Don’t just count stats.
If you do, you miss all the other magic.
Now by statistics alone, Jeff Gordon was the clear headliner in NASCAR’s 2019 Hall of Fame class. His four Cup Series championships and 93 career victories are largely unmatched in the history of stock car racing — few, if any, will ever meet or surpass those marks.
And that, certainly, bears immortalizing. It’s the reason Gordon, in his first year of eligibility, was voted into the Hall by earning 96 percent of the vote, the most of anyone in history.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
But that’s getting bogged down in the numbers, and that’s exactly the opposite of what Friday’s induction ceremony was all about.
Rather, it was about impact — about the lasting legacies of five men, five titans of the sport, and how their collective influence will be felt long after their names are enshrined in NASCAR’s ultimate hall.
There was no better example of that than Davey Allison, a 19-time Cup winner who tragically died in a helicopter crash midway through the 1993 season. Championships? No. But raw emotion, from Allison’s widow and two children? Absolutely yes. Especially when his son, Robbie, spoke of all he learned from a father he never truly got to know, both the applause and tears in the room were overwhelming.
And then there was Alan Kulwicki, who narrowly won the 1992 Cup championship in one of the sport’s closest-ever finishes. As an independent driver — his inductor, Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates, said Kulwicki spent less than $3 million during his title season — he set a standard for NASCAR perseverance. And like Allison, his unfortunate passing in 1993 does nothing to diminish his substantial legacy.
Then there were Jack Roush and Roger Penske, two of the most successful car owners in all of motorsports. Roush is the winningest owner in NASCAR history, with 325 victories across the sport’s three national series, and Penske recently got his landmark 500th victory across all divisions of motorsports, not to mention the 2018 Cup title with Joey Logano. Both the Cat in the Hat and the Captain, though, are far more than the collection of wins and championships they have accrued.
They have steered the sport over the past 30 years. They have introduced NASCAR fans to the likes of Logano and Brad Keselowski, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth, and handfuls of the sport’s most recognizable names.
The history of NASCAR, literally, cannot be written without those two men.
And then, last but certainly not least, Gordon. His career numbers on the track are one thing, but there is no quantifying his impact on NASCAR’s trajectory both past and present.
Gordon was NASCAR’s brightest star during its golden era, and he connected the gap between Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, to Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, and even to today’s drivers. His star helped NASCAR grow from a regional craze into a national industry, turning a Southern pastime into a true American industry.
“It’s just not possible,” Gordon said, “for me to put into words or express how much NASCAR means to me.”
So yes, the numbers for all five inductees are momentous. Historic, even.
But if you’re only counting numbers, you’re missing so much of what the NASCAR Hall of Fame is all about.
You’re missing the true magic.