Commentary

Hall of Fame: Meet the Fab Five

Updated: November 16, 2010, 2:38 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

You know you've arrived or achieved greatness when you get a nickname.

So it is with the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame that will be inducted Sunday at the sparkling, new 150,000-square-foot shrine in Charlotte, N.C.

There's Bill France Sr., the founder of NASCAR, otherwise known as "Big Bill." There's his son, Bill France Jr., who took stock car racing from a regional to a national sport. He's known simply as Bill Jr.

Then there's Richard Petty, the sport's all-time winningest driver with 200 wins. He's called "The King," and rightfully so.

Dale Earnhardt didn't become NASCAR's most feared driver by being a pussycat. He's referred to as "The Intimidator" or the "Man in Black." With two nicknames, you know he was great.

Last but not least there's Junior Johnson, otherwise known as "The Last American Hero." Enough said.

Meet the inaugural class:

Earnhardt
Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt

• Full name: Ralph Dale Earnhardt

• Nicknames: The Intimidator, Man in Black

• Born: April 29, 1951

• Died: Feb. 18, 2001

• Hometown: Kannapolis, N.C.

• Wins: 76

• Championships: Seven (1980, '86, '87, '90, '91, '93, '94)

• Awards: 1979 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year; voted one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998; 2001 NASCAR Most Popular Driver.

• Career highlights: First race in top series was 1975 World 600 in Charlotte; first win came in 1979 at Bristol; seven Cup championships are tied with Richard Petty for the most all time; six of those titles came in the No. 3 he made famous at Richard Childress Racing; he won consecutive titles three times; his 76 wins rank seventh on the all-time list; won the prestigious Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis in 1995, at the time calling it the biggest win of his career; most emotional win was the 1998 Daytona 500 after 19 tries; started Dale Earnhardt Inc. with wife Teresa in 1980; died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 running third, while his DEI cars of Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished first and second; his death led to many of the safety innovations in the sport today.

• Family history: Son of legendary driver Ralph Earnhardt; survived by third wife Teresa and four children: Kerry, Kelley, Dale Jr. and Taylor.

• Did you know? Earnhardt dropped out of school after the eighth grade to pursue a racing career, although there are reports that he tried the ninth grade twice.

• Quotable: "For what my Dad achieved in this sport -- both on and off the track -- he certainly earned his place in history and deserves to be distinguished in this inaugural class of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees. It means a lot to the Earnhardt family, and it means a lot to my Dad's fans, which I am one. He was the man, plain and simple." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.

***

France Sr.
France Sr.

Bill France Sr.

• Full name: William Henry Getty France Sr.

• Nickname: Big Bill

• Born: Sept. 26, 1909

• Died: June 7, 1992

• Hometown: Washington, D.C.

• Awards: Inducted into Automotive Hall of Fame in 2004; member of National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in Darlington; inducted into Daytona Beach Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame in 1992.

• Career highlights: Moved family to Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1935 to set up a car repair shop; founded NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948; proposed Daytona International Speedway in 1953; built Talladega Superspeedway to open in 1969; served as chairman and CEO of NASCAR before turning it over to his son, Bill Jr., in 1972; brought in RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company as title sponsor in 1970 and changed the series from Grand National to Winston Cup.

• Family history: Was married to Anne and had two children, Bill Jr. and Jim.

• Did you know? France skipped school as a teenager to make laps in the family Model T at the high-banked track near Laurel, Md. He finished fifth in the first stock car race on the Daytona Beach Road Course in 1936.

• Quotable: "[He was] like a president of the United States or a royal family member because in the NASCAR scheme of things he was iconic even in the early days, particularly for someone like me who was a fan of the sport." -- NASCAR president Mike Helton.

"He had an iron will and a forceful presence. He could impose his thoughts and beliefs on people in the racing industry. He could be a very charming person, but when it came to the day-to-day operation of NASCAR, he ruled with an iron will. He thought he knew what was best for the sport and, in his day and time, that worked." -- NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter

***

France Jr.
France Jr.

