Wendell Scott, Bill Elliott, Joe Weatherly, Rex White, Fred Lorenzen named to NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015

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The five drivers for the sixth induction class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class were announced Wednesday afternoon. The inductees for the Class of 2015 are:

* Wendell Scott: One of NASCAR’s true trailblazers, Wendell Scott was the first African-American to race fulltime in NASCAR’s premier series, as well as the first to win a NASCAR premier series race. Scott posted a remarkable 147 top 10s and 495 starts during his 13-year premier series career. He won more than 100 races at local tracks before making his premier series debut, including 22 races at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Virginia, in 1959 en route to capturing both the Sportsman Division and NASCAR Virginia Sportsman championships. Part of Scott’s NASCAR legacy extends to present day with NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, the leading youth development initiative for multicultural and female drivers across the motorsport industry since 2004.

* Bill Elliott: In a 37-year driving career, Bill Elliott — with the colorful nickname of “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville (Ga.) — compiled a list of accolades that put him near the top of a number of NASCAR’s all-time lists. His 44 wins rank 16th all-time and his 55 poles rank eighth. But his most prestigious accomplishment came in 1988 when he won the NASCAR premier series championship with six wins, 15 top fives and 22 top 10s in 29 races. In addition, he won a record 16 Most Popular Driver Awards, in part because of his excellence on the big stage; he won the Daytona 500 twice and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway three times. Elliott posted seven victories at Michigan International Speedway, the third most in track history, including four in a row in 1985 and 1986. He also won the pole six times, trailing only David Pearson (10) for the most in track history. In his illustrious career, Elliott started a track-record 61 races at MIS.

“I don’t know what to say,” Elliott said on Fox Sports 1’s live telecast of the announcement. “I was totally blown away. I wish my mother and dad were here, and my brothers. So many people were instrumental to get me to this point. … The biggest point of our career is we did it kind of our way from Dawsonville, Ga., a group of small-town kids out of nowhere who built a race team.

“…There’s so many people that are deserving to be here today. I’m just blessed and just thankful that I am. I’ve seen a lot of guys that have come into this deal, there’s a lot of good names in this Hall of Fame, and I’m just proud to be one of them.”

* Fred Lorenzen: Fred Lorenzen was one of NASCAR’s first true superstars even though he was a “part-time” driver, never running more than 29 of the season’s 50-plus races. Lorenzen got his start in NASCAR as a mechanic with the famed Holman-Moody team in 1960, but was elevated to lead driver by the end of the year. Lorenzen won three races in only 15 starts the following season. Lorenzen’s best overall season came in 1963 as he finished with six wins, 21 top fives and 23 top 10s in 29 starts. Despite missing 26 races that season, he finished third in the standings. In 1965, he won two of NASCAR’s major events – the Daytona 500 and the World 600.

* Joe Weatherly: Joe Weatherly won two championships (1962-63) and 25 races in NASCAR’s premier series. But that’s only part of his story, which is long on versatility. A decade earlier in 1952-53, he won 101 races in the NASCAR Modified division, capturing that championship in 1953. He even tried his hand in NASCAR’s short-lived Convertible Division from 1956-59 winning 12 times. When he won his first NASCAR premier series championship, in 1962, he drove for legendary owner Bud Moore. When he repeated as champion a year later, he drove for nine different teams.

* Rex White: Consistency was the hallmark of Rex White’s NASCAR career. He finished among the top five in nearly a half of his 233 races and outside the top 10 only 30 percent of the time. White was a short-track specialist in an era in which those tracks dominated the schedule. Of his 28 career wins in NASCAR’s premier series, only two came on tracks longer than a mile in length. Driving his own equipment, White won six times during his 1960 championship season, posting 35 top 10s in 40 starts. He finished in the top 10 six of his nine years in the series including a runner-up finish in 1961. White is now 84 years old.

Also, Anne Bledsoe France, who helped build the sport with husband Bill France Sr., was named the inaugural winner of the Hall of Fame’s Landmark Award. Affectionately known as “Annie B.,” she was the first woman to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

* Anne Bledsoe France: Anne Bledsoe France, paired with her husband, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., would create what today is one of the largest and most popular sports in the world. Anne played a huge role in the family business. “Big Bill” organized and promoted races; she took care of the financial end of the business. She first served as secretary and treasurer of NASCAR, and when Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, served in the same roles for the International Speedway Corporation. She also managed the speedway’s ticket office. France remained active in family and business life until her passing in 1992.

The new Class will be formally inducted on Jan. 30, 2015.

The five inductees were chosen from a field of 20 nominees, a change this year from the previous eligibility of 25 candidates to choose from for the Hall’s first five classes. Debate for the class took more than five hours, according to NASCAR officials.

NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Brett Jewkes said all selections came on the first ballot. There were no ties or need for tie-breaking secondary votes.

Voting for the Class of 2015 was as follows: Bill Elliott (87 percent), Wendell Scott (58 percent), Joe Weatherly (53 percent), Rex White (43 percent) and Fred Lorenzen (30 percent).

The next top vote getters were Jerry Cook, Robert Yates and Benny Parsons.

Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in order of votes received, were Wendell Scott, Bill Elliott, Benny Parsons, Rex White and Terry Labonte.

Failing to be chosen for induction were:

Buddy Baker, won 19 times in NASCAR’s premier (now Sprint Cup) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500

Red Byron, first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949

Richard Childress, 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series

Jerry Cook, six-time NASCAR Modified champion

Ray Fox, legendary engine builder and owner of cars driven by Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and others

Rick Hendrick, 14-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series

Bobby Isaac, 1970 NASCAR premier series champion

Terry Labonte, Two-time NASCAR premier series champion

Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner

Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR premier series champion

Larry Phillips, only five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion

O. Bruton Smith, builder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and architect of Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Mike Stefanik, winner of record-tying nine NASCAR championships

Curtis Turner, early personality, called the “Babe Ruth of stock car racing”

Robert Yates, won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner

The four nominees who fell short for the inaugural Landmark Award were:

H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway

Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner

Ralph Seagraves, formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Ken Squier, legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner / namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence

Check back for more updates.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits still chasing drag racing records, more innovation at 86

All photos courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
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At 86 years old, legendary drag racer “Big Daddy” Don Garlits has found the fountain of youth:

Batteries.

No, we’re not talking about batteries for a heart pacemaker or the kind you put in your TV remote control.

Rather, the most notable and innovative driver in drag racing history is still attacking the quarter-mile just like he did when he got into the sport more than six decades ago.

The difference for the Ocala, Florida, resident is rather than using nitromethane, which powers the Top Fuel dragsters he used to drive to countless wins and championships, Garlits is now piloting dragsters that are battery powered.

Or as many refer to them as “electric dragsters.”

Garlits has been working on electric dragsters for about four years now, and he’s just as competitive now as he was back in his hey-day.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is still going fast at the age of 86. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

He holds the world record for electric dragsters at 185.6 mph at 7.25 seconds. He actually has gone quicker – 7.05 seconds – but it was not recognized as a record.

Garlits has done all that with a former Top Fuel dragster that was converted to battery power. He calls it Swamp Rat 37, which continues the long line of innovations and technological advancements that Garlits has been know for his whole career.

“It’s all batteries now,” Garlits said when interviewed by MotorSportsTalk recently at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

MORE: ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, 82, sets yet another national drag racing speed/elapsed time record

The electric dragsters have definitely helped “Big Daddy” in many ways, but most notable is his look and demeanor. He could easily pass for early-to-mid 60s, and his drive and desire to be the best pioneer of the battery-powered cars is just like it was when he was racing in Top Fuel.

“I feel good, real good,” Garlits said. “Well, of course, developing the electric dragster has been a big part of that.

“A man doesn’t really go to seed, so to speak, until he has nothing to do. You’ve gotta have goals, no matter how old you are.

“It’s as important to exercise your mind as it is to exercise your body, because your mind can get stiff and out of whack, too.”

At an age where most individuals would be enjoying retirement to the fullest, Garlits refuses to retire. Instead, he keeps busy with a schedule that someone half his age would have a hard time keeping up with.

In addition to constant tinkering on his electric dragster – with the goal of becoming the first person to break the 200 mph barrier – he also spends every day (except when he’s traveling on business) at the Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, which he founded in 1976.

And then there’s his latest project.

“Now I’m building Swamp Rat 38 that is designed around all that I’ve learned about electronic dragsters over the last four years,” Garlits said. “My goal is to reach 200 mph on batteries and to have a car that’s consistent and simple to operate so that a group of people can have dragsters and not cost a fortune to do it. It’s not very expensive.

“It’s going to take about 1,300 to 1,400 horsepower in about a 1,500 pound car. And I have the electric motor to do that.”

Garlits’ milestones in drag racing history are truly legendary. He was the first Top Fuel racer to break speed barriers of 170 mph, 180 mph, 200 mph, 240 mph, 250 mph and 270 mph – all in the quarter-mile – as well as was the first driver to exceed 200 mph in the one-eighth-mile.

Each of those milestones came because Garlits has spent his entire life tinkering, tweaking and strategizing. He got his mechanical curiosity from his father, an engineer for Westinghouse, who was on a team that invented a number of significant appliances, including the electric fan and the electric iron.

“That’s one reason I’ve gotten so excited about this electric dragster is because those genes are coming out,” Garlits said with a laugh.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits back in the early stages of his drag racing career. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

But seriously, innovation and the desire to never give up and always strive to be the best has been Garlits’ mantra since he first started drag racing in the late 1950s.

“The biggest difference in drag racing today vs. my era in Top Fuel is definitely the cost,” Garlits said. “I’ll never forget when I showed up at Bakersfield (California) with my car, Swamp Rat 1, in 1959 for the U.S. Fuel and Gas championships, the first real big drag race in the world.

“The total price of my car and the trailer it was on cost less than $1,000 to make. Nitro was $1.50 per gallon and it used less than a gallon per run. That’s all the cost there was. I ran a whole year on the same engine, same clutch, same tires, same everything. It was very inexpensive.

