by Tom Jensen April 06, 2023
It’s a G thing: For some in NASCAR, greatness extended from one generation to another and even beyond.
For some folks, the love of NASCAR racing gets passed down from generation to generation like a treasured family heirloom. That’s true of racers, of people who work in the sport and fans alike.
Here at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we respect and honor each generation of heroes and legends who have competed in the sport and helped build it into what it is today. There were pioneers like NASCAR founder William H.G. France (NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2010), his son, William C. France (Class of 2010), and family members actively guiding the organization today.
Wood Brothers Racing, NASCAR’s oldest continually operating team, was founded by Glen Wood (Class of 2012) in 1950 and its cars were built and prepped for many years by Glen’s brother Leonard Wood (Class of 2013), with brothers Delano and Ray Lee on the pit crew. Today the race team – the family business – is run by second- and third-generation family members.
When viewed through a generational lens, one of the most impressive aspects of NASCAR’s success is that four families have produced father and son NASCAR champions, all of whom are represented in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, either through cars, artifacts or both.
The Petty family was both the first to produce multi-generational champions and the first professional sports family in U.S. history to have four generations of professional athletes. Lee Petty (Class of 2011), the patriarch of the Petty family, won three driving championships in the 1950s in what is today the Cup Series. Son Richard (Class of 2010) won seven driving titles in the 1960s and ’70s, while Lee’s other son Maurice (Class of 2014) was the team’s championship engine builder during that period. Richard’s son, Kyle, later raced, as did Kyle’s son, Adam.
All five members of the Petty clan, along with Richard’s cousin and crew chief, Dale Inman (Class of 2012) have artifacts in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. As part of our “Glory Road: 75 Years” exhibit, Richard and Adam both have cars on display. Richard has numerous artifacts on display in our Heritage Speedway, on the top floor of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Among the Lee Petty artifacts are his trophy and uniform from winning the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. Maurice’s first Mechanic of the Year trophy from 1964 is on display, as is a plaque recognizing Inman’s work for Richard’s record-setting 1967 season, when he won 27 races, including 10 in a row. Kyle is represented with a plaque from his victory at Richmond in 1986.
The Earnhardt family produced three generations of champions. Ralph Earnhardt won the NASCAR Sportsman Division championship in 1956, while son Dale won seven Cup Series titles from 1980 to 1994. Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried on the family tradition, capturing a pair of NASCAR Busch Grand National (now Xfinity Series) titles in 1998 and ’99. JR Motorsports, the team Earnhardt Jr. co-owns with sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick (Class of 2017) has three Xfinity owner championships as well.
In the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Dale and Dale Jr. each have cars on exhibit on Glory Road, and one of the elder Earnhardt’s black No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlos from 1988 is in the Hall of Honor display of his former crew chief and Class of 2023 inductee Kirk Shelmerdine.
In terms of trophies, there’s a 1958 North Carolina Sportsman Division trophy from Ralph in Heritage Speedway, as well as a 1987 Bristol Motor Speedway trophy from Dale and a 1998 Busch Grand National championship trophy from Dale Jr.
The Jarretts are another multi-generational family of champions. Ned Jarrett (Class of 2011) captured a pair of titles, the first coming in 1961, with the second four years later in 1965. Ned’s son, Dale (Class of 2014), won his Cup championship in 1999, when he drove for fellow Hall of Famer Robert Yates (Class of 2018). Once they quit driving, both Ned and Dale found considerable success working in television, where they shared their passion for and knowledge of NASCAR racing.
On display in the Hall of Fame’s Heritage Speedway is Ned’s 1957 Sportsman Division championship trophy, a fire suit from the 1960s and his trophy from the 1965 Southern 500, which he won by a record 14 laps. Dale also has a fire suit in Heritage Speedway from his Cup Series championship season of 1999, along with two artifacts from Talladega Superspeedway: a pole award from 2001, and the trophy from his final race victory in 2005.
Last but not least among our multi-generational NASCAR championship families comes the pride of Dawsonville, Georgia, the Elliott family. Bill Elliott (Class of 2015) was the 1988 Cup Series champion, and his son Chase captured the title in 2020. Both are well represented in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
In 1985, Bill was awarded a prize called The Winston Million, for winning three of NASCAR’s four majors that year: the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway) and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. In Heritage Speedway, we have the $1 million check Bill received after his Darlington victory, plus his race-winning engines from Talladega and Darlington. In addition, we have Bill’s pole award from Talladega in 1987, when he ran the fastest NASCAR qualifying lap ever, going 212.809 mph.
Chase Elliott is still early in his NASCAR career, which is represented at the NASCAR Hall of Fame by his championship trophy from 2014 in the NASCAR Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series. In addition, when Chase won the inaugural Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, in 2021, it was the 800th victory for Chevrolet in NASCAR’s top division. Elliott’s race-wining car from COTA is also at the Hall of Fame.