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Jeff Gordon among seven to be inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

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Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on March 13.

Gordon, who retired from full-time competition after 2015, will be among seven men inducted into the Hall of Fame at the The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The 2018 class is the 30th induction class for the institution. Its first induction class was in 1989

The MSHFA is the only American motorsports hall of fame that acknowledges cars, motorcycles, off-road, powerboats and airplanes.

That’s how to best explain why Gordon will be inducted with aviation pioneer and billionaire Howard Hughes.

“Our inductee classes are always intriguing but this year is even more so,” MSHFA President Ron Watson said in a press release. “Howard Hughes and Jeff Gordon in the same class – that is probably the best example we’ve ever had to illustrate the breadth of our inductee roll.”

Also included in the class are drag racing car builder John Buttera, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl G. Fisher, motorcycle great Fred Merkel, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion owner U.E. Pat Patrick and sports car legend Bob Tullius.

Here’s a look at all seven inductees:

  • John Buttera   “Lil John” built championship-winning dragsters, funny cars and pro stocks for the biggest names in the sport in the 1960s and ‘70s, including Danny Ongais, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Don Schumacher. The late Kenosha, Wisconsin, native moved to California after a chance meeting with 1990 MSHFA inductee Mickey Thompson at the 1969 U.S. Nationals. Characteristics of a Buttera car were simplicity, elegant design, a wicked stance and flawless craftsmanship. His cars not only looked amazing, they won races and championships. Later, Buttera built award-winning street rods and motorcycles and helped pioneer billet wheels and components. In 1987, on a shoestring budget, he redesigned a castoff Eagle chassis which qualified on the third row at the Indy 500, winning him the prestigious Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. During the 80s and 90s, Buttera designed parts and components for Edelbrock, Harley-Davidson, Bonspeed and others. He was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Carl G. Fisher – The late Carl Graham Fisher is best known as the man who created the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Earlier, the Greensburg, Indiana, native helped popularize the automobile by competing against Barney Oldfield and others in a series of lucrative exhibitions on Midwest fairground tracks beginning in 1902. He repeatedly urged automakers to support plans for speedways, where they could prove the reliability of their products. When that failed, he persuaded three business associates to join him in the 1909 construction of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, serving as its president until 1923. Among his lesser-known activities were his leadership roles in the Prest-O-Lite company, which produced headlights for almost every early American automobile; the transcontinental Lincoln and Dixie Highways; and the establishment of Miami Beach as a resort destination. Fisher was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1952.
  • Jeff Gordon  Jeff Gordon changed the face of NASCAR when he entered the sport in the 1990s. The Vallejo, California, native is third all-time in NASCAR Cup Series wins (93) behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Gordon is fourth all-time in Cup titles with four (1995, ‘97, ‘98, 2001), behind seven-time champions Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon won three Daytona 500 (1997, ‘99, 2005), five Brickyard 400s and six Southern 500. He also set an “Iron Man” record with 797 consecutive starts. Gordon began racing quarter midgets at the age of 5 and by age 6 had won 35 main events. He was 1990 USAC National Midget Series champion, 1991 USAC Silver Crown champ and Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year. He was the Cup Rookie of the Year in 1993. Gordon was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • Howard Hughes – One of the world’s richest men, the late Howard Robard Hughes Jr. formed Hughes Aircraft in 1932, set numerous records and built some of the world’s most advanced planes (Hughes H-1 Racer, H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” and XF-11). Born in Texas, Hughes showed mechanical aptitude early, building Houston’s first “wireless” radio transmitter as the age of 11. After dropping out of Rice University, he produced films, including the seminal flying film, Hell’s Angels(1930). In 1935, he flew his H-1 to a land plane speed record (352 mph). In 1937, he beat his own transcontinental record, (Los Angeles to New York), in 7:28:25. In 1938, he circled the globe in 91 hours, obliterating Wiley Post’s 1933 mark. His aviation awards included the Harmon Trophy (1936, ’38), Collier Trophy, FAI Bibesco Cup (1938), Octave Chanute Award (1940) and a 1939 Congressional Gold Medal “for achievements in advancing the science of aviation and thus bringing great credit to his country throughout the world.” He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973.
  • Fred Merkel  “Flying Fred” is an American road racing legend, winning two FIM Superbike World Championships (1988-89), three AMA Superbike Championships (1984-86) and setting multiple records along the way. The charismatic Stockton, California native started out riding on dirt but quickly moved to pavement. In 1983, he registered the first of his 20 AMA Superbike victories, a record that stood until 1998. In 1984 he won a record 10 Superbike races in a single season and his first of three straight AMA titles. That same year he teamed with fellow Honda rider Mike Baldwin to win the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race. In 1988, Merkel won the inaugural Superbike World Championship and successfully defended the crown the following year. Merkel returned to the U.S. in 1994 to ride for Kawasaki, then Suzuki – bikes considered past their primes but on which he nevertheless turned in scintillating performances. He retired at the end of the 1995 season after a crash at Firebird International Raceway. Merkel was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2001.
  • U.E. “Pat” Patrick  “Pat” Patrick made his fortune as a wildcat oilman and made his mark in open-wheel racing. His teams won three Indianapolis 500s and two IndyCar titles. Patrick began as a sponsor in 1967. By 1970 he was a partner in a team and by 1973 owned his own operation. His three Indy wins came with Gordon Johncock (1973, ‘82) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1989). The same duo brought him two championships, with Johncock in 1976 and Fittipaldi in 1989. Always looking for an edge, Patrick commissioned his own cars in the late 1970s, named Wildcats in deference to his roots. Patrick was also among the car owners who established the breakaway Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) sanctioning body. The directors, which included Hall of Famers A.J. Foyt, Jim Hall, Dan Gurney and Roger Penske, elected Patrick their first president. Patrick also led the effort to form the Indy Lights series in 1986. Today, Patrick still strives to innovate through alternative fuel-powered racing engines. He was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.
  • Bob Tullius  Tullius created the model for the modern American amateur sports car team and built Group 44 into one of the most successful ever. Group 44 was the first to combine manufacturer support (British Leyland), title sponsorship (Quaker State), immaculate preparation, ubiquitous branding (from transporter to cars to uniforms) and lots of speed. The two-time Trans-Am and four-time SCCA national champion began his career in the early 60s driving white Triumph TR4s wearing No. 44. Over the next 25-plus years, green-and-white Group 44 cars would net more than 300 victories in club racing, Trans-Am and IMSA GTP competition, plus capture 14 national titles and three Trans-Am championships, many of them with Tullius behind the wheel. The team’s self-built Jaguar GTP car won four races in 1983 against the dominant Porsche 935s — with Tullius finishing second in points — and the ‘86 season finale at Daytona. In 1988, the team ran Audi’s Trans-Am program, taking eight out of 13 races and the drivers’ championship for Hurley Haywood. Tullius was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2014.

