Jeff Gordon among seven to be inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

Daniel McFadin
NBC Sports

Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on March 13.

Gordon, who retired from full-time competition after 2015, will be among seven men inducted into the Hall of Fame at the The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The 2018 class is the 30th induction class for the institution. Its first induction class was in 1989

The MSHFA is the only American motorsports hall of fame that acknowledges cars, motorcycles, off-road, powerboats and airplanes.

That’s how to best explain why Gordon will be inducted with aviation pioneer and billionaire Howard Hughes.

“Our inductee classes are always intriguing but this year is even more so,” MSHFA President Ron Watson said in a press release. “Howard Hughes and Jeff Gordon in the same class – that is probably the best example we’ve ever had to illustrate the breadth of our inductee roll.”

Also included in the class are drag racing car builder John Buttera, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl G. Fisher, motorcycle great Fred Merkel, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion owner U.E. Pat Patrick and sports car legend Bob Tullius.

Here’s a look at all seven inductees:

  • John Buttera   “Lil John” built championship-winning dragsters, funny cars and pro stocks for the biggest names in the sport in the 1960s and ‘70s, including Danny Ongais, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Don Schumacher. The late Kenosha, Wisconsin, native moved to California after a chance meeting with 1990 MSHFA inductee Mickey Thompson at the 1969 U.S. Nationals. Characteristics of a Buttera car were simplicity, elegant design, a wicked stance and flawless craftsmanship. His cars not only looked amazing, they won races and championships. Later, Buttera built award-winning street rods and motorcycles and helped pioneer billet wheels and components. In 1987, on a shoestring budget, he redesigned a castoff Eagle chassis which qualified on the third row at the Indy 500, winning him the prestigious Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. During the 80s and 90s, Buttera designed parts and components for Edelbrock, Harley-Davidson, Bonspeed and others. He was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.

  • Carl G. Fisher – The late Carl Graham Fisher is best known as the man who created the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Earlier, the Greensburg, Indiana, native helped popularize the automobile by competing against Barney Oldfield and others in a series of lucrative exhibitions on Midwest fairground tracks beginning in 1902. He repeatedly urged automakers to support plans for speedways, where they could prove the reliability of their products. When that failed, he persuaded three business associates to join him in the 1909 construction of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, serving as its president until 1923. Among his lesser-known activities were his leadership roles in the Prest-O-Lite company, which produced headlights for almost every early American automobile; the transcontinental Lincoln and Dixie Highways; and the establishment of Miami Beach as a resort destination. Fisher was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1952.

  • Jeff Gordon  Jeff Gordon changed the face of NASCAR when he entered the sport in the 1990s. The Vallejo, California, native is third all-time in NASCAR Cup Series wins (93) behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). Gordon is fourth all-time in Cup titles with four (1995, ‘97, ‘98, 2001), behind seven-time champions Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon won three Daytona 500 (1997, ‘99, 2005), five Brickyard 400s and six Southern 500. He also set an “Iron Man” record with 797 consecutive starts. Gordon began racing quarter midgets at the age of 5 and by age 6 had won 35 main events. He was 1990 USAC National Midget Series champion, 1991 USAC Silver Crown champ and Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year. He was the Cup Rookie of the Year in 1993. Gordon was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.

  • Howard Hughes – One of the world’s richest men, the late Howard Robard Hughes Jr. formed Hughes Aircraft in 1932, set numerous records and built some of the world’s most advanced planes (Hughes H-1 Racer, H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” and XF-11). Born in Texas, Hughes showed mechanical aptitude early, building Houston’s first “wireless” radio transmitter as the age of 11. After dropping out of Rice University, he produced films, including the seminal flying film, Hell’s Angels(1930). In 1935, he flew his H-1 to a land plane speed record (352 mph). In 1937, he beat his own transcontinental record, (Los Angeles to New York), in 7:28:25. In 1938, he circled the globe in 91 hours, obliterating Wiley Post’s 1933 mark. His aviation awards included the Harmon Trophy (1936, ’38), Collier Trophy, FAI Bibesco Cup (1938), Octave Chanute Award (1940) and a 1939 Congressional Gold Medal “for achievements in advancing the science of aviation and thus bringing great credit to his country throughout the world.” He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973.

  • Fred Merkel  “Flying Fred” is an American road racing legend, winning two FIM Superbike World Championships (1988-89), three AMA Superbike Championships (1984-86) and setting multiple records along the way. The charismatic Stockton, California native started out riding on dirt but quickly moved to pavement. In 1983, he registered the first of his 20 AMA Superbike victories, a record that stood until 1998. In 1984 he won a record 10 Superbike races in a single season and his first of three straight AMA titles. That same year he teamed with fellow Honda rider Mike Baldwin to win the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race. In 1988, Merkel won the inaugural Superbike World Championship and successfully defended the crown the following year. Merkel returned to the U.S. in 1994 to ride for Kawasaki, then Suzuki – bikes considered past their primes but on which he nevertheless turned in scintillating performances. He retired at the end of the 1995 season after a crash at Firebird International Raceway. Merkel was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2001.

  • U.E. “Pat” Patrick  “Pat” Patrick made his fortune as a wildcat oilman and made his mark in open-wheel racing. His teams won three Indianapolis 500s and two IndyCar titles. Patrick began as a sponsor in 1967. By 1970 he was a partner in a team and by 1973 owned his own operation. His three Indy wins came with Gordon Johncock (1973, ‘82) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1989). The same duo brought him two championships, with Johncock in 1976 and Fittipaldi in 1989. Always looking for an edge, Patrick commissioned his own cars in the late 1970s, named Wildcats in deference to his roots. Patrick was also among the car owners who established the breakaway Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) sanctioning body. The directors, which included Hall of Famers A.J. Foyt, Jim Hall, Dan Gurney and Roger Penske, elected Patrick their first president. Patrick also led the effort to form the Indy Lights series in 1986. Today, Patrick still strives to innovate through alternative fuel-powered racing engines. He was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.

  • Bob Tullius  Tullius created the model for the modern American amateur sports car team and built Group 44 into one of the most successful ever. Group 44 was the first to combine manufacturer support (British Leyland), title sponsorship (Quaker State), immaculate preparation, ubiquitous branding (from transporter to cars to uniforms) and lots of speed. The two-time Trans-Am and four-time SCCA national champion began his career in the early 60s driving white Triumph TR4s wearing No. 44. Over the next 25-plus years, green-and-white Group 44 cars would net more than 300 victories in club racing, Trans-Am and IMSA GTP competition, plus capture 14 national titles and three Trans-Am championships, many of them with Tullius behind the wheel. The team’s self-built Jaguar GTP car won four races in 1983 against the dominant Porsche 935s — with Tullius finishing second in points — and the ‘86 season finale at Daytona. In 1988, the team ran Audi’s Trans-Am program, taking eight out of 13 races and the drivers’ championship for Hurley Haywood. Tullius was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2014.

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