYDE (1925-1996)
A native of Brownsville, Kentucky, Harry Hyde learned how to be a mechanic in the Army after he was wounded in fighting in the Pacific in World War II. He opened an auto repair shop in 1945, then drove for two years with some degree of success before deciding his calling was building cars, not driving them. It was then that he began dominating the bull rings in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
In 1965, Nord Krauskopf tabbed Hyde as the crew chief of the new K & K Insurance team. Hyde moved from Kentucky to North Carolina and spent three years forming the team, which really began to jell in 1969. After settling on Bobby Isaac as their driver, the team dominated the short tracks and won 17 races in their powerful Dodges. They fell out of 18 races however, and that cost them the championship.
In 1970, they won 11 times in 47 races, grabbed 13 poles, had 38 Top Ten finishes and won the Winston Cup (then Grand National) championship. In that same year, Hyde also directed Isaac’s record-setting run of 201.104 mph around Talladega, on November 24, 1970, a mark that stood until 1983 when Cale Yarborough broke it. For his tremendous accomplishments, Hyde was named Mechanic of the Year, and was inducted into the Mechanics Hall of Fame.
In 1971, the K & K team went to the Bonneville Salt Flats with Bobby Isaac as the driver and set 28 world speed records for different distances, many of which still stand today. Those records were set in a winged Dodge Charger Daytona that was the very first car donated to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978, five years before the Hall of Fame opened its doors.
Hyde was also the crew chief for Bobby Unser’s run up Pike’s Peak in a Dodge Dart Kit Car, a world record run for a stock car.
During his career, Hyde’s cars won 56 Winston Cup races and more than $4 million dollars with drivers that included Isaac, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett, Dave Marcis, Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond.
GORDON JOHNCOCK (1936-)
Gordon Johncock was one of the premier drivers of Indy Cars for nearly three decades, winning the 1976 USAC National Championship, and claiming two wins in the Indy 500.
A native of Hastings, Michigan, “Gordy” Johncock began his racing career in Midwestern modifieds and USAC sprint cars. While he was highly successful in the modifieds, he was something special in the sprint cars. Johncock set a world half-mile record at Winchester, Indiana in 1964, the same year he made his USAC Championship Trail debut on the one-mile dirt track in Springfield.
Johncock ran Indy the first time in 1965, starting 14th and finishing fifth. His first major championship win came later that year at Milwaukee as he out-dueled A.J. Foyt for the victory. Johncock was fourth at Indy in 1966, and also finished fourth in the championship points, but would not post another Top Ten at Indy for seven years.
In that accident-marred, rain-shortened 1973 race, Johncock got his first Indianapolis 500 victory. With new sponsorship from STP, he also won at Phoenix and Trenton. The following year, he was third in the points, with wins at Milwaukee and Phoenix.
Following a huge disappointment at Indy in 1975, in which he qualified 2nd and finished 31st, Johncock rebounded in 1976 to grab third place in the Indy 500, a race that propelled him to his first USAC national championship.
During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Johncock was one of the dominant drivers at Indy, with a string of five consecutive Top Ten finishes that culminated with his second Indianapolis 500 victory in 1982. This time he beat Rick Mears by 16/lOOths of a second, the closest finish ever at Indy at that time. He also won at Michigan and Milwaukee, and grabbed fourth in points.
After winning the 1983 season opener in Atlanta, Johncock suffered season-ending injuries in a crash at Michigan in the fifth race of the year. 1984 was his last full season, and he announced his retirement in 1985. Missing it more than he had anticipated, Johncock came out of retirement briefly in 1987, but raced only twice in 1988 and three times in 1989. He hung it up for good in 1992.
During his career, Johncock competed in 261 races, winning 25 times and earning 20 poles. His winnings amounted to well over $3 million.
ALAIN PROST (1955-)
At the end of Alain Prost’s splendid career, he virtually had his own section in the Formula 1 record book. His 51 career wins is the most ever for any Formula 1 driver, and his 33 career poles ties him with Jim Clark for second place on the all-time list. Three times, the popular Frenchman won seven races in a single season.
His 14 year career, which began in 1980, culminated with his fourth Formula 1 title in 1993. Only the legendary Juan Fangio, with five, had more. In addition to his four titles, he was runner-up on four other occasions (1983, 1984, 1988 and 1990). He also had more championship points (798.5), fastest laps (41) and podium finishes (106) than any other Formula 1 driver in history. Among his 51 wins were a record six victories in his home French Grand Prix.