Jeff Gordon’s son gets first taste of racing in quarter midget

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A member of the Jeff Gordon family has begun their racing career.

On Sunday, the four-time Cup champion posted videos on Twitter of his 7-year-old son, Leo, driving a quarter midget for the first time. His first track time comes 11 months after his father’s last race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Leo’s big day has been in the making for over two years.

He was fitted for the car in August 2015 soon after his fifth birthday. Leo’s older sister, Ella, started driving a quarter midget in 2014 when she was 6.

Mark your calendars. If things work out, Leo will be eligible to compete in the Camping World Truck Series when he turns 15 in 2025.

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With Las Vegas parties over, NASCAR turns the page to 2018

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The party is over, well it likely ended not long ago in Las Vegas, and the 2017 NASCAR season is over.

While the sport celebrated Martin Truex Jr.’s Cup title Thursday, it also reflected upon those who will be moving on to other things.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retired from racing in the Cup Series, although he is expected to make two Xfinity Series race starts in 2018 for JR Motorsports. Matt Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for next year. Danica Patrick will drive the Daytona 500 before focusing on racing in the Indianapolis 500 and ending her driving career.

MORE: NASCAR celebrates its new champion 

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They follow in the recent departures of Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle. With the exit of Stewart and Gordon, Jimmie Johnson is the sport’s only active multi-time Cup champion.

Only five drivers who finished in the top 15 in points in 2005 will be back to compete in 2018 — Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick.

