Humble beginnings couldn't slow eventual rise from 'Awesome Bill' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 will be inducted Friday night at 8 p.m. ET. on NBC Sports Network. CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Elliott arrived on the scene after the careers of his fellow 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame classmates had already come to an end. But the man who would become known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" for his exploits on the track has much in common with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White. The five will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame tonight. A familiar thread connects those who reside in the Hall, one that often includes humble beginnings, hardships and eventually success. RELATED: Every class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Elliott , 59, and his family are an integral part of that thread. George, the patriarch, ran a small building supply business in Dawsonville, Georgia. "A hole-in-the-wall deal," Bill says today. The elder Elliott also built race cars, helped other local racers and fielded entries in NASCAR as early as the 1960s. "Daddy carried cars to Daytona in the early '60s, he would carry two cars down there and run a Sportsman or a Modified or some kind of race," Elliott said. Box vans used in the family business served as transporters for the race cars. "He'd back the trailer down there to the loading dock and he'd load them up in the van trailers and carry them down there, then try to find a place to unload them,” Elliott said. "It was like the Clampetts went to Daytona." It wasn't much but as Elliott noted, it was a common sight among those who chose the stock car racing path at that time. "Back then, such a different way of doing things. Anybody could come show up at Daytona with some kind of race car," he said. "I think those are the things that I look back on and were so much fun early on. You go to our little garage down there, you could just throw something together. I remember going to one of the shops of one of the guys Daddy was helping. They were putting a '63 Ford together. They had taken a car out of the junkyard, were taking the interior out and welding the roll bar in it, getting it ready to go. But I mean it was just a stock '63 Ford. Whatever it came with, that's what it had. And those days are gone." Elliott made his first start in what is now NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series in 1976, driving for his family-run team that included brothers Ernie and Dan Elliott . But it wasn't until ’82, when the team was purchased by businessman Harry Melling, that Elliott became an "overnight success." By the time his career had ended (he made his last official start in 2012), Elliott had won 44 races, one series championship and was voted the series' most popular driver 16 times. His wins came on stages big and small -- few bigger than the Daytona 500 , which he won twice, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at rugged, old Darlington Raceway . RELATED: Read Bill Elliott's Hall of Fame capsule It was at Darlington that Elliott officially picked up another moniker, "Million Dollar Bill " when a Southern 500 win in 1985 earned him the Winston Million bonus. Elliott's move into stardom coincided with a rise in speed on the race track. Before the advent of restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, speed grabbed headlines. And no one went faster than Elliott , who ended his career with 55 pole positions. His qualifying mark of 212.809 mph at Talladega remains the fastest qualifying lap ever for a NASCAR event. But that feat wasn't the record that stands out in his mind, he said. "If I was outside looking in at my career, the biggest thing that impresses me was running 210 (mph) at Daytona in 1987," Elliott said. "I sat there and I watched Cale (Yarborough) try to run just 200 (in 1983) and turn over off Turn 4. We came back, ran 205 in '85 and we came back in '87 and stepped it up five more mph average. That was with no technology. That was just the luck of the draw and the things we did at that point in time; that's what really impressed me. "When I first went there I think I ran 171 or something and I thought, 'Man I'm out of control. How can you run any faster?' " Elliott's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame comes just as his son, 19-year-old Chase, prepares to begin his own Sprint Cup career. It was announced earlier this week that Chase would run five Sprint Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports this season, then take over the organization's No. 24 Chevrolet when four-time champion Jeff Gordon steps down at year's end. RELATED: Gordon: Chase is the 'total package' The younger Elliott didn't witness a lot of his father’s exploits as they took place. But he's relived them through video replays. "There were a lot of races where he took it to 'em, man," Chase Elliott said. "He wore them out. That's cool to look back on and see. "I have a lot of respect for what he has done and for what they did. To do it with what they had (at the time) was very, very impressive. I think a lot of people let that slip by. "They were kind of on their own there in Georgia and a lot of people don’t realize that. They didn’t have a lot of help; they didn’t have a big team. It was just them. It’s very, very impressive to see what they were able to do."