Born in St. Chamond, France in February of 1955, the 5′-4″ Prost entered Formula 1 in 1980, driving a McLaren-Ford and finishing tied for 1 5th in the world championship point standings with five points. In 1981, driving for Renault, he jumped to fifth in points, only seven behind world champion Nelson Piquet. In 1982, Prost drove his Renault to fourth place in the points.
Prost won his first title in 1985, driving for McLaren, then won the championship again the next year, again with McLaren. His third title in five years, also with McLaren, came in 1989, but Prost went the next three years without a championship, and there were those who felt he would not win another.
In 1993, Prost silenced his detractors, proving that he had saved the best for last. Driving for Williams, he won his fourth title, claiming 13 poles along the way. During his career, in addition to Renault, McLaren and Williams, he also drove for Ferrari.
When Prost retired at the end of the 1993 season, he found he could not stay away from his beloved Formula 1 racing, and now has his own two-car team. Powered by Renault engines, the team is based in Switzerland, where Prost now makes his home.
WENDELL SCOTT (1921-1990)
Wendell Scott, the only black driver in NASCAR for virtually all of his career, probably earned more respect than he did money. His career was a constant struggle with low budgets.
The Danville, VA native started racing in 1947 at the local track when police who had unsuccessfully chased him in the past recommended him to a promoter in the area that wanted to attract more blacks to watch the races.
In his first race, he finished third in a borrowed car, won $50 and was hooked. In the next few years he won 128 hobby, amateur and modified races, on the old Dixie Circuit and outlaw tracks. In 1959, Scott enjoyed his best season ever. He won 22 races and captured the Richmond track championship as well as the Virginia State Sportsman title.
Low budget operations such as Scott’s often need a helping hand, and both Earl Brooks and Ned Jarrett have been credited by Scott as being a big help to him during his career. He and Brooks often traveled together. On the family side, Scott often used his sons as members of his pit crew.
Scott bought a year-old Chevrolet from Buck Baker in 1961 and moved up to NASCAR’s Grand National (now Winston Cup) division. In 1963, driving a car he bought from Ned Jarrett, Scott finished 15th in the points.
NASCAR ran a split season then, and the third race of the 1964 season was on December 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, a one-mile dirt track. Scott beat Lee Petty to become the first black to win on NASCAR’s highest level, a distinction he still holds.
In May of 1964, down on his luck and almost out of racing, Ned Jarrett set up a deal for Scott. He was able to obtain a Holman-Moody Ford that had been raced the year before in USAC for a dollar. Driving that car, Scott finished 12th in points despite missing several races.
Over the next five years, Scott consistently finished in the Top Ten in the point standings.
He moved up to 11th in 1965, was a career-high 6th in 1966, 10th in 1967, and finished 9th in both 1968 and ’69. His top year in winnings was 1969 when he won $47,451.
LOUISE SMITH (1916-)
Louise Smith was one of the true pioneers of early stock car racing, running Modifieds from 1946 thru 1956, actually competing in the first stock car race she ever saw.
The Greenville, South Carolina resident helped Bill France, Sr. promote early NASCAR races from Daytona to Canada. She was a novelty as a female driver, but her hard-charging, fearless style of driving made her a crowd favorite wherever she went.
When France brought his show to Greenville in 1946, he was looking for a woman to race with the men, and he found just what he was looking for in Louise Smith. France had asked around about likely prospects, and was told Smith had outrun every lawman in the Greenville area. Although she had never even seen a race, much less been in a race car, Smith agreed to do it. She finished third in a 1939 Modified Ford coupe, and was hooked forever.
And she certainly wasn’t there just for show. Smith won 38 Modified races during those 11 years, in places like Kingsbridge, New York, Columbia, South Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama. During those years, she held her own against the top drivers in the sport, legends such as Buck Baker, Curtis Turner, Fonty Flock, Red Byron and Roy Hall.
In 1947, she took off for Daytona in her husband’s brand new Ford coupe to watch the races on the beach, but when she got there, she couldn’t stand it. She entered the shiny new family car in the beach race and, of course, wrecked it. She had planned to tell her husband that the car was in a traffic accident, but the Greenville paper carried a picture of her wreck in the race itself, and the news was all over Greenville before she ever got home.
Smith is perhaps remembered as much for some of her spectacular crashes as she was for her aggressive driving, breaking almost every bone in her body at some point during her career. One race at Hillsborough almost took her life, leaving her with 48 stitches and four pins in her left knee.
She quit racing in 1956, but returned in 1971 to sponsor cars for numerous drivers on the way up. Among others, she backed Ronnie Thomas’ Rookie of the Year effort in 1978.