NASCAR announced it would begin a Hall of Fame in 2006, and broke ground in 2007 on a $160 million facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. Three years later, the Hall of Fame officially opened and welcomed its inaugural class of inductees — the best of the best. Legendary drivers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt were easy choices for induction. But just what does it take to be enshrined in Charlotte? These are the best drivers in the NASCAR Hall of Fame and what accomplishments it took to get them there!
Dale Earnhardt’s Legendary Career Was Cut Short
Dale Earnhardt was already one of NASCAR’s greatest icons when his life was tragically cut short during a race in 2001. Still, numbers don’t lie, and his seven Cup Series championships, 22 pole position starts, 76 wins, and 428 top-ten finishes were more than enough to make him part of the 2010 Hall of Fame class.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired from NASCAR in 2017. In 2020, it was announced he would be inducted into the sports 2021 Hall of Fame class.
Bobby Allison’s Record Comes With Controversy
While Bobby Allison is undeniably one of the greatest NASCAR drivers to ever get behind the wheel, even if it’s unclear to many how many races he actually won. Officially he has won 84 races, but unofficially that number is 86.
The controversy comes from two races, one in 1971 at the Myers Brothers 250 and the other in 1973 at the National 500. The first race is disputed because he drove against “minor league” racers and the second because the two racers who finished in front of him might not have been using legal engines.
Terry Labonte’s Career Spanned Five Decades
Terry Labonte ran in his first-ever NASCAR race in 1978 and his last in 2014, ending a career that reached into five different decades. In that time, he won 22 races, had 361 top-ten finishes, and started in the pole position 27 times.
Labonte was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. It was his second year of eligibility. One year after being honored by NASCAR, Labonte was named to the Motorsports Hall of America.
Darrell Waltrip Had 390 Top-Ten Finishes
By the time his 28 year NASCAR career ended, Darrell Waltrip had 390 top-ten finishes, 59 pole position starts, and 84 wins. He won three Cup Series championships and was an easy choice for the sports 2012 Hall of Fame class.
Perhaps Waltrip’s greatest accomplishment for NASCAR wasn’t what he did on the track, but instead what he did off it. He was an ambassador for the sport and was one of the first drivers to embrace his public image helping to promote racing across the United States.
Jeff Gordon Was The Best Racer Of His Generation
During Jeff Gordon’s illustrious NASCAR career, no one was a more formidable force on the track than he was. Gordon won three Cup Series championships in the decade and added a fourth in 2001. He retired in 2016 with 93 wins and 477 top-ten finishes. Forbes estimated at the time he was worth $515 million.
Since calling it a career, Gordon has moved into broadcasting, where he had found a home with Fox Sports. He was inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2019.
David Pearson Never Missed A Race
David Pearson made his NASCAR debut in 1960 and won the sport’s Rookie of the Year award. Every year he was active, he ran the full race schedule. When he retired, he was third for all-time career wins with 105.
Pearson won three Cup Series championships, won the Daytona 500 once, and had 366 top-ten finishes. Richard Petty once said this of him, “Pearson could beat you on a short track, he could beat you on a superspeedway, he could beat you on a road course, he could beat you on a dirt track. It didn’t hurt as bad to lose to Pearson as it did to some of the others, because I knew how good he was.”
Buck Baker Was The First To Win Two Straight Championships
Born Elzie Wylie Baker, Buck Baker was one of the sport’s earliest success stories. He ran his first race in 1949 and said his final goodbye in 1976. In that span, he became the first driver to win two consecutive Cup Series championships.
NASCAR inducted Baker into the Hall of Fame in 2013, 11 years after his death in 2002 from natural causes. He was one of five nominees selected for the honor.
Tim Flock Raced Alongside A Monkey
Tim Flock was one of the drivers who competed in NASCAR’s inaugural race in 1949, where he placed fifth. After sitting out the 1950 season, he returned in 1951 read to dominate the sport. Of course, winning two championships isn’t what Flock is most famous for.
In 1953, Flock won the Grand National and Hickory Motor Speedway with a rhesus monkey in his car. The monkey was named “Jocko Flcoko” and to this day is still the only primate to ever win a NASCAR race.
Bobby Labonte Raced For A Quarter Century
Proving racing runs in the family bloodlines, Bobby Labonte joined his brother Terry in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020. After racing for a quarter of a century, Bobby retired with one Cup Series championship, 45 wins, 411 top-ten finishes, and 43 pole position starts.
Before retiring, Labonte began working on television as a guest analyst for NBCSN. In 2017, he moved to FS1 where he became a full-time analyst for the network’s racing coverage.
