NASCAR Hall Of Fame Takes The Green Flag

Richard Petty and Junior Johnson drove their old racecars up to the front of the shrine where they will soon be immortalized.

Fireworks exploded, streamers flew in the air and a giant white curtain dropped, signifying that the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. was officially open.

Legends and current drivers alike were among the first people to officially enter the Hall, along with fans who had traveled from across the country to see the shining tribute to NASCAR's past and present.

The Hall claims to be the "largest and most technologically advanced sports hall of fame in the world," and it may be that and more.

"I want to tell our fans you have the best Hall of Fame in the world, right here in Charlotte," NASCAR chairman Brian France said at the opening ceremony. "This sport deserves that."

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue called it a "fabulous, spectacular Hall," and honorary chairman Rick Hendrick told fans, "When you walk in it and see it, you'll be so proud."

Having taken a tour of it myself, I can tell you all the hype is true: The Hall is an incredible place. But don't take my word for it. Here are some selected comments from those involved with the sport on opening day:

Kurt Busch (2004 Cup champion): "It's overwhelming. It is 100 percent exactly what NASCAR needed, whether it's past, present, future – it blows you away. Whether it's technology, the history portion of it, the excitement value. It's really neat. ... It gives any young driver aspirations to come by and see what NASCAR means to Charlotte and what Charlotte means to NASCAR. This is our Cooperstown."

Rick Hendrick (nine-time Cup champion car owner): "I'm not even a car owner today, I'm a fan looking at the history. To walk through here and be able to see cars that I watched race or drivers that I idolized, it's just special to me as a fan. I was kind of overwhelmed when I walked in this morning."

Rusty Wallace (1989 Cup champion: "To see all these pieces and parts that were spread out all over the country in basements and old garages finally displayed properly under the NASCAR banner makes me really feel good. We're all grateful that these people had the vision to do this."

Junior Johnson (inaugural Hall of Fame class inductee): "I'm in several halls of fame across the country. But they're nowhere close to what this is. This is so awesome, you'll never ever see anything better, I don't think. ... If you go home (after seeing it) and think there's anything bad about stock-car racing, there's something a little wound up in your head. You're twisted somewhere."

Brian France (NASCAR chairman): "If you're going to be a top-five sports league in this country, you need to have a world-class Hall of Fame. It's going to be a place where our fans can come and celebrate and look back at the history of the sport. We haven't really had that in a formal way all these years, and this is going to change that overnight."

Richard Petty (inaugural Hall of Fame class inductee): "I think it's got a little something for everybody. You go through the first floor and the second floor, it's more what people know today. You go to the third floor, then it gives the fans the history. I walked through there and it jogs my memory on this or that, or getting caught with that piece over there. It rejuvenates me from that standpoint. It gives our new fans and would-be fans a sense of where we've started and what they've been able to accomplish."

Bobby Allison (1983 Cup champion): "I'm real proud of (the Allison family display). It's something that meant a lot to us along the way. We don't have (son) Davey anymore, but the world has his memory and he was loved around the world. (Brother) Donnie and I raced hard and we had a lot of fans. We won some races and met some people along the way. For all of us to be identified here is really special."

Richard Childress (car owner of inaugural Hall of Fame class inductee Dale Earnhardt): "I'm a big NASCAR fan and some of the heroes I had when I was a kid – Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson – to be able to see (their legacies on display), it's just going to be a real special day."

Ned Jarrett (two-time Cup champion): "I thought that if I ever get inducted into the Hall of Fame, that's when they would come for artifacts. But they didn't. They came a year ago. And the first thing they asked for was the CBS jacket I was wearing when I called (son) Dale's first Daytona 500 win in 1993.  When you walk in and see all of those cars on that racetrack, that's very special as far as I'm concerned."

Ron Hornaday (Truck Series champion): "The history here, it's pretty cool. They said a couple weeks ago, they didn't even think it was going to be done. I'm sure there are more things they want to do to it, but it looks pretty darn good right now."

Winston Kelly (executive director): "To see when people come through who are in (the Hall of Fame), to watch them see their relatives...Richard (Petty) was not that impressed with his things. He wanted to see the Petty Enterprises story, the Lee Petty story, the other people he grew up racing with. When (Wendell Scott's widow and daughter) Mary and Sybil saw some of Wendell's stuff, they literally came to tears."

Tim Newman (Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO, the man who first had the vision for the Hall), on his favorite thing in the Hall of Fame: Junior Johnson's whisky still. "I mean, growing up in Rockingham County, Junior was one of my heroes. Of course, we've got to keep it behind glass, but we have in my opinion, taken a true view of the history of the sport. It's very tasteful, but it's unvarnished, and that's a neat thing because whether you're a fan or not, the history of this sport in our region is a huge thing. Junior's involvement is very special. As Winston has said many times, it's like having Babe Ruth come help us open the Baseball Hall of Fame."

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