AZUSA, Calif. – Eleven racing stars from historic and modern eras were enshrined in the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame before an audience of more than 300 in ceremonies held July 2 at the Azusa Greens Country Club in Southern California.
The induction brings the eight-year-old hall of fame’s membership to 94.
In addition, Mel Larson became the first honored by the hall for achievements on behalf of the motorsports community. The award, to be presented as appropriate in future years, will carry Larson’s name.
Two of the four living inductees – Allen Beebe of Modesto, Calif. and James “Jimmy” Smith of Newport Beach, Calif. – were present. Others inducted from the post-1970 era are Mike Chase of Redding, Calif. and Rod Osterlund of Plumas County, Calif.
Beebe is a longtime car owner who won the 2006 NASCAR K&N Pro Series championship. Smith is one of the pioneers of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and its 2005 championship owner. Chase won both K&N Pro Series and NASCAR Southwest Tour titles. Osterlund, with driver Dale Earnhardt, won the 1980 NASCAR Sprint Cup title. He is the only west coast owner to win a Sprint Cup crown.
Deceased inductees are Bob Caswell, Walnut Creek, Calif.; Bill “Tiny” Clinton, Los Angeles, Calif.; Duane Edwards, Southgate, Calif.; Mel Fernandes, San Leandro, Calif.; Joe Mangini Jr., Walnut Creek, Calif.; Gordon Martin, San Francisco, Calif.; and Herb Nab, Portland, Ore.
Caswell is a former driver. Clinton and Mangini were car owners. Nab was a championship crew chief and Daytona 500 winner. Fernandes is the first starter to be enshrined. Martin was a three-decade motorsports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
One of the event’s highlights was Nab’s induction, via videotape by NASCAR Hall of Fame member Junior Johnson. Nab was owner Johnson and Cale Yarborough’s crew chief in 1976-77 and won 91 NASCAR Sprint Cup races with Yarborough, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Fred Lorenzen and Bobby Allison.
Johnson related a never-before-told story of how Nab solved the Goodyear’s tire problems at Talladega Superspeedway by testing – without the tire maker’s knowledge – a tire without grooves. He then convinced NASCAR President Bill France Sr. to change to rules to allow “slick” tires.
“Anybody who he worked on their cars, they’d win,” said Johnson of Nab. “Ninety-nine percent of the time his was the fastest car.”
Hall of Fame members John Kieper and Hershel McGriff accepted Nab’s award.
“He was a really sharp mechanic and one of the first in the northwest to monkey with the chassis,” said Kieper. “He made a car go around a corner.”
Added McGriff, “He was outspoken. He’d tell anyone what he thought.”
Beebe, a San Joaquin Valley businessman, raced modifieds and stock cars until his son, Troy, was old enough to out-drive him.
“If I got a good finish, I had to work my tail off,” said the elder Beebe. “The first time Troy went out he was a second faster than I’d ever gone.”
The younger Beebe won many races for his father’s team and competed in NASCAR Sprint Cup until an accident at Watkins Glen International prematurely ended his career.
Beebe expressed greatest pride for the team’s 2006 title with driver Eric Holmes. The team never planned to run for the championship taking the season one race at a time. “We did it with one car, one motor and two full-time employees,” he said. “So we proved it could be done.”
Smith, a champion off-road racer and team owner, showed his prowess as a salesman – convincing NASCAR’s Bill France Jr. to sanction a series for racing pickup trucks on asphalt. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was formed in 1995 and Smith’s Ultra Motorsports competed in 273 consecutive races. He won the 2005 championship with Ted Musgrave and posted 36 victories, most by a non NASCAR Sprint Cup-affiliated team.
Thanks to Smith’s vision, the series became a conduit for west coast drivers, who historically had been overlooked at NASCAR’s highest levels. The series quickly became a feeder for west coast talent producing such stars as Mike Bliss, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday Jr.
“Most importantly, Jim’s vision created an opportunity for countless individuals and companies to become involved in NASCAR at a top level,” said board of directors member Owen A. Kearns, who inducted Smith. Kearns was manager of communications for the series from its debut through 2008 and for a brief period earlier this year. “Literally thousands of racing jobs have been created and continue to be filled thanks to a vision that came to Jim and his fellow off roaders sitting around a Baja (California) camp fire enjoying a few cold ones.”
Smith said, “To be here in this room, in front of past inductees means a great deal to me. These are the people I’ve looked up to my entire life.”
Hall member Parnelli Jones presented the now Mel Larson Award to his longtime friend Larson – former driver, promoter and marketer/public relations specialist extraordinaire. Jones won his first USAC race at the old Arizona State Fairgrounds mile track, an event that Larson promoted.
“He’s a great friend and ambassador to NASCAR and racing in general,” said Jones. “Mel, you’re a great guy.”
Larson called the occasion “the greatest evening I’ve ever had.”
Hall member and board of directors’ member Ken Clapp eulogized the late Les Richter, a hall member who passed away in June.
Master of ceremonies was Craig Armstrong, former general manager of the old Portland Speedway and current Iowa Speedway vice president.
The Hall, founded in 2001, memorializes significant contributors to the sport’s development and history – including designers, engineers, mechanics, drivers, race track owners, promoters, publicists and members of the motorsports media.
Nominations for the Hall’s next class will be forthcoming in early 2011 with induction tentatively scheduled for July of next year.