1988 champion gets inducted, says Chase's Cup news was the bigger deal Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live MORE: Five inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame " Chase scores Cup ride CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bill Elliott often outran the competition, but recently the former NASCAR premier series champion has been trying to outrun his emotions. It's been quite the past few days for Elliott , the 1988 champ, and his family. On Thursday it was announced that his son, 19-year-old Chase, would make his first start in the Sprint Cup Series later this year. On Friday, the elder Elliott was one of five drivers inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His son landing the ride with Hendrick Motorsports , where he will take over a car perhaps even more famous than that of his father was the bigger deal, Bill Elliott said. "Let me tell you this little story," Elliott offered after he, along with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White were officially inducted into the Hall. "I called Chase – I think it was Wednesday night and I was talking to him and he said 'guess who called me?' "I said 'I don't know.'" Told it was someone named Jeff, the name didn’t register. "He said, ' Jeff Gordon called me.' He was so excited that Jeff Gordon had picked up the phone and called him," Elliott said. "… That meant so much to him (to talk about) what his next step and what his next role was going to be." Elliott made the No. 9 Ford Thunderbird one of the most recognizable cars on the track during his career. In addition to his championship, he won 44 times in premier series competition. He, along brothers Ernie and Dan, set qualifying records likely to remain unbroken as well. Gordon, scheduled to end his driving career at the end of '15, has won 92 times and four championships with Hendrick Motorsports . For fans that began following the sport in the early '90s or later, Gordon’s brightly painted No. 24 Chevrolet quickly became just as recognizable and even more successful. He's won on nearly ever track where the Sprint Cup Series competes, and several that are no longer on the schedule. And now Chase Elliott prepares to step into the ride once Gordon steps aside. MORE: Gordon calls Chase the 'total package' As much as the sport has changed since Bill Elliott arrived on the scene in the latter part of the '70s, one thing has remained constant – the cycle of drivers that show up, make their mark and eventually depart. Gordon is making plans to exit. Elliott's son Chase is preparing to arrive. Not much different than when he and his family first showed up, the elder Elliott said. "When I came in you had Cale (Yarborough), David Pearson, all those guys kind of winding down," Elliott said. "Then I watched Richard (Petty) retire and now it's turning … again." At that time such changes didn't catch his attention, he said, explaining that with a limited budget and much to learn, "all I cared about was just trying to go race. "There was so few of us, we really didn't worry about anything else," Elliott said. "It was kind of like you were driving down the road with blinders on, you were really oblivious to anything else going on." PHOTOS: Best moments from the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony His son understands what lies ahead, Elliott said on a night he was honored for what took place in the past. "He's an incredibly good race car driver, and I'm not saying it's because he's my kid," Elliott said. "… I've said all along he's better than I ever thought about being." Maybe so, but the father was no slouch. Among his 44 victories are four that came in the in the twilight of his career before he began to scale back his racing schedule. Driving for Ray Evernham, who had helped guide Gordon to three of his four titles, Elliott won at Homestead, Pocono, Indianapolis and Rockingham. "There aren't many names that transcend a sport," Evernham said. "If you're not even a baseball fan you know the names Ruth or Mantle; even the most casual football fan knows Lombardi and Unitas. "In our sport, in motorsports, they know Foyt and Andretti and Earnhardt and Petty and even casual fans know Bill Elliott because of the things he's done. "It's an honor to have him as a friend, and it's been a great ride." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Bill Elliott talks about the common bond of hard work and dedication possessed by all NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees.
NASCAR XFINITY Series champ will run five Sprint Cup races in 2015 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Elliott's 2015 preview " Gordon says final full-time season to be in 2015 CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before Thursday afternoon's presentation from Hendrick Motorsports , five director's chairs stood empty on the stage, one earmarked for team owner Rick Hendrick and the rest for his four drivers. One chair rested to the side, awaiting its moment to join the group. In the same way, Chase Elliott has waited for his seat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. And now his time is just around the corner. Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Elliott , the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, will join the sport's premier circuit full-time in 2016 after running a partial schedule of five races this season in the No. 25 Chevrolet. In making the step forward, Elliott , 19, will take over the Hendrick-owned No. 24 Chevrolet made famous by four-time champion Jeff Gordon , who announced last week that this will be his last full-time season in NASCAR's top division. Elliott said he was informed of his impending promotion to Sprint Cup by a phone call from Hendrick, shortly after Gordon made his intentions known to his team. As big a shock as news of Gordon's decision was, Elliott said the piece of the story involving him was an even bigger stunner. "That's a phone call I was not expecting that day. That is for sure," Elliott said during the final leg of the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "I didn't know anything about Jeff's announcement until that morning and to have Mr. Hendrick tell me that he wanted me to be that person to go in and drive that car whenever Jeff got done was just an unbelievable phone call -- one that I was not expecting and something that I couldn't have dreamt happening." News of Elliott's plans comes one day before the induction of his father, Bill Elliott , into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The elder Elliott , the 1988 champion and a 44-time winner in NASCAR's