Dale Earnhardt Jr., who famously exclaimed 'It's Bristol, Baby!' leads NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2021
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who literally grew up around Bristol Motor Speedway watching the conquests of his iconic father Dale Sr. and coined the famous phrase "It's Bristol, Baby!" after his thrilling sweep of Cup and Xfinity victories at the 2004 Night Race, led today's NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2021.
Earnhardt Jr. will be inducted officially alongside his classmates Red Farmer and Mike Stefanik and the Landmark Award winner Ralph Seagraves during the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony next year in Charlotte, N.C. as part of the 12th induction class.
"It was great to see my face pop up on that screen, I gotta say," Earnhardt Jr. told the crew on NBC's NASCAR America show following the announcement. "I was also understanding of the fact that I am young compared to a lot of the people waiting to get in the Hall of Fame. The nerves finally set in when the announcement was being made and it was extremely emotional to be voted in. I succeed off affirmation and cheerleading. There's no better affirmation from your peers than this honor. It's a great pat on the back for all the hard work you put in for a lot of years and the tip of the cap from industry and the voting panel to think they have that respect and feeling for you. It really hits you in the heart.
"It hasn't even sunk in yet," he continued. "It's going to be a lot of fun reflecting on the past and get to share some great stories. It should be a great time. I'm feeling great about this experience and looking forward to what lies ahead to the evening when the ceremony will be held. I'm looking forward to Red Farmer's speech. What great stories he can tell. I was also happy to see Mike Stefanik's name pop up there. I'm looking forward to it."
For more than 20 years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been a fixture at Bristol Motor Speedway, both as a kid playing in the pit areas and hanging out in Victory Lane with his dad, and then years later as a driver himself taming the all-concrete high banks.
"The Earnhardt name is synonymous with Bristol," said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at Bristol Motor Speedway. "Whether it's celebrating in Victory Lane with his pops, watching his father's famous bump-n-run on Terry Labonte in 1999 or celebrating his historic sweep here at the Night Race in 2004 with his memorable Victory Lane celebration, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been an important part of Bristol Motor Speedway history. We certainly congratulate him on being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He has meant so much to the sport of NASCAR. It's a well-deserved honor."
During his racing career that spanned more than two decades, Earnhardt Jr. earned 26 career Cup Series victories, including two Daytona 500 wins, and claimed two Xfinity Series championships as a driver. He has won three Xfinity Series season titles as a team owner with JR Motorsports and today continues to be involved in the sport as a lead race analyst for NBC's NASCAR Cup Series coverage. He was voted NASCAR's most popular driver 15 times.
His thrilling Victory Lane celebration at Bristol when he swept both the Xfinity and Cup races during America's Night Race in August 2004 was an epic moment in his career. After winning the Xfinity Series race the night before, Earnhardt Jr. became the first to double-up in a single weekend at The Last Great Colosseum.
The moment was stamped in time by a jubilant Earnhardt, who climbed out of his red No. 8 Chevy in BMS Victory Lane, covered in sweat from the hot August night, and when NBC reporter Bill Weber asked the young driver why the win was so special, he let out a roar that sent sound waves blasting across the Tennessee hills all the way to Nashville and back.
"It's Bristol, Baby!" Earnhardt joyously exclaimed. And NASCAR nation went wild.
"I never thought I would win a Busch race and a Cup race in the same weekend at Bristol," Earnhardt said. "Good Lord."
"I'm just really, really, really, glad that I won tonight, because this is like the Daytona 500," Earnhardt continued. "This is like winning at Charlotte, or like winning in Atlanta. These are the tracks, the historic tracks that have been around for years that are at the top of my list (of places) I want to win."
Some of Earnhardt Jr.'s other favorite Bristol moments include making his first Bristol start in the Xfinity Series in 1997 in a car owned by local Bristol businessman Ed Whitaker; Competing side by side against his father in the Cup Series at Bristol for the first time in 2000; Joining the crew on the set of ESPN College GameDay on location at BMS prior to the record-setting Battle at Bristol college football game in 2016; having an annual automotive education scholarship established in his name by BMS officials and receiving a Chevy stock car with a distinct wrap celebrating Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Nation Appreci88ion Tour from BMS officials with signatures from all of his Bristol fans that he proudly keeps in his famed personal race car graveyard.
"I have a lot of fond memories there," Earnhardt Jr. said prior to his final start at BMS in 2017. "I'm glad I've got a trophy from that race track and that will be one of the tracks that I miss running at more than some others for sure. I love short track racing. It's probably what I love the best about this sport and it's one of the few that we get to run on. It's such a unique race track, shape, banking and all that. There is nothing that compares to it. I will always feel special about it."
Earnhardt Jr. earned 76% of the modern era ballot votes, while NASCAR Modified standout and former Bristol winner Stefanik was second, earning 49%. Ricky Rudd and Neil Bonnett were third and fourth respectively. Farmer, a member of the famed Alabama Gang, received 71% of the pioneer era ballot votes. Hershel McGriff was second.
Seagraves, a mentor to the late BMS president Jeff Byrd while at R.J. Reynolds, was named the Landmark Award winner. Janet Guthrie and Bristol native Mike Helton, who has served as a top NASCAR executive for more than two decades, were also nominated for that award. Under Seagraves leadership, RJR helped a number of race track operators refurbish their facilities, many of which were short tracks that ran developmental NASCAR Winston Racing Series races.