Mark Martin, Rick Hendrick headline NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A World War II vet. A taxi-cab driver. A son of a tobacco farmer. A former popcorn salesman at a short track. And the son of an Arkansas trucker.

No wonder the inductees in the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class could be characterized as possibly the most humble of the eight classes in hall history.

"I can't tell you how it feels to stand up in front of you tonight," said Mark Martin, who won 40 Cup races in his career. "It's a feeling that my words could never do justice. To say it's an honor would be an understatement.

"To say it's a culmination of a lifelong dream is a fact. It's an honor beyond the wildest imagination of a kid from Arkansas that just loved to drive fast cars and win races."

Martin was joined by one other driver, Benny Parsons, as well as three accomplished car owners -- Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Raymond Parks -- in the five-member class inducted Friday night.

Martin is considered possibly the best driver who never won a championship with five runner-up finishes in the Cub standings.

"Mark, you make a difference," said Hendrick, who was Martin's car owner for the final years of his career. "You've made a difference in every organization that you've ever been in, and you made a big difference in ours."

Hendrick, who left the family tobacco farm to follow his passion of automobiles both as a salesman and as a racer, has won 12 Cup titles as an owner -- seven with Jimmie Johnson, four with Jeff Gordon and one with Terry Labonte.

"I can tell you that the feelings that I have for this sport and for all the people in it ... when it's all over, it's the people that you touch and the lives you change that make a difference in this world," Hendrick said.

That passion took him to nearby Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway as a kid, and he still goes to races there despite having lost his brother and son among other family members and team members in a plane crash on the way to the October 2004 race at the track.

"I love this sport," Hendrick said. "I love the fact that we are a family. I love the fact that when I had the tragedy that all these folks, Richard Childress included, every owner, everybody in the garage reached out to us, and they were there for us.

"We compete on Sunday, but we are there for each other in a time of real tragedy."

Childress, who sold peanuts and popcorn at Bowman Gray Stadium as a kid, has six Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt and also five titles across the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series. His grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, are current Cup drivers.

Childress' big break came as an owner/driver when many others boycotted the inaugural Talladega race in 1969 and Childress was one of the drivers who competed for the extra money.

"I left that day with probably more money than I'd ever seen at once in my life -- probably $3-4,000," Childress said. "I didn't think I'd ever have to work again. Hell, I'm still working."

Parsons, a former taxi-cab driver in Detroit, won the 1973 Cup title and 21 races in his career. He also had a big impact as part of the media, working as a commentator for ESPN broadcasts from 1989 to 2000 and then at NBC and TNT until his death in 2007.

Citing Parsons' passion for the fans, his widow, Terri Parsons, said his Hall of Fame ring would be put on display at the Hall so fans could see what one of the rings looks like.

"Benny had the rare qualities of being a competitor, a champion, a professional, but most of all, a really good person," said NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett during the induction ceremony. "If only our world had more like him."

Parks, a World War II veteran, won the inaugural Cup title in 1949 as an owner, but his impact was more as a confidante and consultant for NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. in the formation of the sanctioning body. Parks died in 2010.

"I asked him how did you get into racing, and in less than 10 minutes, he told me his whole life story," said Parks' granddaughter Patricia DePottey about her soft-spoken grandfather. "His story was, 'Well, I got some cars, and I just started winning.'"

Parks, Hendrick, Childress and Parsons were on the ballot for each of the hall's eight years. Martin had been on for the past two.

"I am honored to go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame with my heroes," Childress said. "Just look around this wall and look at the greats that we'll be going in the Hall of Fame with. Unbelievable."