Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Amp Energy Chevrolet with team owner Rick Hendrick. UPI/Thomas E. Hayden | License Photo
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two successful contemporary car owners, a champion driver-turned-broadcaster, a driver with a prolific winning history and the man described as the "original car owner" are the newly elected members of the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France introduced the new inductees on Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, calling this group of five perhaps "the greatest class yet."
The new members, selected from a group of 20 nominees, include 1973 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and 1975 Daytona 500 winner Benny Parsons, who later became one of the most revered television broadcasters in the sport's history; team owner Rick Hendrick, who has a record 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles; driver Mark Martin, whose 96 career victories across NASCAR's three national touring series are sixth all time; team owner Raymond Parks, whose cars won the first NASCAR modified title in 1948 and NASCAR's first premier series title a year later; and team owner Richard Childress, whose pairing with Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt produced six championships and 67 victories in NASCAR's top division.
Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles is this year's recipient of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR.
Parsons, who succumbed to lung cancer on Jan. 16, 2007, was named on 85 percent of ballots cast by the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting committee. Parsons had been on the ballot for eight years.
"This is the biggest honor of Benny's life," said Terri Parsons, his widow. "It summarizes everything he has ever worked towards. Every job he has ever had, be it as a race car driver in all divisions, host of NASCAR radio shows, NASCAR color commentator for TV networks each were just as important to him as the next.
"He lived his life for NASCAR fans and helping to make the sport of auto racing a better sport for them to enjoy. I know he is smiling his big smile tonight saying, 'Unbelievable!'"
In a career that spanned 25 years, Parsons won 21 Sprint Cup races in 526 starts, but he was a top-10 machine, recording 283 for a staggering percentage of 53.8.
Hendrick, who received 62 percent of the vote, has won car owner titles in the Sprint Cup Series with three different drivers -- six with Jimmie Johnson, four with Jeff Gordon and one with fellow Hall of Famer Terry Labonte. Hendrick's 242 owner wins in the premier series rank second all time.
"I'm extremely proud to go in with Benny Parsons and Mark Martin, who drove for me, and then Richard Childress, who's one of my closest friends in the sport," Hendrick said. "Parks ... I watched the video on him, and he kind of helped the sport get started.
"So I'm really humbled to be in the position I'm in. I've been doing it now for 33 years, and I hope that we've got some more things to accomplish, but I'm very, very appreciative of the fact that I got voted in while I'm still racing."
Martin, who garnered 57 percent of the vote, boasts the highest Sprint Cup victory total (40) of any eligible driver not already indicted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In addition, Martin has 49 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins to his credit (second all time), along with seven wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Martin's 56 Sprint Cup poles rank seventh on the all-time list.
Martin, who was runner-up in the final Sprint Cup standings on five occasions, most recently in 2009 at age 50, described his selection to the Hall of Fame as the "crown jewel of my career."
"I didn't expect it," Martin said. "And I'm so grateful to the people who helped me get here. ... I have so many great memories of the sport. The class that I'm being inducted in, I'm humbled to no end."
Parks, named on 53 percent of the ballots, funded his racing operations through his successful real estate ventures in Atlanta. With mechanic Red Vogt tuning his cars, Parks dominated stock car racing in the 1940s and 1950s, teaming with Red Byron to win the inaugural modified title in 1948 and the first premier series championship in 1949.
Also included on Parks' roster of drivers through the years were Bob Flock, Roy Hall, Fonty Flock and NASCAR Hall of Famer Curtis Turner. Park, who has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for eight years, passed away in 2010 at age 96.
Childress, who was included on 43 percent of ballots, started his career as a driver but found considerably more success as an owner. In addition to the races and titles he won with Earnhardt, Childress holds 11 owner's championship trophies in NASCAR's top three series, second only to Hendrick's 14.
Childress performed the posthumous induction of close friend and driver Dale Earnhardt into the first NASCAR Hall of Fame class.
"I was really, really honored and proud that day," Childress said. "I didn't really expect to get in because I was told that the only way you were going to get in was to retire or be deceased -- and I sure liked the first one better, and I haven't got plans to retire yet either."
Landmark Award winner Earles had a simple business philosophy that made Martinsville Speedway one of the most pre-eminent short tracks in the country.
"The secret to success in our business is giving the customer what he wants," Earles said before his death in 1999. "When a man plunks down his money, he deserves the best. You try to make him comfortable, give him a great show and make sure he gets his money's worth. And we've always tried to do just that.
"Your customers are your greatest assets, and that will never change. You actually sell the customer a memory as much as a race. If their memories are good, they'll keep coming back."
Hendrick and Childress will field a combined seven cars in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FOX).