He still didn’t lead the first lap. That honor went to pole-sitter Rick Mast.
Among the information available for the 24 active Cup tracks (excluding Richmond Raceway), only four times has the driver who led the first lap of an inaugural race not started in first place. Those occurred in 1950 at Darlington, 1961 at Bristol Motor Speedway, 1969 at Michigan International Speedway and 2011 at Kentucky Speedway.
Three drivers have led the first lap more than once: Dale Jarrett (Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Kurt Busch (the last two inaugural races at Kentucky and the Charlotte Roval) and Fireball Roberts (Atlanta and Charlotte).
Here’s a look back at all the inaugural Cup races at each active track and the drivers who led the first lap in each event.
Charlotte Roval, 2018: Kurt Busch (started first)
Kentucky Speedway, 2011: Kurt Busch (started third)
Kansas Speedway, 2001: Jason Leffler (started first)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join his father in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2021, becoming the sixth father-son set to be enshrined.
Voters also selected modified ace Mike Stefanik and Red Farmer to join Earnhardt in the Class of 2021. Ralph Seagraves was selected as the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
Earnhardt, Stefanik and Farmermake up the 12th class to be selected to the Hall of Fame.
Earnhardt Jr. received 76% of the Modern Era ballot votes, Stefanik received 49%. Ricky Rudd finished third, followed by Neil Bonnett. Red Farmer received 71% of the Pioneer ballot votes. Hershel McGriff finished second. There has never been a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.
Voting Day was held virtually on June 9 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The panel consisted of 65 former drivers, inductees, NASCAR executives, industry leaders and media members, plus one vote reserved for fan balloting. Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote were Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Red Farmer.
The induction ceremony date will be announced at a later date.
This also marked the first time the Hall class was reduced from five inductees to three: Earnhardt and Stefanik being chosen from 10 Modern Era candidates and Farmer chosen from five candidates considered from the Pioneer Era.
Here are the newest Hall inductees:
Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr., nicknamed Dale Jr., is a two-time Daytona 500 winner (2004, 2014). Voted as the sport’s Most Popular Driver for 15 consecutive years from 2003-17, he retired as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver following the 2017 season.
“It was great to see my face pop up on that screen,” Earnhardt said with a smile to NBCSN’s NASCAR America. “I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t really nervous. I had a root canal earlier today, so maybe I was more nervous about that. That was kind of distracting my thoughts.
“I also was understanding the fact I’m young, considering most people that are inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I had a lot of years that I could be patiently to hopefully see my name called. So I was going to be okay.”
But Earnhardt’s voice began to crack with emotion when he added:
“Once you started the show, man nerves set in and I got shook up and I was extremely emotional to be nominated. Not a lot of people are like this, but I really work off affirmation — I succeed off affirmation — and there’s no better compliment or affirmation than from your peers and the people that you work with and work around.
“This is such a great pat on the back for a lot of hard work and a lot of years in the sport, trying to do the right thing for the yourself, your sponsors but most importantly for the health of the sport. I’m feeling great about this experience and looking forward to what lies ahead, the evening itself and the ceremony. It’ll be a great experience and I’ll be excited.”
Earnhardt made 631 Cup starts between 1999-2017, earning 26 wins (tied with Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen for 30th in NASCAR history), 149 top-five and 260 top-10 finishes. His highest single-season finish was third in 2003.
He also made 142 career Xfinity Series starts from 1996 through this past Saturday at Miami, earning championships in 1998-99 when the series was known as the Busch Series. He earned 24 wins, 70 top-five and 94 top-10 Busch/Xfinity finishes.
Since his retirement from the Cup Series, the now 45-year-old Earnhardt has become a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, but kept his hand still in racing, making one start per season in the Xfinity Series, with finishes of fourth in 2018 and fifth in 2019 and 2020. He said after Saturday’s race at Miami that it potentially may be his last race ever as a NASCAR driver.
Earnhardt’s father, seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, was in the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class in 2010, along with Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty and Junior Johnson.
The other father-son pairings in the Hall are: Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr., Lee and Richard Petty, Ned and Dale Jarrett, and Buck and Buddy Baker and Bobby and Davey Allison.