Each is closing in on when they’ll leave the sport. Johnson is 42. Harvick turns 42 on Dec. 8. McMurray is 41. Newman turns 40 on Dec. 8. Busch is 39.

“It’s kind of sad, honestly,’’ McMurray said this week in Las Vegas of the sport’s transition. “I came in not long after those guys, so you know that your days are somewhat numbered.

“My goal is to be able to race for maybe four more years, maybe a little bit more. I watched Biffle this year with (this) being his first year out of the sport. I’ve watched the transitions because there are some unknowns there. We are so busy, everybody in our industry is so busy every single weekend.

“You hear everyone talk about how hard it is step away because of how much time you all of a sudden have, and you have time for things that you didn’t used to.’’

That’s what Kenseth will face, but he will be busier with his wife due this month to deliver the couple’s fourth child.

“I think it will take a few days, few weeks to get home and get wound down and get in the swing of things,’’ Kenseth said after Thursday night’s NASCAR Cup Awards in Las Vegas. “Got a lot going on at home right now. Looking forward to this month. Looking forward to the holidays this year. Kind of turn the calendar over to another year and get settled in. Everything is going really great. Got a lot to look forward to. Got a lot to be thankful for.’’

As drivers leave, others enter. Cup drivers age 25 and under with rides for next season include William Byron (20), Erik Jones (21), Chase Elliott (22), Ryan Blaney (turns 24 on Dec. 31), Alex Bowman (24), Darrell Wallace Jr. (24), Chris Buescher (25), Ty Dillon (25), Kyle Larson (25) and Daniel Suarez (25).

“It’s true, we’re in a transition,’’ NASCAR Chairman Brian France said at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “But that happens from time to time. Not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens. But we’re excited.’’

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Martin Truex Jr., Sherry Pollex win prestigious Myers Brothers Award

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Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and girlfriend Sherry Pollex were selected as the recipient of the Myers Brothers Award Wednesday in Las Vegas.

The Myers Brothers Award, named for Billy and Bob Myers, honors those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport. The award, presented annually since 1958, is voted on by members of the National Motorsports Press Association.

WATCH: NBCSN to air special NASCAR America at 7 p.m. ET Thursday, followed by Cup Series Awards Show at 9 p.m. ET.

Truex and Pollex were honored for their charitable work around childhood and ovarian cancer that includes the Catwalk for a Cause, which was held an eight consecutive year and raised more than $550,000 this year, and their second annual “Drive for Teal & Gold.”

“I didn’t see that coming,” Truex said to Pollex on stage after accepting the award.

“I didn’t either,” Pollex said. “I’m going to try really hard not to cry. It’s been a crazy, crazy year for both of us. Personally and professionally with my cancer and …” she could not continue.

Truex then added: “This is definitely an unbelievable honor to receive this award. We definitely didn’t see it coming. Did not expect it. I think Sherry and I have been very fortunate in our lives to have all the things we needed, great families, great parents that raised us right and taught us right from wrong. I think they probably deserve a lot of the credit for us being who we are and being able to give back and help people. Being a part of this sport, it’s who we are.

“We are so proud of everybody. We’ve learned so much from past champions. Just everybody in this sport is willing to give back and willing to give their time to great causes. We don’t deserve all the credit for this. I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons from a lot of people in this room and a lot of people in this sport in general. We’re very fortunate and definitely lucky to be able to give our time to great causes, and I’m so proud of (Pollex) for her fight and her battle and what she’s been able to pull through and get through, and at the same time willing to help others to give her time. Just really, really proud of this. Thank you all very, very much.

“We’re humbled. We’re very lucky to be here, and we’re very proud of this.”

They both then said: “Thank you.”

Previous winners of the award include Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, the Wood Brothers, Junie Donlavey, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Mike Helton, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Benny Parsons, Barney Hall, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Truex was named on 82 percent of the ballots cast for this year’s award. Others receiving votes were NASCAR team owner Jack Roush and seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Other awards presented Wednesday at the Myers Brothers Awards included:

SMI Chairman Bruton Smith won the Buddy Shuman Award for contributions to the sport.

Chevrolet honored Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the Chevrolet Lifetime Achievement Award and donated a car for his foundation to auction.

