CUP: Hall's Opening, Induction Left Indelible Mark On 2010

Officially, it took roughly three and a half years to piece it together. But the truth of the matter is that it took more than 60 years to build.

When the NASCAR Hall of Fame inducted its first class in May of 2010, it was the culmination of a dream held by virtually everyone that had participated in some form or fashion in the sport.

For the first time, the history of the most popular form of motorsports in America could be found housed under one roof. The 150,000-square-foot hall features artifacts, interactive exhibits as well as a 278-seat theater.

Even some of those who had literally seen it all and done it all came away impressed when the doors to the hall officially opened.

“I think it kind of hit me today that it's really, really a big deal, because NASCAR's finally got their Hall of Fame,” said Richard Petty, one of the five inaugural inductees. “And I think it moved all of us up a notch from the standpoint that other professional sports had [something] that we didn't have.

“Now I think we're as big a league as anybody, I'll put it that way.”

In addition to Petty, the sport’s most successful driver with seven Cup titles and a series-best 200 career victories, also inducted in the first class were legendary car owner Junior Johnson, seven-time Cup champ Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and longtime NASCAR president Bill France Jr.

More than two decades after he retired as a driver, Petty remains an icon in the sport. He continues to remain involved through ownership of Richard Petty Motorsports, which will field two teams in NASCAR’s Cup Series in 2011.

Earnhardt, who won six of his seven titles with Richard Childress Racing, was the champion of the working class. His talent behind the wheel was equaled by his business sense, which enabled him to become just as successful off the race track as he was on it.

Johnson won 50 races as a driver, but his eye for talent and his attention to detail led him to become one of the most successful car owners in the sport.

France Sr. had the vision to pull it all together in the beginning, convincing individual track owners that combining their efforts into a single series would benefit everyone. His iron-fisted approach was exactly what the sport needed during its formative years.

France Jr. took his father’s approach one step further, making timely, crucial decisions that helped bring the sport national attention as it continued to expand outside the southeastern United States.

And the hall of fame expertly tells each of their stories, as well as the stories of many others.

“When you walk into the Hall of Fame, you become a fan,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “… It's almost humbling when you think about the sport and where it comes from, and the Hall of Fame is such an unbelievable place for anybody. Even if you've been involved with it 25 years, you become a fan all over again.

“It's got so much history, and I think it's so neat that we got something to showcase the people like Dale Earnhardt or the France family or Junior or Richard, that the new fans can go in and see that history for years and years to come.”

The hall is owned by the city of Charlotte and is operated by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. • Darlington Raceway president receives Palmetto Patriot Award