Story by Patrick Reynolds. Photo courtesy Devin Alexander.
I felt honored attending the induction ceremony for NASCARâ€™s 2015 Hall of Fame class. The sportâ€™s legendary names- Petty, Jarrett, and Wood, among many others- were present. When one has a connection to a particular inductee the excitement level increases.
Congratulations Rex White.
White was the 1960 champion of what is todayâ€™s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. White posted 28 victories over five seasons, finishing among the top-five in nearly half of his 233 starts. In 1998, White was named as one of NASCARâ€™s 50 Greatest Drivers. He is an extremely deserving Hall-of-Famer.
However it is Whiteâ€™s connection with RacersReunion that drew my eyes towards him a bit more.
RacersReunion is based in Myrtle Beach, SC and spearheaded by Jeff Gilder. The organization originated with the idea of preserving stock car racing history in photographs and written form on their home website. As the groupâ€™s membership multiplied, photographs and written posts chronicling all forms of auto racing grew by the thousands. RacersReunion advanced into a broadcasting network. This is the foundation of the Motor Week LIVE! radio program I host and the showâ€™s accompanying website. White has developed a nice friendship with the membership.
RacersReunion has organized and participated in former southern speedway reunions, honored veteran drivers at the Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville North Carolina, and held get-togethers at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. Just three weeks prior to being inducted into the NASCAR Hall, White joined the RacersReunion group at the Hall as a tourist and notably, as a friend.
Merely putting an event notice on the RacersReunion website brought the then, soon-to-be inductee, out for a Saturday morning social and casual walk through of the NASCAR Hall. White met the group in the lobby, toured the exhibits like any other visitor, and then ate lunch with the twenty or so friends. He spent time next to other race fans who may not have even known who White was. That is part of what made White, that era of star drivers, and the sport in general so popular- the men behind the wheel could have easily been fans in the grandstands.
Fast forward three weeks and White was back at the Hall being treated as a Hall-of-Famer. While he blended into the crowd as a visitor with RacersReunion, White stood out amongst his peers at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony and in his own manner, stole the show.
The 1960 series champ was introduced by the 2014 series champ, Kevin Harvick.
There was a bit of a delay and White did not appear on stage. A stage hand brought out a step for the 5â€™ 4â€ White to step up on and have better visibility over the podium.
A television camera shot caught White walking up to the stage from his front row seat. He stepped right up onto the box and to the podiumâ€™s microphone. This was unusual on the evening. Every other inductee stopped next to the podium and waited. The individual inducting them was then introduced to the audience and that person stepped up to the podium. In Whiteâ€™s case this was James Hylton. Also unique to this induction, Hylton stood by as White went right into speaking.
White did not read off of the teleprompter like several others but however from notes in front of him. He recalled his time working with, and his friendship to, 1952 National Modified Champion Frankie Schneider. Whiteâ€™s speech stalled a few different times as he lost his place-possibly like more people actually would if they got up to speak in front of a large crowd. Again, a quality that endeared White to fans, he connects to the people in the grandstands. White teased Hylton at the point he realized Hylton should have been speaking instead of him.
White then stepped back- and off- the small step and fell to the ground on his back. Harvick and Hylton helped White up and back to the podium, fortunately without injury.
Harvick become a source of podium leadership in the moment and said â€œweâ€™ve come to take control.â€ He officially made the ring presentation to White along with Hylton and brought that portion of the ceremony to order.
My fond focus on White does not detract away from any of the other four inductees. Witnessing all of them become enshrined into the NHoF was quite an honor.
Bill Elliott clearly remains a fan favorite with the loud cheers from the gathered fans in the audience.
Wendell Scott raced with honor, integrity, and humility during a different social time in the United States. The racial barrier he worked hard to break was a more than challenging task in the 1960s.
Joe Weatherly was inducted by his niece Joy Barbee. She emphasized what a practical joker he was and the laughter he generated around the pit area.
Tony Stewart introduced Fred Lorenzen and gave the Illinois-native â€œThe Golden Boyâ€ credit for breaking the Southern stock car driver stereotype. Lorenzen was one of the sportâ€™s first superstars and hailed from the Midwest. Lorenzen was in attendance and his son Chris spoke on his behalf.
Longtime Charlotte Observer NASCAR beat writer Tom Higgins was the recipient of the Squier-Hall Award. Higgins is one of the most respected individuals in the NASCAR media
Lesa France Kennedy accepted the inaugural Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR on behalf of her grandmother, Anne Bledsoe France.
Whiteâ€™s NASCAR Hall of Fame induction had touches of imperfection, clumsiness, laughter, embarrassment, yet above all else, reverence. He was a popular figure in the grandstands during his driving time in part because he related so easily to the fans. He relates easily to the members of the RacersReunion online community. During his Hall acceptance speech he certainly related to so many people who are anxious about public speaking. At least some must have wondered to themselvesâ€¦ â€œwhat would happen to me if I were to step on stage?â€
In all scenarios, White is a common man. Except for when he was behind the wheel. His wins and championship are certainly not common. They are worthy of a Hall-of-Famer.
Witnessing White and the other nomineesâ€™ inductions into the Hall, and visiting with White and the RacersReunion community, was a privilege. The Hall-of-Famer is tall in character and as imperfect as the rest of us. His is a racer we can relate to.
The Hall of Fame ceremony and television host Krista Voda may have put it best. â€œWhen you get that jacket, that ring, in front of this crowd, in this roomâ€¦. you can do no wrong.â€
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Motor Week LIVE! Mondays 7pm ET/ 4pm PT onwww.racersreunionradio.com