“I don’t know the entire voting panel, but I know some of the folks that are in that. To think they have that respect and feeling for you, it really hits you in the heart, it really does.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t know how I’m going to feel as we move forward, but it’s going to be a lot of fun reflecting on our past, our driving career, going to get to share a lot of great stories and it should be a good time.”
Michael Paul Stefanik was one of the most prolific NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drivers, earning seven championships. In 453 Modified starts, the Massachusetts native earned 74 wins, 223 top-five and 301 top-10 finishes.
Stefanik is the third driver who primarily raced modified to be enshrined in NASCAR’s Hall. He joins Richie Evans (inducted in 2012) and Jerry Cook (2016).
Stefanik was named the second greatest driver in NASCAR Modified history in 2003.
He won successive K&N Pro Series East championships in 1997-98, and finished second in 1995, 2003 and 2005. He also competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
Charles “Red” Farmer is well into his 80s but is still competing, having gained notoriety primarily for short track racing, as well as being one of the charter members of the “Alabama Gang,” a group of drivers who settled in the area of Hueytown, Ala., and became legendary in all forms of stock car racing, from dirt tracks to NASCAR Cup.
Farmer’s career stretched for more than seven decades, although the numbers vary widely. He is estimated to have won between 700-900 races from the 1950s through the 2000s. He also won numerous championships at tracks in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
While Farmer made only 36 career starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, he excelled in the NASCAR National Late Model Sportsman division (now known as the Xfinity Series), earning three straight championships from 1969-1971.
Despite the few starts on the Cup Series, he was still named NASCAR’s most popular driver four different times, and was named one of the 50 Greatest Drivers In NASCAR History in 1998. Including Tuesday’s announcement, Farmer will now be a member of six different auto racing halls of fame.
Farmer is also known for coyly claiming he was born anywhere from 1928 through 1932.
And he’s still racing, having competed as recently as last weekend, finishing 10th. At the age of 87. He said he will race this weekend at Talladega Short Track.
Farmer was Davey Allison’s crew chief in the then-Busch Series and was with Allison when the helicopter they were in crashed while landing at Talladega Superspeedway on July 12 1993. The younger Allison died. Farmer suffered a broken collarbone and several fractured ribs. Farmer continues to race, primarily at the Talladega Short Track, a 1/3-mile dirt oval across the street from NASCAR’s Talladega Superspeedway.
William Ralph Seagraves has long been acknowledged as the architect who brought tobacco manufacturer RJ Reynolds into NASCAR as its title series sponsor.
Initially brought on as a sponsor for car owner Junior Johnson’s team, Winston was the first non-automotive sponsor to enter NASCAR on a full-time basis. Winston found a welcome home after the U.S. government banned TV cigarette advertising in 1970.
Realizing the impact and return on investment it could obtain would be greater in the overall sport, as opposed to sponsoring just one team, Seagraves and RJR made NASCAR an offer it couldn’t refuse and became the exclusive title rights sponsor in 1971.
From 1971-2003, NASCAR’s premier series – which was previously known as the Grand National Series – was renamed the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, becoming a marketing juggernaut that led to the sport becoming one of the most popular in the United States.
In addition to NASCAR, Winston – with Seagraves’ guidance and leadership as the company’s top sports marketing executive – would also go on to sponsor NHRA drag racing, golf, soccer, tennis and hydroplane racing before tobacco sponsorship was outlawed by the federal government.
Seagraves retired in 1985 and passed away on Sept. 27, 1998 at the age of 69.
Falling short of being voted in from the Modern Era were Neil Bonnett, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Harry Gant, Harry Hyde, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd and Kirk Shelmerdine.
Falling short of being voted in from the Pioneer Era were Jake Elder, Banjo Matthews, Hershel McGriff and Ralph Moody.
Not being chosen for the Landmark Award were Janet Guthrie, Alvin Hawkins, Mike Helton and Dr. Joseph Mattioli.
Janet Guthrie never set out to be a pioneer or trailblazer. All she wanted to be was a race car driver.
The Iowa native considered herself just like every other racer out there: she loved going fast.
That she was a female was inconsequential. She never sought attention just because of her gender. Rather, she wanted to be judged solely on her merits behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, many in the racing world – particularly fellow competitors and fans in NASCAR and IndyCar – thought otherwise.
To those jaded observers, a stock car or open-wheel car was no place for a woman to be in. Yet that’s precisely where Guthrie aspired to be.
