The third Friday in January is now known as “Forever Legends Day”. It’s not officially that day, but I’m going to coin that phrase and trademark it right after I finish this article. It is a day that NASCAR honors those that have made a tremendous impact on the sport. It is the day that those persons are inducted into the Hall of Fame located in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 2018 class featured five individuals: a crew chief/owner, a broadcaster, an engine builder/owner, and two drivers. Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Squier and Robert Yates made up the ninth induction class.
Red Byron won the first ever NASCAR race in 1948 at the Daytona Beach Road Course. Robert “Red” Bryon went on to win the first season championship that year. The next year he won NASCAR’s first “Strictly Stock” championship that became the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Byron won two of the scheduled eight races they had. What was amazing was the fact the he drove with an injured leg. He had a special brace attached to the clutch pedal. This injury came from combat in World War II for the Air Force. He literally beat other drivers with one leg! Byron only competed until 1951, but he was the pioneer champion for NASCAR. He passed away in 1960 at 45 years young.
Ray Evernham was revolutionary when it came to the pit crew. He was a master at getting the most out of an engine and his crew. You add that to a young stud driver in Jeff Gordon, and you have something special. Evernham was the first to employ full-time athletes, the “Rainbow Warriors”, to go over the wall for pit service. Those precious seconds he gained back for Gordon led to three championships in four seasons (1995, ’97, ’98), and a series-leading 49 wins in the 1990’s. In addition, there were two Daytona 500s victories (1997, ’99) and two Brickyard 400s wins (1994, ’98). He single handedly put Dodge back on the map with racing. This made Ford, Chevy and Toyota step their game up.
Ron Hornaday Jr. competed in all three circuits of NASCAR. However, he is “Mr. Camping World Truck Series”. He won a record four (1996, ’98, 2007, ’09) championships along with 51 total wins. He holds the Truck Series all-time top-five finishes with 158. He also has the most top-ten finishes with 234. If those numbers are not mind blowing, he won five straight Truck Series races in 2009. Only three other people in all of NASCAR have accomplished that. He won four races in what is now the Xfinity Series, before retiring after the 2014 season.
Ken Squier became the voice of NASCAR. He began with Motor Racing Network (MRN) in 1970 as a co-founder. He then moved on to a national television audience on CBS and TBS, providing lap-by-lap coverage. He famously gave the Daytona 500 the nickname, “The Great American Race” back in 1979. That name has stuck down to this day. From 1997 to 2000, he was a studio host for NASCAR broadcast. In 2012, NASCAR created the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. Guess who were the first recipients of the award? None other than Squier himself, along with long-time colleague Barney Hall. They have famously described NASCAR as “common men doing uncommon things.”
Robert Yates was an amazing engine builder and owner. He started with Holman-Moody Racing in 1968, before working with another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Junior Johnson, in 1971. He was responsible for helping Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Carl Yarborough have great careers. Allison’s series championship in 1983 was thanks in large part to Yates. He would start his own team in the late 1980’s. It was just a matter of time before his driver; Davey Allison won the 1992 Daytona 500, and finished third in that season’s championship standings. Yates’ golden touch was seen a few years later in 1996, when Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500. Jarrett won “The Great American Race” again in 2000, a year after winning the NASCAR premier series championship. Yates sadly finished the race of life in October this past year from cancer. Thankfully, he finished his acceptance speech before he passed.
Current and former drivers introduced each inductee during the ceremony: Martin Truex Jr. for Red Byron, Ben Kennedy for Ray Evernham, Kevin Harvick for Ron Hornaday Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Ken Squier, and Brad Keselowski for Robert Yates. Then each of five inductees had someone welcome them to the Hall of Fame: Winston Kelley (Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame) for Red Byron, Ray J Evernham (son) and Jeff Gordon (former driver) for Ray Evernham, Wayne Auton (former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Managing Director) for Ron Hornaday Jr., Phil Scott (Vermont Governor) for Ken Squier, and Edsel Ford (member of the board of directors for Ford Motor Company) for Robert Yates. The full number of inductees is now 45. What an amazing day for “Forever Legends”!