Three legendary names in all of motorsports were named as inductees into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame Tuesday. The 2016 NMPA Hall of Fame induction class consists of NASCAR multi-championship team owners Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs, along with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion driver Al Unser.
Joseph Riddick Hendrick III, best known as “Rick” or simply “Mister H” was born in 1949 and raised on the family farm near Palmer Springs, Virginia. At 27, he was the youngest Chevrolet dealer in America, and built an empire that has grown into the sixth-largest automotive group in the country. But it is in NASCAR where Hendrick and his Hendrick Motorsports organization have made the biggest impact.
Since its first race in the 1984 Daytona 500 where the team finished eighth and its first win seven races later by Geoff Bodine at Martinsville Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports has amassed countless NASCAR records in its 32-year existence: 14 NASCAR driver championships, including 11 in the premier Sprint Cup Series and 14 owner championships across three national series.
“I have such great respect for the people who cover our sport and the role they play in keeping our fans informed,” Hendrick said upon learning of his selection by NMPA members. “The NMPA has done so much to give back to the NASCAR community and highlight people’s contributions through programs like The Myers Brothers Award and Driver of the Year. It takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice to do what our media members do every week. To be recognized by that group of people is very humbling.”
Joe Jackson Gibbs is known to all as simply “Coach”. In 16 seasons as head coach in the NFL, the Mocksville, North Carolina native compiled an overall record of 171-101 and three Super Bowl championships. In 23 seasons as a NASCAR team owner, Gibbs’ teams have won four Sprint Cup championships, including the 2015 title with Kyle Busch, and 128 Sprint Cup race wins. JGR has also compiled four XFINITY Series owner (and one driver) championships and 112 race wins
Gibbs also owned a team that won two NHRA Pro Stock drag racing championships, as well as two runner-up season finishes in Top Fuel in the 1990s.
The Unser family name has long been synonymous with open-wheel racing, from Jerry to Bobby, Robby, Johnny and Al Jr. The family’s leader however has been Al. The Albuquerque, New Mexico native enjoyed a legendary career and is one of only three drivers (others are A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears) to win the Indianapolis 500 four separate times. In 337 career Indy Car starts, he earned 40 wins, 127 podiums, 29 poles and three championships. “Big Al” also toyed in NASCAR, scoring three top-10 finishes in just five starts.
Hendrick received 88 percent of votes cast by NMPA members, Gibbs received 76 percent and Unser received 66 percent.Others receiving votes were four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champ Rick Mears, as well as NASCAR Winston Cup championship-winning crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine.
The NMPA Hall of Fame is located on the grounds of Darlington Raceway and has been in operation since 1965. Hendrick, Gibbs and Unser become the 96th through 98th members of the Hall.