BAKERSFIELD, Calif., April 9, 2019 – Two Indianapolis 500 legends, one of the last century’s most versatile competitors and a pair of California stock car racing pioneers comprise the 2019 Heritage Class of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.
Bill Vukovich and Bob Sweikert, winners of three Indianapolis 500s between 1953 and 1955, are set for induction later this summer. They are joined by sports car champion George Follmer, two-hemisphere modified campaigner Marshall Sargent and Rick Henderson, NASCAR’s first West Coast national champion.
Their election brings to 11 this year’s West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame class of enshrinees. Induction ceremonies, presented by Gateway Motorsports Park, will be held June 20 at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif. The event serves as kickoff to Sonoma Raceway’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West weekend.
Previously announced 2019 inductees are NASCAR team owners Gary Bechtel and Bob Bruncati; the late Joe Gibbs Racing President J.D. Gibbs; four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon; NASCAR weekly series national champion Doug McCoun and NASCAR K&N Pro Series champion Eric Norris.
“Phenomenal is an appropriate word to describe the Class of 2019,” said Ken Clapp, chairman and CEO of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame. “Our Heritage inductees showed the nation and the world that some of racing’s greatest champions came out of California and the west. Their impact on the sport in the post-World War II era and the mid-20th century was nothing short of incredible.”
This year’s ceremonies mark the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame’s 16th inductions. The event is being held at the Meritage Resort and Spa for the seventh consecutive year. The Hall currently has enshrined 147 individuals, beginning with the 2002 inaugural class.
Biographies of the Heritage Class follow.
- One of America’s most versatile motorsport figures in the middle of the 20th Century. He collected points in Formula 1, won SCCA Can-Am and Trans-Am titles, won a U.S. Auto Club Championship Car race at Phoenix Raceway and posted top-five finishes in NASCAR’s premier series.
- Now 83, was born in Arizona, but moved with his family to Southern California shortly thereafter. He raced out of Arcadia, where he owned an auto dealership. He won SCCA’s United States Road Racing Championship in 1965, the organization’s Can-Am title in 1972, subbing for Mark Donohue in Roger Penske’s Porsche 917/10 and SCCA Trans-Am titles in 1972 (Javelin) and 1976 (Porsche).
- Follmer spent a single season in F1 – 1973 – driving Don Nichols’ UOP Shadow and collected a third-place finish at the Spanish Grand Prix.
- A year later, Follmer took the wheel of Bud Moore’s Fords in a 13-race NASCAR Cup schedule, logging a fourth-place finish in Atlanta and fifths at Dover and Rockingham.
- He competed in six NASCAR K&N Pro Series West events – including dirt track events in Gardena and Vallejo, Calif. Follmer also won an International Race of Champions (IROC) event at Riverside International Raceway.
- Petaluma, Calif. competitor was first west coast driver to win a NASCAR national racing championship, capturing the 1959 sportsman title.
- Henderson also won the State of California Championship in the same season, a title he previously won in 1957 and subsequently won in 1961-62.
- He won five additional track championships with three coming at San Jose (Calif.) Speedway, one at Kearney Bowl in Fresno, Calif., and one at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Speedway.
- Henderson competed in a trio of NASCAR premier series/Pacific Coast Late Model events at Oakland and Bay Meadows in San Mateo, Calif. in 1954 at age 22. Henderson passed away in 2001 at age 69.
- A true international star, the Salinas, Calif. native won an estimated 500 feature races in the United States and Australia during a 20-year racing career.
- Racing out of San Jose, starred in hard tops and supermodifieds and won the NASCAR State of California championship in 1960. He won 88 races at the old San Jose Speedway, a paved third-mile track, including 1960 and 1963 Johnny Key Classics.
- Sargent was the 1960 San Jose champion and won titles at Alviso, Salinas and Sacramento.
- Sargent also competed in the NASCAR premier series, qualifying for the 1961 Daytona 500. He had three top-10 finishes in 12 appearances, the best a seventh at Eureka, Calif. in 1957.
- Sargent won a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at the Gardena (Calif.) Stadium in 1957, driving the Howard Cams Chevrolet. Sargent died in 1990 at age 59.
- Born in Los Angeles on May 20, 1926, Sweikert grew up in Hayward, Calif., across the bay from San Francisco. At age 16, became a mechanic at a local Ford dealership. Following service during World War II he opened his own repair shop and built his first track roadster.
- In 1947, ran first race for prize money at Oakland Speedway in which he finished second. Won Bay Cities Racing Association indoor midget championship in 1949. Began racing sprint cars throughout United States.
- Attempted but failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1950 and 1951. Made first of five “500” starts the following year, finishing 26th with a broken differential.
- Won the 1955 “500” in the John Zink Special, leading 86 laps – the only laps he would lead at Indianapolis. In 1955 he captured the original “Triple Crown” – Indianapolis 500, AAA Big Car National Championship and the Midwest Sprint Car Championship, the only driver to do so.
- After finishing sixth in the 1956 “500,” Sweikert died in a sprint car accident on June 17, 1956 at Salem (Ind.) Speedway.
- Born on Dec. 13, 1918 in Alameda, Calif. Vukovich grew up in Fresno. The family immigrated from Yugoslavia, changing its surname from Yukurovich. Was known variously as the Mad Russian – a hard charger – and the Silent Serb – a cool demeanor.
- As a teen during the Depression, began driving the family Model T in farm fields and soon raced modified cars for fellow Fresnan Fred Gearhart. Raced midgets and suffered injuries that ultimately kept him out of World War II.
- Won United Racing Association’s West Coast midget championship in 1946-47 becoming the AAA National Midget champion in 1950. Attempted but failed to qualify for the 1950 Indianapolis 500 and dropped out of the following year’s “500” after just 29 laps.
- In 1952, driving for sportsman Howard Keck, Vukovich led on the 92nd lap, only to fall out with steering failure. Vukovich won the 1953 and 1954 “500s.” Setting a race speed record of 130.84 mph in 1954, Vukovich became the third driver to win the “500” back-to-back. Ran the Pan American Road Race in the fall of 1954 but failed to finish.
- Driving for Lindsey Hopkins, led the 1955 “500” by a large margin but was fatally injured when unable to avoid a multi-car accident on the 57th lap of the May 30 race.
For additional information about the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, please visit WestCoastStockCarHallofFame.com.
About the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame:
The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame was conceived in 2001 as a means of recognizing significant contributors and contributions to the sport of stock car racing. The mission of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame is founded to preserve history and heritage of the important role west coast stock car competitors have played in the sport’s development and continuation and to recognize, through annual enshrinement, of outstanding individuals and groups within the sport such as, but not limited to, designers, engineers, mechanics, drivers, race track owners, promoters, publicists and members of the motorsports media.
Owen A. Kearns