By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame class was officially announced on Tuesday, with a trio of drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Stefanik, and Red Farmer, getting the call to have their names enshrined among the greats of the sport.
Since the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s first class in 2010, each subsequent class has comprised of five inductees, but starting with this year’s class, only three will now make the cut and will be joined by the Landmark Award winner.
The ballot is broken down into two groups, the Pioneer group, which is made up of individuals whose careers began in or before 1961, and the Modern Era group, which contains everyone else that has come into the sport in the years after 1961. One inductee was chosen from the Pioneer ballot, with two being selected out of the Modern Era ballot.
The two Modern Era drivers were from two different ends of the spectrum, with 15-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and seven-time Modified champion Mike Stefanik getting the call to the Hall of Fame among the 10 different individuals that made up the nominees.
Following in his late father’s footsteps, Earnhardt, Jr. carved his own path throughout his NASCAR career, earning two championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 1998 and 1999 before moving up to the Cup Series full-time in 2000.
Over the course of his career, Earnhardt won 26 Cup races, including the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014. After retiring from full-time driving in 2017, Earnhardt moved into the broadcast booth with NBC and has also found success on the ownership side of things, with his JR Motorsports team earning three championships in 2014, 2017, and 2018.
Ever the historian of the sport, Earnhardt noted how humbled he was to just be one of the nominees, let alone be chosen as one of the inductees into the Hall of Fame to join the sport’s elite.
“When the list of nominees came out a while back, I was so honored to be on that sheet,” Earnhardt said. “I’ll be honest with you, looking at the names on there, Harry Gant, Neil Bonnett, and a bunch of other guys, like Red Farmer, I couldn’t believe my name was on that sheet.
“I know those guys and their body of work and not just the Cup experience and the Cup wins, I know what they did to get to the Cup level. The wins in the Sportsman Series at the short tracks all under the NASCAR banner. So, there’s a lot more to a driver than that body of work that they have at the top level of the Cup Series. That’s obviously true because of Mike Stefanik being inducted himself, and Red Farmer.
“I was good with just being on the sheet and I was going to be happy with that. I’m 45 and relatively young in the grand scheme of Hall of Fame inductions, so I was going to be completely comfortable patiently waiting on whatever opportunity should my name ever get called.
“When my name was chosen, it was very emotional. Just sitting here now, it’s very emotional…there’s no greater pat on the back or tip of the cap than this from the industry, from the people that vote, who are sort of sprinkled throughout the industry and the sport, whether they’re drivers or journalists, NASCAR industry execs or whatever.
“It’s such a great feeling that someone feels like that I made an impact on the sport. I know my numbers. I know the wins. The lack of a championship. I know what my numbers are and I feel like that I was chosen based on that, but also on the impact off the race track and being an ambassador for the sport.”
While Stefanik tragically lost his life in an airplane crash last year, his legacy will live on in the Hall of Fame, with his on-track record speaking for itself. Stefanik’s nine championships – seven in the Modifieds and two in the East Series move him to the top of the list among most overall championships. Only fellow Hall of Famer Richie Evans has been able to attain that many titles, with the two drivers sharing the top spot.
In addition to his seven Modified championships, Stefanik also lays claim to series best marks in wins (74), pole positions (48), top-5 (223) and top-10 (301) finishes. When it comes to the Modifieds, Stefanik is in a class of his own, which helped him finally gain entry into the Hall of Fame in his third year on the ballot.
Of the five names on the Pioneer ballot, Red Farmer was selected to join the 2021 Hall of Fame class, earning 71% of the votes. Farmer has been a mainstay in NASCAR since the early days of the sport and even at age 87, he still climbs behind the wheel to race at places like the Talladega Short Track.
One of the original members of the Alabama Gang, Farmer has been able to capture somewhere north of 700 wins in all of his racing escapades over the years, along with three Late Model Sportsman championships from 1969 to 1971 and a Modified championship in 1956. Farmer made 36 Cup Series starts in his career, with a best finish of fourth on two separate occasions.
“I kind of had to catch my breath there for a minute, you know?” Farmer said of his reaction to the news he’d be joining the Hall of Fame. “I didn’t know whether I’d ever make it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This is the biggest honor that you’ll ever get.
“I started NASCAR in 1953 on the (Daytona) Beach Course, when I ran a Hudson down there on the beach and I ran two more races on the beach before they built the superspeedway. I ran the last one in ’58, so I’ve been in NASCAR for a long time. I got to run against a lot of the great drivers. I got the Pioneer award and being a pioneer, I’m proud of the pioneers.
“I had the honor of racing against Fireball Roberts and Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Lee Petty, Buck Baker, Tiny Lund, and all those guys from back in the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s. I wouldn’t take anything for that opportunity. Everybody says ‘Don’t you wish you were born 30 years later and be racing for all of this money?’ I said yeah, but those guys can’t have the honor that I had to be able to race against some of the great drivers that started NASCAR.”
Ralph Seagraves, a longtime executive with R.J. Reynolds Company, joins Earnhardt, Stefanik, and Farmer in the Hall of Fame after being named the winner of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Seagraves was a key figure in Winston becoming the title sponsor of the Cup Series between 1971 and 2003, helping propel the sport’s popularity on an upward trajectory.