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Auto Racing Hall of Fame becomes Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, announces 2018 inductees

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Jeff Gordon celebrates Brickyard 400 win number five in 2014. Photo copyright and courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Founded in 1952 as the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the institution created to honor motorsport greats with a significant history at the Brickyard has a new name: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. It has a broader scope, too, now honoring those who’ve raced at the Speedway in series other than Indy Car, a change reflected in 2018 inductees Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Jeff Gordon was born in 1971 in Vallejo, California, and began racing quarter midget cars at the age of five. Within a year, he’d won 35 main events and set five track records in the process, displaying his innate talent behind the wheel of a racing car. By age 16, when he became the youngest USAC-licensed driver in history, his winning resume extended to karts and sprint cars as well.

Insurance regulations limited the young star’s driving opportunities on the West Coast, so Gordon’s family relocated to the racing-friendly state of Indiana, where Gordon attended Tri-West Hendricks High School. At age 19, Gordon took USAC’s National Midget title, backing it up the following year with the USAC Silver Crown Series Championship. Competition in NASCAR’s Busch Series came next, and after two seasons Gordon made the jump to NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series.

Over a 24-year NASCAR Cup series career, Gordon amassed 93 wins, including five at the IMS’s Brickyard 400, along with four Cup series championships. A perennial fan favorite, Gordon hung up his Nomex at the end of the 2016 season, taking a break from retirement in January 2017 to compete in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Driving for Wayne Taylor Racing with teammates Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor, and Max Angelelli, Gordon helped to deliver a win in the endurance racing classic.

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Tony Stewart, following his second Brickyard 400 win in 2007. Photo copyright and courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indiana native Tony Stewart began his career racing karts, capturing the World Karting Association championship in 1987, at age 16. Progressing to midget cars, Stewart earned USAC Rookie of the Year honors in 1991, back-to-back USAC Midget series championships in 1994-’95, and a USAC Silver Crown Series championship in 1995. His trio of 1995 USAC Championships (Silver Crown, Sprint and National Midget) made Stewart the first driver to capture the sanctioning body’s “Triple Crown,” at age 24.

In 1996, Stewart began racing for Team Menard in the newly formed Indy Racing League, earning three wins, seven podiums, eight pole positions and a series championship (during the protracted 1996-’97 season) while also driving in NASCAR’s Nationwide series. Though he never won an Indy 500, Stewart has five starts (including one from pole, in 1996) and three top-ten finishes in the Memorial Day weekend institution.

In 1999, Stewart made the jump from open wheel to stock cars, joining NASCAR’s Cup Series full-time. Here, he’d ultimately amass 49 race wins (including two in the Brickyard 400) and three series championships (including one as a drive and team owner, in 2011) before retiring at the end of the 2016 season.

Each year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame voting committee – consisting of past inductees, race officials, and journalists – narrows down the pool of proposed candidates to select two names. Past inductions, which considered participation in or contributions to the Indy 500 as part of the criteria, selected one honoree from the years preceding or including the 1970 race, with the second coming from the years after. Last year’s inductees, by way of example, included driver and constructor Bruce McLaren and three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti.

The new standards broaden the pool of potential candidates by including stars from NASCAR’s Cup series as well as Formula 1. Mike Thompson, media coordinator of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, explained that the new selection process essentially asks, “What did a candidate achieve at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and what did they achieve elsewhere?”

Of the name change and revision to the induction standards, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation president Tony George remarked, “We are thrilled that the first class of inductees with our new name and election criteria honor two drivers who mean so much to fans in Central Indiana and around the world.”

The 2018 selections were announced on Founder’s Day, March 20, which marked the 109th anniversary of the formation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company. Gordon and Stewart will be inducted in a special ceremony on May 24, building up to the 102nd running of the Indy 500 on Sunday, May 27.