Legacy of 2024 Hall of Fame class continues with future NASCAR generations

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The on-track accomplishments of Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and Donnie Allison put them in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but the race wins and championships are not the biggest takeaways from their careers. Instead, it was leadership, tenacity and the way they made an impact on the sport.

“Everything spoken about was our time together, those 17 years and us working together,” Johnson said about his and Chad Knaus' legacy in NASCAR. “Both of us, very humble beginnings and fell in love with a sport that we chased and chased hard. Dedicated everything to it.

“It offered a lot to us and provided a lot to us, but it’s not over.”

Johnson’s rise to the top level of NASCAR was the result of hard work. He printed business cards listing him as a professional race car driver and passed them to everyone in the Mooresville, North Carolina area. He shopped for sponsors after Alltel made the move to Ryan Newman’s team.

Knaus used a cold call to Ray Evernham to secure an interview at Hendrick Motorsports. He packed up his car and moved to North Carolina with the goal of becoming a crew chief before the age of 30. He achieved this by 28.

Johnson and Knaus rewrote the NASCAR record books after making their way to North Carolina. They won 81 races together and seven championships. They broke Cale Yarborough’s record of three consecutive championships and then added two more for good measure to set the unbeatable mark of five consecutive titles.

The wins and championships are a testament to this duo’s greatness but Johnson takes pride in the fact they aren’t done in NASCAR. Johnson continues to race part-time while helping run Legacy Motor Club. Knaus is the vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports.

“We're both now in completely different capacities and doing different things,” Johnson said. “(Chad’s) way older than I am and I'm kind of old. We're still doing it.”

The tenacity is not the only defining aspect of Johnson’s career. As Knaus sees it, the seven-time champion driver impacted an entire generation of drivers with his unique approach to practice, qualifying and the races during his career.

“If you look at what Jimmie was doing in the 2000s, that's when Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson and the guys, they would start to explore outside of what is the racing groove,” Knaus said.

“Jimmie was doing that. He was doing it — maybe not always extreme — but he was doing that way before anybody else ever was.”

Allison achieved his own success on the track. He won Rookie of the Year in 1967 despite only running a partial season. He won 10 races in his career while besting other Hall of Fame drivers.

Yet, drivers and crew chiefs recognize Allison for the impact he made on their lives and on NASCAR overall. Allison provided words of guidance to Tony Stewart, Trevor Bayne, John Hunter Nemechek, Ricky Hendrick and Joey Logano among many others.

Allison helped these drivers learn difficult tracks like Darlington. He helped them better understand the cars in their control, whether they were children or adults.

One of Allison’s biggest moves took place in the early 1980s. He pushed Larry McReynolds to move from Alabama to the Carolinas to accept an opportunity as a crew chief. This paved the way for a career that featured 23 Cup wins, including Dale Earnhardt’s lone Daytona 500 win.

“Everybody was telling me, ‘You’re out of your mind,’” McReynolds said about his crew chief opportunity during Friday night’s Fireside Chat at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “My mom and dad told me it was the stupidest thing that we've ever seen or heard. ‘You'll be back in six months, you'll be broke, you'll be hungry. We'll feed you but we're not going to bail you out of debt.’”

Allison, a neutral party, took a different approach. He told McReynolds that he needed to take advantage of his opportunity. Though Allison also told McReynolds that he needed to sleep with a checkered flag he won with Mike Alexander because it would be a long time before he saw another.

“Best advice he ever gave me because he knew what a tough road it was going to be,” McReynolds said.

The legacy of the 2024 class continued with trailblazer Janet Guthrie. The first woman to compete in a superspeedway race, Guthrie was awarded the Landmark Award for contributions to NASCAR.

Guthrie started 33 Cup races during her career and posted five top-10 finishes. She also paved the way for future female drivers. This list includes 2023 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award winner Lanie Buice, who joins NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program this season.

Former LA Times sportswriter Shav Glick earned the Squier-Hall Award for media excellence after a career lasting seven decades. Glick was instrumental in NASCAR's growth on the west coast as he provided coverage of the sport for the last 37 years of his career.