2016 NASCAR Hall of Fame class headlined by Mark Martin, legendary NC owners

May 21

CHARLOTTE — The NASCAR Hall of Famers inducted on Wednesday night won a combined 19 NASCAR championships at the top level of the sport. With Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Raymond Parks added to the Hall, it now includes some of the most legendary owners to ever run a NASCAR team.

Hendrick and Childress were on the ballot for several years, but the two owners — who own 17 Cup titles between them — finally got the call. Benny Parsons and Raymond Parks, who won single championships as a driver and owner, respectively, will also be inducted.

The lone inductee who didn’t win a championship? None other than Mark Martin.

A driver who was snakebitten his entire career never finished the season in first place. Naturally he was selected into the Hall on his first attempt — Martin was a shoe-in with 96 career wins in NASCAR’s top three series.

Voting went as follows: Benny Parsons (85 percent), Rick Hendrick (62 percent), Mark Martin (57 percent), Raymond Parks (53 percent) and Richard Childress (43 percent).

While the ceremony won’t take place until January, here’s a look at the five names that will join NASCAR royalty in Charlotte in 2017.

Benny Parsons

Winner of the 1982 Daytona 500 and 1973 Premier Series champion, Benny Parsons’ career stretched nearly two decades on the track. His 21 wins might not match up with some of the greats, but the NASCAR lifer was never out of a race.

His lone championship came with just one win. David Pearson won 11 races that season, but it was Parsons’ 15 top-five finishes and 21 top 10s that edged out Pearson for the title. More than half of the races he entered at the Cup level (526) resulted in top-10 finishes (283).

“This is the biggest honor of Benny’s life,” said Terri Parsons, his widow. “It summarizes everything he has ever worked toward. Every job he has ever had, be it as a race car driver in all divisions, host of NASCAR radio shows, NASCAR color commentator for TV networks, each were just as important to him as the next.”

Parsons’ career didn’t end after his racing days. He climbed out the car and immediately into the broadcast booth for ESPN, TNT and NBC during his career, winning an ESPN Emmy award in 1996.

Named one of the 50 greatest drivers of all time by NASCAR in 1998, Parsons passed away in 2007 of complications from lung cancer. Earning 85 percent of the vote from his former colleagues, Parsons will forever have a place in NASCAR history on and off the track.

Rick Hendrick

What hasn’t Rick Hendrick done at the NASCAR level? The only owner to win 11 championships as the sole owner, Hendrick built a dynasty that is still running to this day with a reinvigorated group of superstars.

Starting in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports (once known as “All-Star Racing”) was far from a powerhouse in NASCAR. The team had just five employees for a single-car team with Geoff Bodine behind the wheel of the No. 5 car. That car collected 36 wins (five with Martin), but it’s the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) and No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) that have made Hendrick’s team historically great.

“I’m really humbled to be in the position I’m in,” Hendrick said of the honor. “I’ve been doing it now for 33 years, and I hope that we’ve got some more things to accomplish. But I’m very, very appreciative of the fact that I got voted in while I’m still racing.”

Between Gordon and Johnson, Hendrick groomed two unproven drivers into future Hall of Famers themselves. The tandem combined for 10 titles, with Johnson already locked into the Chase this year and contending for Hendrick Motorsports’ 12th championship.

With drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne, this is far from a Lifetime Achievement award for a once-great owner. Hendrick is still kicking and the championships are still coming for this Charlotte-based team.

Mark Martin

The one bugaboo in Mark Martin’s career was never winning a championship. But like Dan Marino in the NFL and Ted Williams in MLB, the respect for Martin’s career made him an easy selection as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Despite standing just 5-foot-6, Martin was still one of the baddest men at the track every weekend. He went toe-to-toe with drivers from Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt to Gordon and Johnson, and Martin still found a way to contend for championships across three decades.

“I didn’t expect it,” Martin said. “And I’m so grateful to the people who helped me get there. I have so many great memories of the sport. The class that I’m being inducted in, I’m humbled to no end.”

Finishing second place in the Cup standings a record five times, Martin dealt with heartbreak on a myriad of occasions. Then again, losing to Earnhardt (1990, ’94), Gordon (’98), Tony Stewart (2002) and Johnson (’09) speaks to the remarkable stability and length of his 34-year career.

A driver for Hendrick in 1986 and 2009-11, Martin helped build several programs during his racing days. But with nearly two decades spent in the Roush Racing No. 6 car, Martin will be remembered as more than just a runner-up for the mark he made on NASCAR with the team.

Raymond Parks

A true pioneer in the sport of racing, Raymond Parks captured the first Cup championship with driver Red Byron at the wheel. While he didn’t pilot cars to 15 total titles like Hendrick or 13 like Childress, the sport’s original champion got it all started.

Starting his career as a moonshine runner, Parks helped start NASCAR and won the inaugural season. Though he would never win another championship at the highest level, Parks was a trendsetter for how team owners and drivers should function in the sport.

Much of Parks’ success came before NASCAR was founded, but the longevity of his career as an owner made him one of the early faces of the sport. Like Hendrick and Joe Gibbs Racing today, Parks took strong drivers like Byron and put them in superior equipment in the 1940s and early ’50s.

If Vince Lombardi set the stage for what the NFL is now, Raymond Parks did the same for NASCAR. Given the state of the sport today, it’s clear Parks’ footprint was a long-lasting one for racing and owners across the sport.

Richard Childress

Beginning in 1969 with a single car and a dream, Childress made his way into NASCAR as a driver. After several unsuccessful seasons in the cockpit, Childress wisely handed over the reins to Ricky Rudd and eventually a young driver named Dale Earnhardt.

That started a partnership that would be one of the most lucrative in sports history. Earnhardt won six of his seven championships with Richard Childress Racing in the No. 3 car before his passing in 2001. Childress had the honor of posthumously inducting Earnhardt in the inaugural class, but never imagined he’d be around to see his own name called.

“I was really, really honored and proud that day when they put Dale in the first Hall of Fame,” Childress said. “I didn’t really expect to get in, because I was told the only way I was going to get in was to retire or be deceased. I sure like the first one better, but I haven’t got plans to retire yet either.”

Though he hasn’t won a title in more than two decades, his team remains near the top of the sport. With a three-driver stable in Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and grandson Austin Dillon — who is enjoying a breakout campaign in 2016 — Childress has cars capable of making the Chase each season.

Dillon drove to championships in the Xfinity and Trucks Series in the last five years, adding to the overall titles for RCR. Similar to Hendrick, the Childress stable still has several years of success ahead of them under the Hall of Fame owner.