Richard Petty Is The King
Richard Petty was a member of NASCAR’s inaugural Hall of Fame class and is considered by many to be the greatest driver of all-time. During his 34 year career, he was nicknamed The King, a moniker well-earned thanks to his seven Cup Series championships.
By the time he retired, Petty owned several racing records, including most wins (200), pole position starts (123), wins in a single season (27), and consecutive wins (10).
Cale Yarborough Won Three Consecutive Championships
In the great history of NASCAR, only two drivers have ever won three consecutive Cup Series championships — Jimmie Johnson and Cale Yarborough. One day Johnson will find his way into the Hall of Fame, but for now, his continued career is his main concern.
Yarborough retired as a three-time champion with four Daytona 500 checkered flags under his belt, 83 wins, 319 top-ten finishes, and 69 pole position starts.
Ned Jarrett Went From No Car To Racing Champion
After racing behind his father’s back in 1952, Ned Jarrett was told he could work on cars, but was not allowed to get behind the wheel of one to race. That didn’t stop the young man, you who began racing under his brother-in-law’s name after he got injured. The rest is history.
In 1998, Jarrett was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Herb Thomas’ Career Was Cut Short With A Wreck
Like others on this list, Herb Thomas participated in NASCAR’s first strictly stock race in 1949, kick-starting a Hall-of-Fame career. Unlike others, Thomas’ iconic career was cut short after being severely injured during a race in 1956.
While he still competed sporadically after the devastating wreck, he never got behind the wheel full time again. Thomas was given his place in Charlotte in 2013 having 48 wins, 156 top-ten finishes, and two Cup Series championships to his name.
Junior Johnson Made Drafting A Strategy
Junior Johnson is one of the most famous names in NASCAR history, and for good reason. Not only was he a legendary driver and sponsor, but he is also credited for introducing the strategy of drafting to the sport.
Drafting occurs when you follow directly behind another car, decreasing wind resistance to your car and in turn increasing your speed. Johnson was a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2010.
Rusty Wallace’s 25 Year Career Was Filled With Highlights
In 1984, his first full year on the NASCAR circuit, Rusty Wallace was named the sport’s Rookie of the Year. Five years later in 1989, he won the Cup Series championship. In 2005 he retired with 55 wins, 349 top-ten finishes, and 36 pole position starts.
He left the sport with a reputation as being one of Dale Earnhardt’s great rivals. He was also famous for the wild wrecks he would regularly get into. Wallace was inducted into the 2013 Hall of Fame class.
Tony Stewart Has A Complicated Legacy
Tony Stewart was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020. Always a great driver, Stewart was also a divisive figure among his fellow racers. His reputation took a major blow in 2014 when he was directly involved with the tragic death of fellow racer Kevin Ward Jr.
Stewart avoided being charged with any crime and returned to racing, where he continued to prosper until 2016 when he retired to focus on ownership.
Bill Elliot Was Awesome
You know you’ve made it in sports when you have two nicknames. During his prestigious NASCAR career, Bill Elliot was known as both “Million Dollar Bill” and “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.” He was also a fan favorite and won the Most Popular Driver Award a record 16 times.
Elliot was enshrined in Charlotte in 2015 after last racing in 2012. He left the sport with 44 wins, once Cup Series championship, 320 top-ten finishes, and 55 starts in pole position.
Fireball Roberts Had An Unfortunate Nickname
Growing up playing baseball, Edward Roberts Jr. was nicknamed “Fireball” because of his fastball. When he transitioned to racing, the name stuck. He made his racing debut in his early 20s in 1950. In 1964, his life was cut tragically short when his car was engulfed in flames after a wreck.
Recognized as a great driver with an untimely end, Roberts’ death pushed NASCAR to research fire-retardant suits. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Fred Lorenzen Was The First Driver To Win Five Straight Races
By the numbers, Fred Lorenzen’s NASCAR career is nowhere near as impressive as other drivers on this list. It was how he compiled those numbers, however, that earned him his spot in the Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 1964, Lorenzen became the first driver to win five consecutive races. Prior to that, he was the first driver to win the same race three years in a row. For a very short period of time, it can be argued that Lorenzen was the most dominant driver in the sport.
Lee Petty Was NASCAR’s First Superstar
Lee Petty was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011, decades after he became one of the sport’s first true superstars. Petty began his career in 1949, and retired in 1964. He won 54 races, had 32 top-ten finishes, and started in the pole position 18 times.
Petty also won three Cup Series championships. Before his professional racing career began, Petty was a moonshine runner, where he honed his skills. This gave him an advantage during the early days of NASCAR.