Each year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame sends a ballot to its nearly 150 voting members, consisting of racing officials and motorsports media. From the list of candidates, two are selected and announced on Founder’s Day, March 20. For the 2019 class, the list of potential inductees includes Dale Earnhardt Sr., Wally Dallenbach Sr., Dale Jarrett and Jacques Villeneuve.
In the past, participation in – or contribution to – the Indianapolis 500 was a major consideration for entry into the Hall of Fame. Traditionally, one honoree was selected from the 1970 or earlier race, with the second coming from races afterward. In 2018, however, the pool of candidates was broadened by considering those who competed at the Brickyard in something other than an Indy Car.
Nominee Dale Earnhardt Sr. never ran in the Indy 500, but the driver voted one of “NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers” competed in seven Brickyard 400s, including the inaugural running in 1994. Earnhardt won the event in 1995, just one of his 76 NASCAR Cup Series wins over the span of a 25-plus year career. He was series champion a record-tying seven times (along with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson), and amassed four International Race of Champions (IROC) series wins from 1990 to 2000. Killed in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt was posthumously voted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (2002), the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2006), the Automotive Hall of Fame (2006), and the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame (2010).
Wally Dallenbach Sr. at the 1975 Indianapolis 500. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Before Wally Dallenbach Sr. served as the competition director, and later, chief steward of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), he earned his stripes as a racer. Dallenbach began his professional driving career in stock cars in 1962, but raced in open-wheel and Indy Cars from 1965 to 1979, racking up 180 starts and five wins. Though he never won an Indy 500 in 13 starts, he came close in 1975, leading for 96 laps before retiring – 12 laps from the end in a rain-shortened race – with a burned piston. As CART’s chief steward, Dallenbach was renowned for his impartial rulings and his tireless efforts to make racing safer.
In 13 starts, Dale Jarrett won NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 twice, in 1996 and 1999, but his first victory is memorable in motorsports for another reason. At the race’s end, Jarrett and his Robert Yates Racing crew chief, Todd Parrott, walked out to the “Yard of Bricks” at the track’s start-finish line. Jarrett and Parrott knelt on the asphalt and kissed the bricks, initiating a tradition that now extends to winners of both the Brickyard 400 and Indy 500. This aside, Jarrett’s career in NASCAR was a memorable one, and in 24 seasons the North Carolina native amassed 32 wins and a series championship, in 1999. Also named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list, Jarrett was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014.
Jacques Villeneuve at the 1995 Indianapolis 500. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
By the time Jacques Villeneuve began racing Indy Cars in 1994, he’d already amassed five seasons worth of experience in Formula Three and Toyota Atlantic competition. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the Canadian driver nearly won the Indy 500 in his very first start, delivering a performance good enough for Rookie of the Year honors. He did win the race during his sophomore year, 1995, which saw Villeneuve earn three more victories and an additional three podiums on his way to a CART series championship. In 1996 he switched to F1, finishing second in points during his debut year and capturing the World Driver’s Championship in his second season. Villeneuve is one of just three drivers (with Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi) to win the CART series championship, the F1 championship and the Indianapolis 500, but a better testament to his versatility is this: Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya are the only drivers to have raced at the Brickyard in Indy Cars, Formula One cars and NASCAR Cup Series stock cars.
Following the Founder’s Day announcement of the chosen inductees, those selected will be inducted on May 23, during the annual Hall of Fame and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oldtimers Club dinner. For additional details, visit IndyRacingMuseum.org.