Bill France Jr.

• Full name: William Clifton France

• Nickname: Bill Jr.

• Born: April 3, 1933

• Died: June 4, 2007

• Hometown: Washington, D.C.

• Awards: Two-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association's Myers Brothers Award given to an individual or group for outstanding contributions to the sport.

• Career highlights: Attended the University of Florida; replaced his father as head of NASCAR in 1972 through 2000, when he turned the company over to his son, Brian; credited with taking the sport national when he signed a deal with CBS Sports to televise the 1979 Daytona 500, the first live flag-to-flag coverage of a NASCAR event; signed deal with ESPN in 1980; launched Winston Million program in 1985; turned presidency of company over to Mike Helton in 2000.

• Family history: Son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. Was married to Betty Jane and had two children: current NASCAR chairman Brian France and Lesa.

• Did you know? He drove a bulldozer and other heavy machinery and worked 12-hour days in the construction of Daytona International Speedway.

• Quotable: "There aren't enough names to describe what he meant to the sport. I guarantee that it's the biggest loss in racing since Dale Earnhardt, and it's probably bigger." -- Two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart after France's death

***

Johnson
Johnson

Junior Johnson

• Full name: Robert Glenn Johnson

• Nicknames: Junior, Last American Hero

• Born: June 28, 1931

• Hometown: Wilkes County, N.C.

• Wins: 50 as a driver, 139 as an owner

• Championships: Six as car owner (1976-78, Cale Yarborough; 1981-82, '85, Darrell Waltrip)

• Awards: Named one of NASCAR's 50th greatest drivers in 1998; 1991 Motorsports Hall of America inductee.

• Career highlights: First race as a driver was the 1953 Southern 500 in Darlington; first win was in 1955 at Hickory Motor Speedway; first win at a superspeedway came in 1960 Daytona 500; last win was 1965 Wilkes 400 North Wilkesboro; 50 career wins and 46 poles; best finish in point standings was sixth in 1955 and '61; retired in 1966 as winningest driver never to win a championship; as an owner his drivers won 139 races, third only to Petty Enterprises and Hendrick Motorsports.

• Family history: Married to Lisa, with two children: Meredith and Robert Glenn III.

• Did you know? In 1956 Johnson was convicted of moonshining by federal agents who found him working at his father's moonshine still in Wilkes County. He was sent to federal prison in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he served 11 months of a two-year sentence.

• Quotable: "This is a big, big deal to me. It's the greatest thing that's happened to me in this sport. I'm almost speechless to say that I am going into the Hall of Fame. You just don't know how it feels to be one of the five people selected to go into this first class. It's so big; it's so honorable." -- Junior Johnson

***

Petty
Petty

Richard Petty

• Full name: Richard Lee Petty

• Nickname: The King

• Born: July 2, 1937

• Hometown: Randleman, N.C.

• Wins: 200

• Championships: Seven (1964, '67, '71, '72, '74, '75, '79)

• Awards: Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998; awarded Medal of Freedom by President George Bush in 2002, the first motorsports athlete to receive that honor.

• Career highlights: First race in top series in 1958 was the Jim Mideon 500 in Toronto; first win in 1960 at Charlotte; won a record seven championships, all in the famous No. 43; last win came in 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona on July 4, with President Ronald Reagan in attendance; last race was 1982 Hooters 500 in Atlanta; won Daytona 500 a record seven times; won a record 27 races in 1967, including 10 in a row; had a record 127 poles; made Petty Enterprises the most famous organization in stock car racing; currently co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports.

• Family history: The son of three-time NASCAR champion Lee Petty; married to Lynda with three children: Kyle, Sharon, Lisa and Rebecca; 12 grandchildren.

• Did you know? In 1996, Petty was the Republican nominee for North Carolina secretary of state, but was defeated in the general election. "If I had known I wasn't going to win, I wouldn't have run," he said.

• Quotable: "I am sure there were a lot of people that were more important to the overall deal with putting up money and taking gambles to make NASCAR what it is today." -- Richard Petty

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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