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Nate Ryan’s ballot for the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

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Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative.

It’s the 10th consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 60 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans).

His ballot for the ninth class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding eight years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):

  1. Jeff Gordon: The four-time champion ranks third all time for both career victories (93) and pole positions (81), and he has three Daytona 500 victories, five Brickyard 400 wins and the record for consecutive starts in the premier series (797). But Gordon nearly accomplished as much off the track as the first driver to host Saturday Night Live and a staple of Madison Ave. who became one of the most transcendent stars in NASCAR history.
  2. Alan Kulwicki: The 1992 champion’s life was cut short at 38 by a plane crash the year after he won the title in a watershed season for NASCAR. A true driver-owner, the Wisconsin native also was among the first college-educated engineers to have a major impact in stock-car racing.
  3. Buddy Baker: The winner of the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1970 Southern 500 was one of NASCAR’s home run hitters, counting several major wins among his 19 career victories on the premier circuit. One of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors Baker also became a beloved broadcaster on TV and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
  4. Davey Allison: The 1987 rookie of the year and the 1992 Daytona 500 winner was involved with Kulwicki and others in perhaps the most memorable championship race in history. Three months after Kulwicki’s death, Allison was killed in a July 1993 helicopter accident, cutting short the career of a highly personable and appealing star who won in every 10th start in Cup.
  5. Jack Roush: The all-time winningest team owner in NASCAR national series history, Roush won back-to-back Cup championships in 2003-04 with Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch. But his legacy is about as much what he did for NASCAR as what he did in it: Roush’s strong engineering background made an impact on safety projects such as roof flaps, and he provided fresh starts and second chances for many drivers (such as Mark Martin) who became mainstays, as well as building a talent base for team members.

Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:

2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.

2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty

2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner

2013: Fireball Roberts, Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock

2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly

2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick

2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac

2017: Hendrick, Evernham, Benny Parsons, Parks, Red Byron

2018: Evernham, Byron, Robert Yates, Alan Kulwicki, Buddy Baker

Nate Ryan’s ballot for the 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

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Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative.

It’s the ninth consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 57 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans).

His ballot for the ninth class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding eight years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):

  1. Ray Evernham: Voted the greatest crew chief of all time in a 2006 media poll, the impact of Evernham, 57, transcends his sterling statistics. He won three championships with Jeff Gordon during a virtually unbeatable stretch of 1995-98 while introducing innovations in car building, pit crews and strategies that still are used today. His legacy remains visible through the many careers he shaped as a team leader and car owner: Two of the last three championships have been won by crew chiefs (Chad Knaus and Rodney Childers) who spent time in Evernham’s tutelage.
  2. Red Byron: The first NASCAR premier series champion, capturing the Modified Division in 1948. The Anniston, Alabama, native competed from 1949-51, winning twice and starting from two poles in 15 starts. Byron was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers.
  3. Robert Yates: A championship car owner and engine builder, Yates already had an influence on several members of the Hall of Fame in his multiple roles as a NASCAR fixture. He won the Daytona 500 three times as a car owner (twice with Dale Jarrett), and his engines have 77 victories.
  4. Alan Kulwicki: The 1992 champion’s life was cut short at 38 by a plane crash the year after he won the title in a watershed season for NASCAR. A true driver-owner, the Wisconsin native also was among the first college-educated engineers to have a major impact in stock-car racing.
  5. Buddy Baker: The winner of the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1970 Southern 500 was one of NASCAR’s home run hitters, counting several major wins among his 19 career victories on the premier circuit. One of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors Baker also became a beloved broadcaster on TV and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:

2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.

2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty

2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner

2013: Fireball Roberts, Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock

2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly

2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick

2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac

2017: Hendrick, Evernham, Benny Parsons, Parks, Red Byron

Mark Martin gladly embraces whirlwind week of traveling Indianapolis to Charlotte — twice

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CONCORD, N.C. – Mark Martin’s Indianapolis-Charlotte doubleheader will be a scramble, but with a couple planes at his disposal and a recent NASCAR Hall of Fame election, it’s worth it.

“This is an incredible privilege, an honor, and I’m extremely humbled by the opportunity to be a part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Martin said.

He will be driving Sunday, too, the pace car to lead the 57th running of the Coca-Cola 600 to the green flag.

But if he actually were racing this weekend, his itinerary might seem considerably more daunting.

“It could be a nightmare,” Martin said Saturday during a news conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  “I can’t imagine having that. What Kurt Busch (running the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in 2014) was amazing. Not everyone could do it. It’s amazing what he did.”

Martin’s whirlwind week began with the arrival of a text message while he was clearing bugs off the front windshield of his motorhome, which he had parked in Indianapolis after driving in from Arkansas for the weekend.

In his second year on the ballot, he had been elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame – an honor he hadn’t expected to realize for years, if ever.

He certainly hadn’t expected it this year, having booked a weekend with his family at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to attend the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

But that couldn’t derail him from traveling to Charlotte to soak in the congratulations from his friends in the NASCAR garage.

Martin shares a plane with a business partner in Arkansas, and they have a pilot who flew Martin’s wife, Arlene, and son, Matt, to Indianapolis. They quickly turned around and flew to North Carolina, where Martin spent Saturday at the track.

He returned to Indianapolis later Saturday. After watching history Sunday at Indy, Martin will hitch a ride back to Charlotte on a NASCAR plane.