May 30 marks the 44th anniversary of Guthrie’s first appearance in a NASCAR race. She started 27th in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and finished 15th, a remarkable showing considering it was her first-ever foray into the world of NASCAR.
The male-only world of NASCAR, that is.
Her Charlotte debut – which would mark the first time a female raced on a NASCAR superspeedway – would be the first of 33 appearances for Guthrie in the then-Winston Cup Series between 1976 and 1980.
Even to this day, more than four decades later, Guthrie’s name remains synonymous with opening the door for other female racers who wanted to make their mark in the world of motorsports, particularly in NASCAR and IndyCar.
Virtually every female who has come along in some form of stock car racing, from NASCAR Cup to the lowest levels of sportsman racing, from Danica Patrick to Hailie Deegan, has Guthrie to thank for paving the way for them.
Even now, at the age of 82, Guthrie has never forgotten the weight that rested on her shoulders when she took the green flag at Charlotte.
“I knew back at the time that if I screwed up, it would be an exceedingly long time before another woman got a chance,” said Guthrie, who was 38 at the time of the Charlotte race. “I came to feel it as a responsibility, really.
“I mean, I didn’t do what I did to prove anything for women. I did it because I was a racing driver right through to my bone marrow.”
Guthrie achieved a number of firsts in her career, with the most notable year of her life being 1977 when she became the first woman to compete in both the Daytona 500 (finished 12th and was named the race’s top rookie) and the Indianapolis 500.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Guthrie began what she thought would be a long career as an aerospace engineer.
The desire to make airplanes go faster rubbed off in four-wheel form with Guthrie, who began racing sports cars in her mid-20s. She would become quite successful, including earning two wins in her class in the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.
Guthrie said she was much more accepted as a female racer in sports car racing, particularly on the Sports Car Club of America circuit. The more she raced, the more opponents and fans looked at her solely as a very tough competitor, not as a female.
But by the mid-1970s, when she was racing sports cars full-time, the lure – particularly IndyCar racing – kept getting stronger for Guthrie.
It was that lure that eventually led to an unexpected career detour into NASCAR.
In 1976, Guthrie was offered a ride to become the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500, but her car wasn’t competitive enough and she failed to make the field.
When her effort fell short at Indy, Charlotte Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler offered Guthrie a ride in NASCAR’s longest race, the World 600 – which ran later on the same day as the Indy 500.
Despite having never been in a stock car, Guthrie jumped at the chance to further show her four-wheeled versatility.
While there was quite a bit of insolence among her male competitors, Guthrie got some help from some competitors including Donnie Allison and Buddy Baker.
But some others that initially helped Guthrie were soon forced by peer pressure to ultimately ignore her.
“Somebody would give me a little hand and I would credit them when talking to a newspaper reporter and then that driver wouldn’t speak to me,” Guthrie said. “Oh my God, they’d apparently get a hard time from everybody else – so I learned not to do that.”
That is, until she got the Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough seal of approval.
“The single most significant thing that happened was when (team owner) Rolla Vollstedt called Cale, who agreed to take my car out and practice it. Cale took it out and his speeds weren’t any more competitive than mine had been.
“Then Junior Johnson walked over to where we were standing and he and Cale talked and Junior looked at me and he said to Herb Nab (Yarborough’s crew chief) ‘give her the setup.’ And that made all the difference in the world. That was a gift that was truly priceless. I’ll never forget Junior Johnson for doing that.”
Guthrie earned five top-10 finishes in her 33 career starts in stock car racing’s highest level, including a career-best sixth-place finish at Bristol in 1977.
That would remain the highest finish by a woman in modern day Cup racing (from 1971 to the present day) until Patrick equaled Guthrie’s finish at Atlanta in 2014.
Sara Christian was the only woman in NASCAR history to earn a top-5 finish — finished fifth — in a dirt race in Pittsburgh in 1949, but that preceded the Grand National Series, which eventually became the Winston Cup Series in 1971. Christian also recorded a sixth-place finish three races earlier in 1949 at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway.
“We had run high on previous occasions, but something always happened,” Guthrie said. “Bristol was a ferociously difficult track, so short, so many high-banked turns, no time to relax.