premier series, and his wife, Cindy, have offered support for his son's racing efforts through the Late Model ranks, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and eventually the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series -- a crucial, thoughtful upbringing that weighed heavily into Hendrick's decision to sign the youngster to his team's developmental driver program in 2011. All the while, the younger Elliott's quick ascent to stock-car fame rejuvenated their small hometown community of Dawsonville, Georgia, which signaled each accomplishment with a shrill blare from siren mounted atop the Dawsonville Pool Room, an area institution and haven of Elliott racing memorabilia. Now the community -- including the father best known as "Awesome Bill " -- has two reasons to be proud on consecutive days. RELATED: Gordon says No. 24 team in good hands " See how the No. 24 torch was passed "No way," Bill Elliott told NASCAR.com when asked if he thought this moment would come this soon in his son's career. "I mean, you hoped it, you wished it, but for it to actually happen, it's like, 'Wake me up. Am I dreaming or what?' Chase has done a great job, and Mr. Hendrick has just … the man's done everything he said he would do, and I have never met anybody with the integrity that man has." While the younger Elliott has an appreciation for this father's accomplishments, he's been able to create a new chapter to the family's racing tradition. Now Elliott inherits another legacy, following a legend who has helped forge stock-car racing's identity and direction over the course of a decorated 22-year career in the sport's top series. Despite both of those rich connections to the racing history, Elliott insists he'll be his own man as he makes his way to the sport's top levels. It's a heady, fresh approach that has commanded Gordon's respect as he prepares to hand over the wheel of the No. 24. "He's light-years ahead of where I was at 19," Gordon said. "I think Bill , being as experienced as he has been in winning races and the championship, and then Cindy and Bill together, I just think they did an amazing job with this young man, the way he handles himself, the things that he thinks about and the things that he says as well as what he does on the track. He's the total package, and I didn't have that at 19, I didn't. I definitely had a lot of growing up to do, and the Cup Series will help you grow up in a hurry. That's why I'm so excited to watch what he does." RELATED: Gordon calls Elliott the 'total package' " Elliott's championship timeline To help Elliott get acclimated to his first taste of NASCAR's big leagues, the team announced a five-race schedule for 2014. The second-generation driver is slated to make his Sprint Cup debut March 29 at Martinsville Speedway , then compete April 25 at Richmond International Raceway , May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , July 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , and Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway . Kenny Francis, who moved to the role of vehicle technical director for Hendrick in the offseason, will serve as crew chief for Elliott's five-race slate this season. In 2016, Elliott will work with longtime Hendrick crew chief Alan Gustafson, a 19-time winner in NASCAR's premier series who has been atop the pit box for Gordon for the last four seasons. While Gustafson has prepared himself for Gordon's last full-fledged shot at NASCAR's top prize, he's also embracing what the future holds with Elliott in 2016. "With his age and the maturity, you just see a tremendous amount of potential," Gustafson said. "That's the thing that I just think about is the opportunity to really do some amazing things." MORE: See the paint scheme for Elliott's 2015 Cup car For Ray Evernham, now a consultant for Hendrick Motorsports ' competition department, Elliott's move carries extra meaning on several levels. Gordon's growth into a championship-winning driver came with Evernham calling the shots as his first crew chief on the No. 24 team in NASCAR's top series. Evernham later left Hendrick to form his own team, leading the effort to bring Dodge back to NASCAR with Elliott -- driving his familiar No. 9 -- as his lead driver. To see all those bonds overlap, ultimately leading to Thursday's announcement, brought his involvement full circle. "For me, it's really a special thing because the two cars that have been special in my life are the 24 and the 9," Evernham told NASCAR.com, "and now rolling those together -- the Elliott family, the Gordon family and the Hendrick family -- it's just amazing when you think of the racing heritage there. … He's surrounded by a lot of people who believe in him that have years of racing experience." For 2015, Elliott's Sprint Cup entries will carry No. 25, with NAPA -- his XFINITY Series sponsor -- as the primary backer. The team said sponsorship for 2016 would be announced at a later date. When Gordon announced last Thursday that his days as a full-time driver were coming to an end, speculation on a replacement immediately centered on Elliott , who became the youngest champion in the NASCAR XFINITY Series during his rookie year in 2014. Elliott is entering his second season with JR Motorsports, a team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr . with Hendrick affiliations. RELATED: Junior on Elliott's 2014 success Both Hendrick and Earnhardt said last season that the timing seemed right for Elliott to advance to the top rung in the NASCAR development ladder with a limited Sprint Cup campaign in 2015 before making the full-time jump. The arrangement announced Thursday allows Elliott to make that move while benefiting from another year of seasoning in the XFINITY Series for JRM. Despite Elliott's age, Hendrick said watching his poise and ability to lead his team gave him no hesitation about making that fateful phone call, just one week ago. "I am amazed at the maturity he has," Hendrick said. "I just can't believe some of the things that come out of his mouth. When you think he's going to answer it one way, and he just comes up with something totally personal that's from inside. He is so comfortable in his skin. He doesn't feel the pressure of being an Elliott , and he doesn't feel the pressure of being behind Gordon. He wants to be Chase Elliott , not Bill Elliott , not Jeff Gordon . You don't have to talk to him very long to figure that out." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Bill Elliott reflects on the road paved by those before him, and the one he and a small team from Dawsonville, Georgia paved during his NASCAR career.