The Batesville, Arkansas, native will spend the week in Charlotte and plans to make a NASCAR America appearance on NBCSN.

“We’re going to enjoy being in Charlotte,” Martin said. “I spend most of my time in Arkansas right now. We don’t get over here as much as we like, so we’re going to enjoy being here and having some good restaurants and great grocery stores and stuff like that. It’s kind of rural where we’re at. We might even have time to catch a movie.”

Perhaps there will be time to visit friends at the race shops scattered around the city. The Coke 600 will be the first Sprint Cup race attended by Martin since his final start in the 2013 Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Though he doesn’t miss driving, Martin, 57, said he began to miss the people, particularly this season.

“The longer it’s gone, the more I’ve noticed it,” said Martin, whose career in NASCAR’s premier series mostly ran from 1988-2013. “I’ve really noticed I miss the fans, miss the competitors, and I miss the media and journalists. I do miss that. I didn’t feel like I had a place (at the track). When I drove a race car, there was a place for me here. I felt awkward about attending a race, being I don’t work on a car or drive a race car anymore.

“This is a real cool opportunity to get back and connect with my family for 30 years.”

Hall of Fame selection ensures Benny Parsons’ last remaining wish

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Shortly before he died in 2007, former NASCAR champion and broadcaster Benny Parsons gave his wife a list of 10 things to do.

Some were personal: He wanted her to grow a vineyard, something he had wanted but hadn’t done.

Some were about community: He wanted her to help find a way for racing to return to North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Some were for family that remain private.

She completed those tasks, but for years, the last item on the list haunted Terri Parsons.

“The one that kept throwing me was ‘Don’t let people forget me,’ ’’ she told NBC Sports. “How does one person do that? There is only so much Facebook you can do.’’

Voters for the NASCAR Hall of Fame showed they had not forgotten Wednesday. While it took until the eighth class for one of the remaining inaugural nominees to be selected, Benny Parsons made it after receiving 85 percent of the vote. He’ll be joined by Mark Martin, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Raymond Parks.

Terri Parsons had a feeling that this year would be different from all the times she had come before, hoping the man she loved and fans adored would be inducted.

She had a restless night of sleep. She was nervous on the drive to the Hall of Fame. Then shortly before the announcement, Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett told her he thought this would be Parsons’ year based on the talk about the 1973 champion among voters.

“When his name was announced, it hit me, this is it,’’ Terri Parsons said. “Nobody is going to forget him. People will know the history of Benny forever.’’

Still, she sat stoically. Jarrett, who spoke to his fellow voters earlier in the day about Parsons’ credentials, reached over and shook Terri Parsons’ wrist. Hall of Famer Bobby Allison turned around and shook her knee.

“I was numb,’’ Terri Parsons said. “I wanted to make sure I heard it right.’’

And then she saw the face of the man she married in 1992 on a video board as the first member of the new Hall of Fame class.

“He’s in,’’ she said to herself.

She later described it as “an awesome moment for me.’’

And for her husband, who became as well known to many fans for his role as broadcaster with NBC and other networks as for his success on the track.

“Somewhere tonight he’s saying fantastic, I’m sure, and we all know the smile he would have on his face,’’ Terri Parsons said.

It’s the smile that will be etched on his pylon when he’s inducted Jan. 20, 2017, into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Nate Ryan’s ballot for the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

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Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative. It’s the eighth consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 57 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans). His ballot for the eighth class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding seven years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):

  1. Rick Hendrick: The most successful team owner in NASCAR history has a record 11 Sprint Cup championships, most recently with Jimmie Johnson in 2013. Hendrick, 66, has compiled 219 victories over 30 years with a diverse driver lineup that includes Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Tim Richmond, Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. Hendrick Motorsports’ sprawling 12-building campus sits on 140 acres in Charlotte, N.C., and is the industry standard.
  2. Ray Evernham: Voted the greatest crew chief of all time in a 2006 media poll, the impact of Evernham, 58, transcends his sterling statistics. He won three championships with Jeff Gordon during a virtually unbeatable stretch of 1995-98 while introducing innovations in car building, pit crews and strategies that still are used today. His legacy remains visible through the many careers he shaped as a team leader and car owner: The past two championships have been won by crew chiefs (Chad Knaus and Rodney Childers) who spent time in Evernham’s tutelage.
  3. Benny Parsons: The 1973 series champion and 1975 Daytona 500 winner scored 21 victories in 526 starts, but he also was well known for being an affable broadcaster, including with NBC Sports. The Ellerbe, North Carolina, native was a friend to many of the garage, informally consulting with team owners and drivers and offering wise counsel on major career decisions. Greg Biffle credited Parsons’ support with pairing him with car owner Jack Roush 18 years ago and kick-starting his foray into the big leagues. Parsons died of cancer in January 2007
  4. Raymond Parks: A pioneering team owner whose financial investment and dedication helped get NASCAR off the ground in 1948. Parks fielded the car that won the first championship in NASCAR’s premier series with Red Byron in 1949. The Georgia native began racing cars in 1938 with drivers Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall.
  5. Red Byron: The first NASCAR premier series champion, capturing the Modified Division in 1948. The Anniston, Alabama, native competed from 1949-51, winning twice and starting from two poles in 15 starts. Byron was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers.

Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:

2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.

2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty

2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner

2013: Fireball Roberts, Tuner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock

2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly

2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick

2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac