NASCAR Opens Shrine To Stock Car Racing

This weekend, NASCAR will induct its first-ever class into the sport's new Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. Names like Petty and Earnhardt headline the celebration. The inductees are being honored as pioneers who shaped their sport unlike anyone else. Scott Graf of member station WFAE in Charlotte visits the Hall of Fame and talks with fans about the significance of these stock car drivers.

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If you are a NASCAR fan, and you don't have a race to watch, you can now visit the official shrine to the sport: the new Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. And this weekend, the NASCAR Hall of Fame will induct its first class. Scott Graf of member station WFAE reports.

SCOTT GRAF: Kannapolis, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte, is a racing town. Even a major road through the city, Highway 3, has a racing tie: It's named after Kannapolis native Dale Earnhardt, who drove the number three car. The Loading Dock Cafe sits next to the highway.

Inside, Cathy Horn(ph) is preparing for the lunch rush. She takes a minute to remember Earnhardt, who she sat next to in high school English class.

Ms. CATHY HORN: I mean, he just sat there in the back, and he'd get me in trouble sometimes with the teacher because the teacher would always look back and ask if, you know, are you talking back there? And I would say no ma'am. But he's making motor sounds again.

GRAF: Horn says it was pretty obvious that cars and not the three R's were in Earnhardt's blood.

Ms. HORN: He turned 16, and the day he quit school, he looked up and told everybody bye. He said, you know, he was out of there.

GRAF: Dale Earnhardt would go on to reach legendary status in NASCAR. Before he was killed nine years ago in an accident at the Daytona 500, Earnhardt has amassed 76 wins and seven championships. And now he's one of five NASCAR superstars to be inducted into the sport's new Hall of Fame.

Unidentified Announcer: They are the DNA of a legend, the building blocks of a Hall of Fame.

GRAF: Earnhardt, along with Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, as well as Bill France, Sr., and Bill France, Jr., make up this year's class of inductees. Petty has the most wins in NASCAR history. Johnson is a moonshine bootlegger turned driver turned team owner. Bill France, Sr., started NASCAR 62 years ago, and his son, Bill France, Jr., led the sport's transformation from regional to national sport.

Only two of these men, Petty and Johnson, are still alive. Richard Petty says his selection has brought forth a flood of memories.

Mr. RICHARD PETTY (NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee): People ask you about do you remember going to this, do you remember something happened there? And it just jogs your memory, like going through the museum, you see things that it jogs your memory, some of the stuff that happened in 1950 or 1980 or wherever.

Mr. JAY SAUNDERS(ph): Without these guys, NASCAR wouldn't be what it is today.

GRAF: Jay Saunders is a 38-year-old NASCAR fan from Indiana. He attended yesterday's unveiling of the five inductees' signatures of the hall's outdoor Walk of Fame.

Mr. SAUNDERS: If you know NASCAR, you know who these guys are and what they've done for the sport.

GRAF: Photographers maneuver to capture this bit of NASCAR history, but make no mistake, the real attraction is what's inside the hall. Exhibits include a sweeping display of race cars in the main lobby, and as a tip of the cap to NASCAR's roots, there's an unlikely item on display: A moonshine still built by inductee Junior Johnson.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Graf in Charlotte.

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