INDIANAPOLIS – The initial eight 2014 inductees into the USAC Hall of Fame have been announced and four more, selected by popular vote from a list of 16 eligible names, will be announced April 15.
The third annual USAC Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will be held May 17 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind., in conjunction with the annual USAC Hall of Fame Classic Silver Crown Series race.
The eight-member class of inductees announced today includes five drivers, a race organizer, an official and a chief mechanic. They are George Bignotti, Don Branson, Larry Dickson, Norm Nelson, Don Smith, Bob Stroud, Rodger Ward and Bob Wente.
– George Bignotti was one of America’s premier chief mechanics and earned seven victories in the Indianapolis 500, along with six National Championships. He started his career as a midget car owner who occasionally drove himself. He worked with such stalwart drivers as Freddie Agabashian, Marvin Burke, Johnny Boyd, Earl Motter and Bob Sweikert. Agabashian won the 1947 and 1948 BCRA titles and Boyd won the 1951 title in Bignotti cars. His Indianapolis 500 victories came in 1961 and 1964 (A.J. Foyt), 1966 (Graham Hill), 1970 and 1971 (Al Unser), 1973 (Gordon Johncock) and 1983 (Tom Sneva). In 1964 he and Foyt swept the first seven races of the National Championship season and won 10 of 13 races that year! Bignotti passed away September 27, 2013 in Las Vegas.
– Don Branson, USAC’s 1959 Midwest and 1964 National Sprint Car Champion, began racing in 1946 and in 1955 he won the final AAA race in an indoor Midget event at Fort Wayne, Ind. A stellar Championship-car and Sprint car veteran, he also excelled in the Midgets, twice winning the Hut Hundred (in 1958 and 1966). He also won the first midget race at what was then known as Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1961. The 1964 USAC National Sprint Car Champ scored 13 victories before losing his life in a 1966 accident at Gardena, Calif. Affectionately called “Gramps,” he competed in eight Indianapolis 500s and finished fourth in 1960 and fifth in 1963. His seven Championship-car wins were part of 85 top-10s. He is a member of both the National Sprint Car and Midget Halls of Fame.
– Larry Dickson owns three USAC National Sprint Car Championships, 1968, 1970 and 1975 and formed half of the feared “Larry and Gary Show” with Gary Bettenhausen, swapping first and second place point finishes between 1968 and 1971. His 45 career Sprint wins are tied with Tracy Hines for fourth on the all-time USAC list. In 1975 he also added the prestigious Little 500 to his victory list at Anderson, Ind. In eight Indianapolis 500 starts he scored a ninth-place finish in 1969. A 1990 inductee into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, he was among their inaugural class, A versatile driver, he even drove a Ford Torino in the Daytona 500 and ran in the top-10 before retiring with engine woes. He added a pair of wins in the USAC Silver Crown series.
– Already a winner under the AAA banner, Norm Nelson went on to win 35 events in the USAC Stock Car series, earning the season’s championship in 1960, 1965 and 1966. He was also runner-up four times and third in three other seasons in addition to having already been runner-up under AAA sanction in 1950. Nelson always fielded his own equipment and after switching from Ford to Chrysler in 1963, he typically fielded a second car for such outstanding drivers as Roger McCluskey (won the USAC title in 1969 and 1970), A. J. Foyt (runner-up in 1963), Jim Hurtubise (won NASCAR’s Atlanta 500 in 1966), Paul Goldsmith and Lloyd Ruby. As a car entrant, Nelson won USAC’s seasonal championship six times and was runner-up five times. A longtime USAC Board member, he passed away on November 8, 1988.