NBC Sports and Fox Sports were jointly honored with the 2017 NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award.

“We are fortunate to have two world-class television partners dedicated to presenting our sport in new and innovative ways each weekend,” said Steve Phelps, EVP, Chief Global Sales and Marketing Officer. “Both FOX Sports and NBC Sports are deserving honorees, each delivering dynamic marketing campaigns that introduced our sport to new audiences and brought fans closer to our athletes than ever before.”

“NBC Sports is incredibly proud of our long-standing partnership with NASCAR, and we are thrilled to accept this award,” said Jenny Storms, Chief Marketing Officer, NBC Sports Group. “This prestigious honor is the direct result of an insights led strategy, combined with the passion and creativity of our team, to continue to connect and engage with fans in new and exciting ways.”

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Who will be next Cup driver to win multiple championships?

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As NASCAR’s driver lineup transitions, Jimmie Johnson is the only active competitor with more than one Cup championship.

Not since 2005 has there been a Cup season where there was only one multi-time champion racing full-time. That year it was Jeff Gordon with his four titles. Six other drivers had one title going into that season and Tony Stewart won the championship for his second crown.

Three of the four championship contenders entering Sunday’s race in Miami own one title each — Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch — while Martin Truex Jr. seeks his first crown.

Before the playoff began, some drivers were asked who they thought would be the sport’s next multi-time champion, excluding themselves.

Johnson’s answer was quick.

“I would probably put Harvick first,’’ Johnson said in September. “Just the consistent nature that he and (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and that No. 4 car has from track to track. If it’s a road course, short track, big track, superspeedway, those guys are just rock solid.

“They have had a challenging year this year switching manufacturers and they are still up there cranking out solid finishes week in and week out. I would start with Kevin and then I would probably put Brad (Keselowski) second.”

Keselowski, not able to select himself, offered a different pick.

“I would say that would be between Joey (Logano) and the two Kyles,’’ he said, referring to Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.  “They’re really talented. They’re very young. They’ve got great rides. You’d be inclined to say that Kyle Busch would probably get there first because he has the best ride of the three, and he already has a championship, but who knows?’’

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who competed in the playoffs for the first time, offered his take:

“If I look really right now I would say Kevin or Kyle (Busch) would be that guy. They’ve already got one championship, and I feel like they’re in position that they could put themselves in that second championship category this year. 

“I think Truex has got the speed to do that over the next few years, if they can stay at that level and, really, I think Larson is capable of that as well if they’re able to stay at the level they’re at right now or push that level up a little higher. I think with Kyle and Kevin already having one, I think you’ve got to put those at the top of your list.”

The reason there is only one multi-time champion is because of the recent retirements of Tony Stewart (2016) and Jeff Gordon (2015). They combined to win seven titles. Johnson, Gordon and Stewart combined to win 14 of the last 22 championships (63.4 percent).

The other eight titles won during that stretch were by Terry Labonte (1996), Dale Jarrett (1999), Bobby Labonte (2000), Matt Kenseth (2003), Kurt Busch (2004), Keselowski (2012), Harvick (2014) and Kyle Busch (2015).

So, does having a title make one of those former champs the favorite this weekend?

“The pressure is really on (Truex) and (Kyle Busch),’’ Harvick said after Sunday’s race at Phoenix. “Those guys have dominated the year, and I feel like if they don’t win at this point, they would probably feel like they’ve had a letdown.’’

Truex’s response?

“That sounds like Harvick,’’ he said. “If I’m the favorite, perfect, I like that. I think it’s a better position to be in. I was the underdog before and I finished fourth, so yeah, bring it on.’’

GETTING OLDER

The average age of the four Cup title contenders 35.8 years old — two years older than last year.

Since the elimination format debuted in 2014, the 2015 field has the oldest average of 37.0. That championship race had Harvick, Truex, Kyle Busch and Gordon.

The youngest average age for the title contenders is 32.8 set in 2014 with Harvick, Logano, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.

NO CHEVROLET CUP TITLE, BUT …

Chevrolet has been shut out of the championship round in Cup with the four drivers split evenly between Toyota and Ford.

But Chevrolet is guaranteed to win the Xfinity title. All four drivers — Elliott Sadler, William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric are with the car manufacturer.

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