DETROIT – A strong and energetic contingent of friends, family, fellow legends and motorsports and automotive industry insiders converged in downtown Detroit Wednesday night to usher an illustrious group of seven motorsports icons representing the Class of 2012 into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America at the organization’s 24th annual Induction Ceremony at the historic Fillmore Theater.
The accomplished Class of 2012 includes event attendees Ed Pink (Drag Racing), Derek Bell (Sports Cars) and Ricky Johnson (Motorcycles) who were joined by friends and family members that touchingly memorialized and enshrined deceased inductees Pop Dreyer (Historic), Neil Bonnett (Stock Cars) and Vic Edelbrock, Sr. (At Large). Inductee Danny Sullivan (Indy Cars) was forced to miss the event after an unexpected schedule change kept him in England on a television shoot, but he was capably represented by AutoWeek Editor and Associate Publisher Dutch Mandel who both inducted and accepted the honor for his friend and the 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner.
The evening moved off to an appropriate start with a keynote address by Honorary Chairman Jim Campbell, General Motors Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports.
In addition to respectfully acknowledging the achievements and contributions of the other well-known manufacturers represented at the event, Campbell focused on the Chevrolet brand’s important role in motorsports history, as well as its particular presence in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
“For Chevrolet, we have been involved in racing and performance for many, many years, from the very beginning in fact,” Campbell said. “From our co-founder Louis Chevrolet, he was a self-taught engineer, a car guy, but most of all he was a racer, a racer with his brothers. They used Indy as their proving grounds and Gaston Chevrolet won the Indy 500 in 1920 and was in fact inducted into this Hall of Fame in 2002.”
Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson inducted AMA Supercross and Motocross legend Ricky Johnson. Although unrelated, the two remain close friends today from their youthful California off-road racing days that launched both to stardom.
“Not often do I think a racer has a chance to induct his hero into the Hall of Fame, and I have that tonight,” Jimmie Johnson said. “Rick and I have a long history together; it goes so far back that he actually changed my diapers at one point in time. My grandparents owned a motorcycle shop in California, I grew up on two wheels, our families had so much in common with the two wheels and Rick was even my first sponsor and got me started in motocross. Later, when we were racing teammates, I was able to kind of transition from that stage of looking up to my hero to actually looking into my hero’s eyes and competing against him. Some of the best moments I have had in my life in my racing career were racing against my hero Rick Johnson.”
Ricky Johnson had the honor of inducting a friend and close colleague a few years ago before his own enshrinement Wednesday.
“As I said a couple of years ago, when I did the opening induction speech for Bubba Shobert, it is awesome to be here in motorsports greatness,” Johnson said. “I want to thank all of the people that help us to give us the faith to go out to lay it on the line, and I want to thank the Motorsports Hall of Fame for inducting me, it is an unbelievable honor to be here with such great competitors.”
Leonard Wood, a Hall member enshrined with his brother Glen Wood in 2000 as the leaders of the famous Wood Brothers racing team and pit crew, inducted Edelbrock, Sr. Edelbrock was considered one of the founders of the American hot rod movement and built a small auto repair shop into one of the world’s premier parts suppliers for racers and auto hobbyists.
“I was told I had to keep this thing down to two minutes,” Wood said. “Slow as I talk, I couldn’t say my name in two minutes, but I want to congratulate all of the Inductees, all very deserving, and Vic Edelbrock Sr. was one of racing’s greatest individuals. He was born with a natural talent to know what to do to an engine to make horsepower.”
Vic Edelbrock, Jr., who accepted the honor on behalf of his later father, has been at the helm of the family company’s success for the last 50 years. He provided one of the evening’s most touching moments when he pointed to the heavens in acknowledgment and respect to his parents.
“Thank you so much to the Hall of Fame here for inducting my father and bringing us together with my family,” Edelbrock Jr. said. “This is an all-time memory that I guarantee you we will never ever forget. ‘Dad, I know you’re watching,’ and Mom is watching behind him because behind every famous man is a famous woman.”
