For the 29th time in its glorious history, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, now relocated from suburban Detroit to Daytona International Speedway, has recognized the careers and achievements of some of America’s greatest racers, racers from NASCAR, road racing, motorcycles, World of Outlaws, drag racing, journalism and the sponsorship side of things.
The Motorsports Hall Of Fame of America Class of 2017 included, left to right, motorcycle racer Dick Klamfoth, Chris and Joel Thomas representing NASCAR’s Herb Thomas, Bob Russo Award winner Forrest Lucas of Lucas Oil, sports car racer Scott Pruett, NASCAR champion Terry Labonte, World Of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser, and Pamela Yates, accepting for our own Brock Yates. Not pictured, Paula Murphy.
The evening at The Shores Resort in Daytona Beach, just up the road from the Streamline Hotel where NASCAR was founded in 1948, started off with remarks from the always affable and dapper David Hobbs, emcee for the evening, and then the 2017 honorary chairman, NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, who spent some time praising his hero, 2017 inductee Terry Labonte, The Iron Man.
The first inductee of the evening, Forrest Lucas, was presented with the prestigious Bob Russo award, named for the legendary racing publicist and PR person, for his never-ending support of nearly all forms of American racing with direct monetary sponsorships in boat racing, NASCAR, NHRA drag racing, motorcycles, dirt track racing, etc. The founder/owner of Lucas Oil in Indianapolis and sponsor of that city’s Lucas Oil Stadium for NFL football, gave the longest acceptance speech of the night. He was presented for induction by British boat racer Nigel Hook.
From NASCAR’s early history came inductee Herb Thomas, who won his pair of titles in NASCAR in 1951 and 1953. Co-inductee Terry Labonte won his two premier series championships in 1985 and ’96. Thomas was presented for induction by NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton.
The late Thomas’ career spanned 10 years, 229 races, 48 victories, 39 poles, 122 top-five finishes and 6,196 laps led. He won 21 percent of the races he started. Thomas captured the first of three career victories in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, driving a Hudson Hornet. He also was the first owner-driver to win the championship. When he won the crown again in 1953, he was the first driver to do so twice. His trophy was accepted by his son, Joel Thomas.
Terry Labonte, presented for induction by team owner Rick Hendrick, broke into the NASCAR ranks a generation after Thomas, racing in 890 events over a 37-year career, with 22 wins and 27 poles. He also recorded 182 top-fives and led more than 7,000 laps in 577 consecutive race starts. Labonte got his first and last victories in the Southern 500, in 1980 and 2003 respectively. He won the 1984 championship for Hagan Racing in a Chevrolet and the 1996 title for Hendrick Motorsports, also in a Chevrolet.
From the world of dirt track, big-wing racing came 2017 inductee Steve Kinser, presented for induction by Brian Carter, CEO of World Racing Group, parent of World Of Outlaws racing. Kinser has won more races and more championships in this category than any other racer, past or present. He only won the World Of Outlaws championship 20 times during his career
Motorcycle racer, builder and magazine publisher Don Emde, himself a member of the MSHOF, inducted pioneering motorcycle racer Dick Klamfoth, this year’s elder statesman at 89 years of age, who raced on the sand at Daytona back in 1949 at the age of 20, and went on to a great career, winning the Daytona 200 three times, and record that stood until 1998. Klamfoth, already in the AMA Hall Of Fame, went on to own a Honda dealership and become a racetrack owner and promoter.
Road racing and endurance racing multi-time champion Scott Pruett, who still hasn’t retired from racing and now drives the new Lexus LC sports car in IMSA competition, was presented for induction by team owner and 2016 inductee Chip Ganassi, for whom Pruett won dozens of races at Daytona (5 time winner), Sebring, Laguna Seca and about everywhere else, and a total so far of ten season championships.
While she was actually inducted for her accomplishments in drag racing, being the first woman ever licensed by NHRA to drive a fliptop funny car, Paula Murphy was also recognized for her feats at the Indianapolis 500 and in jet cars at Bonneville. Unfortunately, she fell ill the day before the induction ceremony and was hospitalized briefly in Daytona. Her grandchildren, Kevin and Christina Murphy, read the remarks that Paula Murphy had prepared for the occasion and accepted the honor for her.
The MSHOF has maintained an At-Large category in order to honor those who have made major contributions to motorsports, not necessarily in a racing machine. For 2017, the inductee in this special category was none other than our own Brock Yates, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. Yates was presented for induction by Car Crazy TV’s Barry Meguiar, who told a couple of hilarious Yates stories before introducing Yates’ widow, Pam Yates, who accepted for her late husband with a couple of hilarious stories of her own.
Story by Jim McCraw