Will the 2014 champ's momentum continue into 2015? RELATED: Complete schedule for driver previews Team: JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: First Wins: Three (Texas in April; Darlington in April; Chicago in July) Strides: Won a pole (or two)? Check. Won a race (or three)? Check. Sunoco Rookie of the Year? Check. Series champion? Absolutely. Elliott , 19, was the surprise story of the year for the Nationwide (now XFINITY ) Series, becoming the first driver to win the championship in his rookie season. The son of 1988 premier series champion Bill Elliott , the youngster drove more like an experienced veteran than a fresh-faced kid with no prior starts in the series. "There were a lot of points in the season when people said 'he's a rookie, he's going to make a mistake here or there' and he didn't," teammate Regan Smith said. "He drove like a veteran and it was great for him and great for JR Motorsports to see that." As surprising as his first career win was at Texas, perhaps more impressive was following up that victory just a week later at Darlington, one of the series' most difficult tracks, with a second consecutive win. In addition to his three victories, Elliott ended the season with 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes. His average finishing position of 8.0 was No. 1 among those running full-time in the series. Elliott was always quick to point to the efforts of others. "I feel like all these people along the way have made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am," he said. "It's been an honor to work with these guys ... not just this year, but all along the way. It's been fun." Setbacks: Elliott didn't always shine -- his best finish on the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega was 15th. But for the most part, he ran with and often outran Sprint Cup drivers making the occasional stop in the series. Quoteworthy: "He's so much better than I ever through about being." -- Bill Elliott What's next: With JRM's ties to Hendrick Motorsports , the road to a ride at the Sprint Cup level seemed to clear a bit with the recent announcement of Jeff Gordon 's pending retirement. Before that either does or doesn't take place however, Elliott will spend another year in the XFINITY Series. Greg Ives, who served as crew chief, has moved up to Sprint Cup to be paired with Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a co-owner of JRM. Veteran crew chief Ernie Cope will now be paired with Elliott . "Winning more races and not letting the same people beat you every week ... is the biggest thing," Elliott said of the '15 season. "Keeping it about as simple as possible. ... I see things I can improve on personally and stepping up and not letting people out‑drive you every week because I feel like that's happened a lot this year. "I'd like to minimize those weekends, and I feel like we have the cars, the teams, the motors, the group of people to go and contend with the best. We've just got to put it all together ... not talk about it anymore and go do it." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Inductee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015
Annual ceremony pays tribute to five racing legends RELATED: More NASCAR Hall of Fame coverage HALL OF FAME PRESENTATIONS: Elliott " Lorenzen " Scott " White " Weatherly CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On Friday night, in a particularly moving ceremony, the NASCAR Hall of Fame welcomed one of the most significant classes since the induction of its inaugural class in 2010. Perennial most popular driver Bill Elliott headlined a five-member class that also included NASCAR trailblazer Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver ever to win at NASCAR's highest level and the first ever to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame; Fred Lorenzen, a supremely talented driver who won 26 of his 158 career starts; two-time champion Joe Weatherly, who won 25 races in NASCAR's premier series and 101 races in the NASCAR modified ranks; and 1960 champion Rex White, who started 233 races and finished in the top five in 110 of them. Introduced by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart , Lorenzen, from Elmhurst, Illinois, was one of the first "northern" drivers to gain acceptance in what was, at the time, a predominantly Southeastern sport. Though Lorenzen never competed in more than 29 races in a single season, he won 26 times in 158 starts, a remarkable winning percentage of 16.46. "One of the most pivotal moments of dad's career came on Christmas Eve 1960, when Ralph Moody called dad and asked him to drive for Holman Moody," said Lorenzen's son, Chris, in accepting induction on behalf of his father. "Soon after, there he was at Darlington driving his Holman Moody Ford signature pearlescent white No. 28 to Victory Lane ... Dad always said, 'The sky is the limit, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.' That has been dad's most important saying in life, and he certainly lived by it." Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon introduced the late Wendell Scott, whose Dec. 1, 1963 victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, stands as the first win by an African-American driver in NASCAR's top series. In a career that included 495 starts, Scott recorded 147 top-10 finishes. "We have been led to this great celebration and enshrinement tonight because of the character, tenacity and determination of Wendell O. Scott Sr.," Scott's son, Franklin, said in accepting induction on behalf of his father. "I believe dad envisioned a night such as this comprised of his family, friends and fellow competitors. Unfortunately, the love of his life, Mary Scott, is not here physically because of health reasons, but her spirit is definitely here in a very profound way. "The legacy of Wendell Scott depicts him as one of the great vanguards of the sport of NASCAR racing. Daddy was a man of great honor. He didn't let his circumstances define who he was. The Bible teaches that before a person can have honor, they must first have integrity and humility. In addition another one of his great attributes was perseverance. There were two words that were forbidden for us to use growing up in the Scott household. Those words were 'can't' and 'never.' "In spite of the many obstacles, struggles and hardships he faced, he persevered. What seemed to be insurmountable odds to others, daddy considered it an opportunity. His intestinal fortitude to follow his dreams has placed him among the greatest to ever compete in the sport he loved -- racing." Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick took the dais to introduce the third new member of the Hall of Fame, 1960 champion Rex White, who collected 28 victories and 36 poles in his 233 starts in NASCAR's premier series. "Words can't express how honored I am to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with the other Hall of Fame members, especially my 2015 fellow inductees," White said. "No driver wins a championship by himself, and nobody enters the Hall of Fame alone. I am the symbol of a team effort. From my first race in 1953 until now, this effort spans 62 years." Brad Keselowski , 2012 NSCS champion introduced Joy Barbee, niece of the late Joe Weatherly, who won championships in 1962 and 1963 before a crash in the fifth race of the 1964 season, at Riverside (Calif.) Raceway took his life. Known as the "Clown Prince of Stock Car Racing" for his gregarious nature and proclivity for practical jokes (rubber snakes were a favorite), Weatherly won 25 races and 18 poles in 229 starts. "Being the youngest of seven, I was only two-and-a-half when Joe was killed, so I really don't remember him at all, but what I can share with you is a memory that I will hold forever in my heart and that is a memory about the love of a brother and a sister, Joe and my mother Betty. "I feel like I knew Joe through her, through the stories she would tell us as kids, and the passion you could hear in her voice when she spoke of him ... I must say that standing here tonight is such a great honor, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be here accepting this award on behalf of my Uncle Joe." Kasey Kahne , who took over the No. 9 car from Elliott , introduced his racing hero, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville," the most prolific winner of the 2015 Hall of Fame class with 44 victories in NASCAR's top series, 16th on the all-time list. Elliott won the Cup championship in 1988 after becoming the first driver in series history to claim the Winston Million in 1985 with victories in the Daytona 500 , Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway and Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway . Champion crew chief Ray Evernham performed the official induction of Elliott , who advanced to NASCAR's highest level from a small family operation in Dawsonville, Georgia. "It's just an honor to be here, guys," Elliott said. "If you look on the walls here at the people who are already inducted into this great Hall of Fame, it's just incredible ... One thing that I look at out here today, guys, is one common bond with all these racers is the hard work and the dedication all these guys had. "And for me to stand up here among the guys that have already been here is totally incredible." Anne Bledsoe France, wife of founder and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill France Sr., was honored with the first Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Familiarly known as "Annie B," Anne B. France handled the business end of NASCAR racing while "Big Bill " grew the sport into a national phenomenon. Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation, accepted the award on behalf of her grandmother. Renowned Charlotte Observer racing writer Tom Higgins received the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, joining Ken Squier, Barney Hall and the late Chris Economaki. NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes aptly referred to the quartet as the "Mount Rushmore" of motorsports journalism.
Elliott , Lorenzen, Scott, Weatherly, White officially enshrined