Hall of Famer and NASCAR icon Bobby Allison (Class of 1992) presented for the second-consecutive year after having the honor of inducting his brother Donnie Allison in 2011. On Wednesday, Bobby Allison enshrined fellow “Alabama Gang” member Bonnett, one of the most affable drivers in NASCAR history.
“He was such a big competitor, but he was such a delightful guy,” Allison said. “He was just flowing over with enthusiasm all of the time and it gave me such great pleasure to be involved with him and see him go on and accomplish some things that he did along the way.”
Bonnett’s widow Susan Bonnett Northcutt accepted the honor on behalf of her late husband.
“I want to thank the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America for this wonderful tribute,” Bonnett Northcutt said. “And I call it a lasting tribute because it will be here long after I am gone and I think it is just wonderful. Neil didn’t get to receive any of these kinds of awards while he was alive and he was always striving to be better. Our family and myself, we are really proud of him, and are really proud to be inducted into a group with such a great bunch of people that I have met this week.”
Pink was enshrined by Hall member and drag racing legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (Class of 1991). Pink supplied engines to “The Snake” during his most successful years as a dominant NHRA funny car driver.
“Having the old master Ed Pink inducted into the Hall of Fame is quite an honor,” Prudhomme said. “We have just had a great time together, and we would say that in the mid-1970s that if you weren’t running an Ed Pink engine you weren’t – I can’t use the word – but you just couldn’t cut it. He took me to four consecutive championships and that was a hell of a task at the time, I would say.”
Pink extended his personal thanks to Prudhomme, the countless number of other competitors he has worked with for decades and also to the Hall itself.
“Snake, I want to tell you something, when you were driving, you always made me look good, and you have done it again tonight,” Pink said. “I have a lot of people to thank tonight; I mean how often does an engine guy get to talk? This is truly an honor that I will cherish, to be included with the heroes that are already in the Hall of Fame is truly mind boggling, it is very humbling and makes me say ‘wow, is this really happening to me?’ Looking back, there is not much I would change. I love those engines like they are a part of me and the passion is still there. It has been a great ride for me and tonight is the icing on the cake.”
Motorsports pioneer Dreyer was inducted by his grandson and Dreyer-Reinbold Racing IndyCar team owner Dennis Reinbold in one of the evening’s two all-family presentations. Dreyer’s enshrinement was accepted by his son, and Reinbold’s uncle, Junior Dreyer.
“I want to thank the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America for voting my father into this great organization,” Dreyer said. “It is a very, very great organization and we are very proud to be a part of it. He made quite a reputation in motorcycles, with Duesenberg cars, for himself building cars, racing sprint cars and then right back to his first love motorcycles, which we are still doing today. We are also carrying on our era with Dreyer-Reinbold Racing in the IRL and we are very thankful for it.”
Bell was ushered into the Hall by his son and fellow sports car World Champion Justin Bell in the night’s second family-style enshrinement.
“From farmer to Ferrari Formula 1 in just a few years, to five Le Mans victories, two sports car world championships to an award from Her Majesty the Queen, my father Derek Bell has had the most extraordinary life,” Justin Bell said. “But there is another side of his life that I am equally if not more proud of and that is there has never been a bad word said about my Dad. This is an extraordinary thing in a sport that is based on such fierce rivalry. To be in the sport over 40 years and to find that people everywhere appreciate and love what you do is amazing.”
Derek Bell’s stateside success includes three overall victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“It is obviously a great honor to be up here tonight as a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame, particularly for a Brit,” Bell said. “As I have said to many people over the years, we are very, very lucky to be racing drivers. People like Ed Pink and the Edelbrocks, and others we have heard from tonight, all of these wonderful engineers, as drivers we are actually nothing compared to them. They really are amazing people, it’s amazing what they have done for the sport, and obviously that means for me as well. I still appreciate all of those people that have done so much for me over all these years.”
Road racing champion, SPEED television broadcaster and Hall member David Hobbs (Class of 2009) kept the evening’s program moving and entertaining in his second year as Master of Ceremonies. He was capably supported by Justin Bell, his SPEED colleague, who assisted with the evening’s off-stage Inductee and VIP introductions in addition to enshrining his father.