“Everything went right for us that time. Nobody spun where I couldn’t avoid them, the engine didn’t blow and we didn’t have any significant handling issues. I really felt very, very good about that race.”
Doing so well on one of NASCAR’s most challenging tracks also marked a breakthrough when it came to how fellow drivers treated her. Instead of their dwelling on her being a female, Guthrie finally began to be treated like one of the boys – and she loved it.
“The most gratifying thing was to see attitudes change — and they did change,” Guthrie said. “They were starting to joke with me and give me a hard time and that kind of stuff. That really made me feel very good.”
Another high point of Guthrie’s NASCAR career was the 1977 season-ending race at Ontario Motor Speedway, when she became the first woman to ever lead a Cup race.
“That was one my very greatest pleasures,” she said. “The high point of that race really was going at it hammer and tongs with Bobby Allison for lap after lap after lap.
“I mean, I had so much fun. I’d pass him, he’d pass me back. We just went back and forth and back and forth. It was wonderful. I just loved it – until the head gasket failed and I ended up in some insignificant position (24th).”
After competing in 31 NASCAR races between 1976-78, Guthrie couldn’t get a ride and was forced to sit out the 1979 season. She returned for two final starts in 1980, including being Dale Earnhardt’s teammate in that year’s Daytona 500 – he finished fourth, she was 11th.
Guthrie’s NASCAR career abruptly ended after her final Cup start in the 1980 Coca-Cola 500 (finished 28th) at Pocono Raceway.
The reason for her departure was perhaps the one element Guthrie ultimately had most in common with countless male race car drivers over the years – lack of sponsorship.
She failed to get even one overture from other teams, including small, underfunded operations.
“Oh, it was a really terrible period of time,” Guthrie said. “I mean, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, all those years I spent every living moment attempting to find backing to continue racing at the top levels.
“Finally, in 1983 I realized that if I kept it up, I was going to jump out of a high window. That was when I quit doing that and started working on the book.”
Unable to race, Guthrie’s book – “Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle” – became a labor of love. It took her 23 years to write before it was published in 2005.
“I really thought of that book as my own legacy,” Guthrie said. “Sports Illustrated called it, I’ll never forget this, ‘An uplifting work that is one of the best books ever written about racing.’ I thought that was pretty nice.”
With the book now out of print, Guthrie is looking to republish it on her own on the Kindle platform, to introduce her life story to a new audience, particularly young, aspiring female racers.
While opportunities for women in NASCAR have increased since her time in the sport, including initiatives such as Drive for Diversity and a number of rising stars such as Hailie Deegan, Guthrie admits things are still not equal.
“The problem for women, in my opinion, is they still have a harder time finding funding for this very expensive sport than does a man of similar accomplishments,” she said.
A resident of Aspen, Colorado for the last 30-plus years, Guthrie is active in the town’s arts scene as well as belongs to a garden club. She also keeps up with racing by watching on TV but doesn’t attend many races.
Guthrie has been inducted into more than a half-dozen motorsports halls of fame and is again among five nominees – the others are Mike Helton, Alvin Hawkins, Dr. Joseph Mattioli and Ralph Seagraves – for the 2021 Landmark Award for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Because she didn’t log the minimum 10 years in NASCAR to be eligible to be inducted into the Hall as a driver, winning the Landmark Award would still acknowledge all that she went through in her NASCAR career.
While she calls being considered for NASCAR’s Landmark Award “very flattering,” Guthrie admits there remains one big lament in her life.
“I wish with all my heart that I had been able to continue racing so that I would have the 10 years in NASCAR necessary to be considered for the Hall of Fame itself,” she said. “I really feel that I would have won Cup races.
“I mean, I led a race, I had run with the leaders on various occasions and I knew what I could do there. Now in Indy cars, I only drove 11 races, so I can’t make the same assertion with the same confidence. But in NASCAR I can.
“Oh, I’d give anything to go back to 1980.”
Editor’s note: We will have another story focusing on Janet Guthie’s IndyCar career – most notably the Indianapolis 500 – next week on MotorSportsTalk.
It is among NASCAR’s most famous cars and added to its legacy on this day in 1980.
As Buddy Baker and Dale Earnhardt ran at the front at Talladega Superspeedway, they pitted together. Earnhardt’s team took two tires. Baker’s team took four tires. The difference left Baker nearly 20 seconds behind Earnhardt.