“That’s why drag racing appealed back then to so many youngsters because it was something they could dream about and actually do. Now, they’ve made this maybe as expensive as NASCAR and other types of racing.

The Swamp Rat that started it all for “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Swamp Rat 1. Photo: Museum of Drag Racing.

“The biggest cost was the engine. It came out of a wrecking yard and out of a ’57 Chrysler. It cost $450 bucks. The chassis was out of a ’31 Chevrolet and I just used the side rails, that was $35. And then the rear end out of an old Ford was $10, and the transmission and front wheels, everything was out of wrecking yards – and you made it yourself.”

Electric dragsters today are among the least expensive vehicles in motorsports, Garlits said.

“It’s probably $150,000 to get to the track with the car and truck, but that’s the last of the big costs,” Garlits said. “It costs about 7 or 8 cents a run after that.

“That’s compared to some of the Top Fuel dragster runs today, where it can cost up to $25,000 per run. Nobody can afford that.”

Garlits was forced to retire from racing in 1992 – at the age of 60 – due to a detached retina in his eye. He made two brief comebacks in 1998 and again in 2003, attaining a personal best of 323 mph in 4.7 seconds (on a quarter-mile, before NHRA scaled back Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to 1,000-foot lanes).

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is the most notable and innovative driver in drag racing history. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

While Top Fuel dragsters are routinely hitting 330 mph and faster these days, Garlits demurs when asked if he’d like to pilot one of the current nitro dragsters.

“I wouldn’t jump into one of the 300-plus mph cars today, it’s too hard on your body,” he said. “You get hit with 8 Gs when you step on it and that’s instant, and that hurts you when you get up to my age.”

But, he adds with a caveat and another smile on his face, “Our bones and joints are not as good as they used to be – but I’d love it if I could.”

There are only a handful of electric dragsters in competition today, but Garlits is optimistic that current numbers will continue to grow. While electric drag racing is overseen by the National Electric Drag Racing Association, Garlits has had talks with the National Hot Rod Association about potential exhibition runs in the future.

But that’s just part of it.

Even though he’ll turn 87 in January, Garlits wants to get back to racing competitively in a structured series or league. It’s just a matter of having more cars out there.

“Oh yeah, I’d get right back in it,” he said emphatically. “That’s why I’m pioneering this, because I’m trying to get it going.

“Right now, there’s about four teams all fighting to reach 200 mph first, and there’s a couple of teams in Europe. We’re all taking different approaches and one of us is going to come up with the best idea, which is the most feasible, the least expensive and the one that gets the job done – and that’s the way the dragster will probably go.”

The biggest obstacle to electric dragsters continues to be consistency, particularly of the batteries that power them. Remember, these four-wheeled beasts do not run on conventional fuel, just the power produced by the batteries.

But Garlits is optimistic that further technical advances will soon come faster and more frequent, adding that “I’m in a totally different battery than what I started with. The technology in four years has leapfrogged.”

Another exmple of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits back during the most successful part of his lengthy drag racing career. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

In addition to trying to get the NHRA onboard when it comes to promoting and exhibiting electric dragsters, Garlits has also had discussions with noted innovator/entrepreneur Elon Musk and Tesla.

“The most important technology that I’m paying attention to and I’m trying to get them involved with my team is Tesla, because they have some nice induction motors that make 450 horsepower, and they’re small,” Garlits said. “I could put four of them in my car and I might be better off than one motor in my car. That would not only give me 1,800 horses, but also maybe 230 mph. I’m really trying to convince (Tesla to get involved with him).”

When asked what has been the greatest accomplishment of his career, Garlits is quick to answer.

“Building the revolutionary championship-winning rear-engine dragster,” he said. “There had been rear-engine dragsters, but they didn’t do well. This put the driver out-front of the motor where they were safer.”

Ironically, it was an incident on March 8, 1970 at fabled Lions Dragway in Long Beach, California, one of the worst of Garlits’ career, when the transmission on Swamp Rat 13 exploded, ultimately costing Garlits part of his right foot, as well as saw a spectator also injured.

 

But a lot of good came out of the incident, as well. While recuperating in a nearby hospital, Garlits came up with the rear-engine dragster, which revolutionized the sport.

“They had killed, I think it was six people in about a two-to-three year people prior to my big accident in Long Beach,” he said. “And they haven’t killed six since in the last 47 years.

“I’m also very proud of the Drag Racing Museum, where I’ve captured the history of the sport all the way back to the 40s’ and have all these artifacts before they became collectibles.

“Everybody laughed at me when I started the Museum in 1976 because you could go to a guy’s garage and he’d give you all that stuff, they were just trying to get rid of it, and today it’s worth a fortune. We don’t sell anything and we’ve got it there for future generations as a non-profit, so my family isn’t going to be selling anything. It’s there for America.”

And right there smack dab in the middle of all of it is the man and the legend, Big Daddy.

When asked what his life is like these days, given everything that keeps him busy, he looks straight at the questioner, broadly smiles and says matter-of-factly, “I’m having more fun right now than I ever had in my entire life, if you can believe that.”

Yes, Don, we can believe it. And with you leading the charge, that 200 mph barrier will soon be broken.

Follow @JerryBonkowski