AND THE WINNERS ARE ...
BILL FRANCE SR.
It's hard to argue against the man who started it all finding his rightful place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's first class. For more than 20 years, Bill France Sr.'s word was the ultimate law in NASCAR. No one, but no one, dominated Bill Sr. in a battle of wills.
Darlington Raceway founder Harold Brasington (left) discusses plans for NASCAR's first superspeedway with Bill France Sr. (second from right). The first Southern 500, held in 1950, was a huge milestone for France and NASCAR. (Tom Kirkland/Smyle Media)
France talks with his son, Bill Jr. and team owner John Holman in 1969. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
A tall man, France (center, dark cap with stripe) towers over a crowd as he lays down the law in the days leading up to the inaugural NASCAR Grand National race at Talladega. Most of the sport's top drivers, including Richard Petty (facing camera, to left of France), boycotted the event due to concerns about safety. France held the race any way. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
Dale Earnhardt's rags-to-riches, blue-collar story struck a chord with millions of fans, some of whom loved him with every ounce of their beings while others detested his uber-competitive style. His seven championships tied Earnhardt with none other than Richard Petty for most in the sport's history. He was a champion taken from us far too soon.
Oh yeah. That's the look that pierced so many over the years. Here, Dale Earnhardt displays the gaze that only he could give after falling out of the 1980 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
Earnhardt became something of a business tycoon as his career skyrocketed, but it was always in his car that he felt most comfortable. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
The black GM Goodwrench-sponsored No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Earnhardt and owned by Richard Childress was one of the most iconic cars in NASCAR history. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
Junior Johnson began his driving career in the backwoods of Wilkes County, North Carolina hauling moonshine, learning skills behind the wheel and under the hood that would benefit him the rest of his life. Johnson could -- and did -- do it all in racing.
Junior Johnson is interviewed by Chris Economacki following a 1964 race. He would retire as a driver after just a handful of races in 1966 to concentrate on a career as one of the sport's top car owners. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
Johnson (left, in dark shirt) was definitely a hands-on car owner. Here, he's shown helping clean the windshield of the car he fielded for driver Bobby Isaac at Hickory Motor Speedway in 1966. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
When Darrell Waltrip (right) signed to drive for Johnson prior to the start of the 1981 season, Johnson had already won three consecutive championships in 1976-1978. Waltrip scored three more titles for Johnson, in 1981, 1982 and 1985. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
The King. 200 wins. Seven championships. Seven Daytona 500 wins. Twenty-seven wins in 1967, including 10 in a row. Enough said.
By 1971, Petty was already wearing the sunglasses that would be become his trademark. Today, it's almost hard to recognize Petty without his cowboy hat, sunglasses and smile. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
The No. 43 on the doors and roof and STP on the hood of a Petty-blue car with red highlights, Petty's was one of the most beautiful cars to ever roll off the starting grid. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
Getting set for the start of the 1986 Daytona 500, Petty was nearly two years past what would be the final win of his career. Nevertheless, Petty remained one of the sport's most popular figures. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
BILL FRANCE JR.
Bill France Jr. picked up where his father left off. Taking over at the beginning of what's now considered NASCAR's "modern era," the younger France reigned over an era of unprecedented growth in the sport. He also oversaw the early stages of the sanctioning body's expansion westward, to Texas, Phoenix and California.
Like his father, Bill France Jr.'s word was law in NASCAR. Some liked what he had to say, others didn't. If they did, fine. If they didn't ... well ... that was just tough. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)
France keeps a close eye on the competition as Harry Gant roars past at Rockingham in 1986. (Don Hunter/Smyle Media)