But Baker, the 1980 Daytona 500 winner, was driving the “Gray Ghost” at Talladega.
The car was nicknamed the “Gray Ghost’’ because its colors allowed it to blend in with the track, as the story goes. Driver complaints led NASCAR to have Baker’s team put reflective decals on the car so it was easier to see after that Daytona 500 win
“Silver and black. Chrome numbers. It doesn’t get any cooler than that,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in 2016 on his Dale Jr. Download.
Baker’s charge at Talladega 40 years ago also was memorable for catching and then passing Earnhardt for the lead with three laps to go. Baker withstood Eanhardt’s final charge at the line to win by 3 feet.
1957: Fireball Roberts won at Shelby, North Carolina, for his fifth win in his first 13 starts of the season. Roberts went on to score eight victories that season.
1969: Bobby Isaac started from the pole and led 283 of 300 laps to win at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. No other car finished on the lead lap. The victory was one of a career-high 17 wins he had that season.
1997: Mark Martin won at Sonoma Raceway, holding off Jeff Gordon on the final lap. Martin snapped a 42-race winless streak.
2002: Tony Stewart came from the rear after an engine change to win at Richmond Raceway.
May 3 in NASCAR: Bobby Allison wrecks at ‘Dega, Davey earns 1st Cup win
To paraphrase late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 3, 1987 will forever be a day that will live in NASCAR infamy.
Not only was it a day in which Bobby Allison was involved in a horrific wreck at Talladega Superspeedway, it was also the day that would begin NASCAR’s move to smaller carburetors and then restrictor plates at the superspeedways in Talladega and Daytona.
Allison was coming through the ‘Dega tri-oval 21 laps into the scheduled 188-lap race when the right rear tire on his Stavola Brothers Buick blew.
The car almost immediately became airborne and remained so for several seconds, spinning into and tearing up approximately 100 feet of catch fencing before landing on the track.
“I’m okay. Very thankful for the good Lord that I’m not hurt and I hope nobody else down there is hurt too bad. I think I ran over something, I couldn’t really tell, something bounced under the car and the tire exploded. I think I ran over something and cut my right rear tire down and spun the car in the tri-oval and up in the air it went, around backwards and there was nothing I could do.”
Allison’s crash came four days after Bill Elliott set a speed record during qualifying that remains: 212.809 mph, in a Ford Thunderbird.
By comparison, just a week later, Bobby Rahal would win the pole for the 1987 Indianapolis 500 with a speed of 216.609 mph.
The sanctioning body would introduce restrictor plates in 1988 to keep speeds down, a move that remained in place until last year, when the sport changed to tapered spacers as well as a larger spoiler, larger splitter and aero ducts added to the car to decrease speeds and lower the odds of cars going airborne.
Plate racing would bring with it drafting, cars driving in packs, and massive multi-car wrecks that simply became known as “the big one.”
As for the rest of the 1987 race at Talladega, after a three-hour red flag to repair the fence, the race resumed. Davey Allison would come back to lead 101 of the remaining 167 laps and take the checkered flag .78 of a second ahead of Terry Labonte, for the first of what would be 19 career NASCAR Cup victories.
The younger Allison, one of the youngest members of the fabled Alabama Gang, would earn three Cup and four ARCA wins, as well as an IROC victory, at ‘Dega in his career.
Sadly, Davey would also lose his life at the 2.66-mile racetrack in 1993 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed while attempting to land at the facility.
Also on this date:
1981: Following a last-lap pass, Bobby Allison edged Buddy Baker at the finish line by 0.1 seconds to win the Winston 500 at Talladega.
1992: Davey Allison won the Winston 500 at Talladega, leading 110 of 188 laps, including the last 71, beating Bill Elliott to the finish line by two car lengths. It was the third and final time the younger Allison would win a Cup race at his home track.
1998: Future NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin won at California Speedway, beating Jeremy Mayfield by nearly two seconds.
2003:Joe Nemechek won the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond under caution due to rain, seven laps short of the scheduled 400 laps. It would be the third of four career Cup wins for Nemechek.
2008:Clint Bowyer earned the second of his 10 Cup wins to date, winning at Richmond by .439 seconds over Kyle Busch.