BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (January 9, 2019) – Four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears headline 12 finalists for election into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.
Gordon and Mears are among six first-time nominees to emerge from the Hall’s first round of voting that ended Dec. 31, 2018. They are joined on the final ballot by Mike Bliss, Bob Bruncati, Gary Bechtel and Tom Sneva.
Previous nominees advancing to the final vote are George Follmer, Tom Gloy, Tommy Kendall, Doug McCoun, Eric Norris and Jim Pettit II.
Final voting by the Hall’s board of directors continues through Jan. 31. to select the five 2019 inductees, whose identities will be announced during the March 15-17 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Five Heritage candidates from racing’s historic era also will be inducted in the Class of 2019. Their selection will be announced later this spring.
The Class of 2019 will be enshrined June 20, 2019 at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif. The event, presented by Gateway Motorsports Park, again accompanies the annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West weekend at nearby Sonoma Raceway.
“Some of the greatest names in American racing history appear on the final ballot, making this year’s induction ceremonies one of the best in the history of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame,” said Ken Clapp, the organization’s chairman. “Each of the 20 nominees on the first-round ballot received votes. A three-nominee tie for 10th has resulted in 12 names being forwarded for the Board’s final vote.
“Each finalist deserves to be inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame. Making a decision on the ultimate five names will be an extremely difficult task for our directors.”
Biographies for the 12 finalists follow (*first time nominee):
Gary Bechtel. San Francisco native Gary Bechtel formed Diamond Ridge Racing in 1992, competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West with series veteran John Krebs. Over three seasons, Krebs fashioned 12 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes including a trio of seconds and a fourth at Texas World Speedway in a 1994 combination event with the Automobile Racing Club of American (ARCA). The team finished fourth in 1992 and third in 1994 championship standings. Moving east, Diamond Ridge fielded full-season entries in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series from 1994 through 1997 with Steve Grissom, Greg Sacks and Robert Pressley among others. The team’s best finish, fourth, came with Jeff Green in 1997 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Diamond Ridge’s best success came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, posting 10 victories with Elliott Sadler (five), Grissom (three) and Sacks and Green. Grissom won at Daytona while Sacks was victorious at Talladega Super Speedway, both in 1996. The team merged with Joe Gibbs Racing in 1999 with Jeff Purvis finishing sixth in the championship.*
Bob Bruncati. Born in New York City in 1943, Bob Bruncati moved to Southern California as a young man and became interested in sports car racing with the California Sports Car Club SCCA. He raced a Turner roadster for a number of years, until his sons Tony and James became interested in go-karts. In 2000, he formed Sunrise Ford Racing so the boys could race late model stocks at the Irwindale Events Center. The owner of Ford dealerships in the San Fernando Valley and Fontana, Calif., Bruncati’s team graduated to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series (with James) in 2006. Sunrise Ford Racing has competed in more than 284 events, winning 29 times and capturing series championships in 2009 (driver Jason Bowles) and 2013 and 2018 (Derek Thorn). The team’s three drivers ranked 1-2 and 6 in the 2018 championship. Bruncati’s drivers have posted 14 top-five championship finishes since 2007. He has fielded cars for five Sunoco Rookies of the Year – Bowles, Luis Martinez Jr., Austin Dyne, Dylan Lupton and James Bickford.*
Mike Bliss. Mike Bliss won national championships in U.S. Auto Club (USAC) and NASCAR – part of a very small fraternity to accomplish the feat. Bliss, 53, began racing near his Milwaukie, Ore. hometown, at the old Portland Speedway and other northwest tracks. Open-wheel racing beckoned and Bliss eventually reached USAC’s Silver Crown division to become its 1993 champion. His 10 victories rank co-10th in Silver Crown rankings. Bliss changed gears with the creation of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He won 13 times and captured the 2002 championship, driving for fellow Northwesterner Dave Fuge. Bliss became a fulltime Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor, eventually participating in a combined 538 events. He finished fourth in Richmond Raceway’s 2004 spring Cup race driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Bliss won twice in the Xfinity Series in which he logged 29 top-five and 76 top-10 finishes and three times finished top-five in point standings. Both victories came at Charlotte Motor Speedway, for JGR in 2004 and James Finch in 2011. He was selected to compete in the 2003 International Race of Champions and won the Chicagoland Speedway round.*
George Follmer. George Follmer was one of America’s most versatile motorsport figures in the middle of the 20th Century. He collected points in Formula One; 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. Follmer, now 84, 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 podium 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.
Tom Gloy. Tom Gloy of Lafayette, Calif. was among the most successful Sports Car Club of America Trans-Am Series competitors during the 1980s. He won the 1984 championship driving a Mercury Capri for Roush Racing. Gloy competed in 17 races that year, winning three and finishing among the top five in 12 others. He was the 1979 Formula Atlantic champion and competed in one Indianapolis 500. Gloy also was chosen to compete in the International Race of Champions. Gloy, 71, entered Ford F150s in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for three seasons. His drivers collected three top-five finishes including a second by Tony Roper at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
Jeff Gordon. Four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon is the first west coast- born titleholder in NASCAR’s premier series. Gordon won his first championship at age 23 in 1993, his third full season in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He claimed back-to-back titles in 1997-98 and his final crown in 2001. The Vallejo, Calif. native, whose family moved to Pittsboro, Ind. so the teenage Gordon could race sprint cars, drove Hendrick cars to 11 top-10 championship finishes, winning 93 times in 805 starts – third all-time in NASCAR’s premier series. Gordon posted 325 top-five and 477 top-10 finishes and won 81 poles. He won five NASCAR Xfinity Series races, an International Race of Champions (IROC) event in 1998 and shared the Rolex 24 at Daytona-winning Cadillac DP.i-V.R. in 2017. Gordon, 47, will be enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2019. His step-father, John Bickford, was elected to the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2016.*
Tommy Kendall. Tommy Kendall, a Santa Monica native, dominated the SCCA Trans-Am Series in the 1990s, capturing four driving titles in the first eight years of the decade (1990, 1995-96-97). From 1995 to 1997, while piloting Jack Roush-owned Ford Mustangs, Kendall claimed 16 wins and 27 poles in 38 Trans-Am races. In 1997, on his way to his fourth and final Trans-Am title, Kendall scored wins in the first 11 of 13 races that season. Kendall also made 14 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts, mostly on road courses with a best finish of eighth at Watkins Glen International and made two appearances in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Kendall, 62, also is a television broadcaster.
Doug McCoun. Doug McCoun was the first west coast driver to win a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series national championship (1985) under contemporary points format and second to capture a NASCAR national title from the west. The Prunedale, Calif. resident, driving a late model stock car owned by his father, won 27 of the 53 races he entered at Watsonville and Merced fairgrounds dirt tracks and other northern California ovals in 1985. McCoun also won the organization’s Pacific Coast Region title in 1986. Competing in the NASCAR Elite Series Southwest Tour, McCoun, 60, finished four times among the top five in the championship, his best a pair of third-place finishes. He logged nine wins and 49 top-five and top-10 finishes in the late model touring series.
Rick Mears. Transplanted Kansan Rick Mears grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., the youngest member of the racing Mears Gang comprised of father Bill and older brother Roger. Rick drove a Chevrolet stock car at Bakersfield Speedway, where Roger was a frequent winner. The pair excelled in dune buggy competition at Ascot Park and ultimately desert racing throughout the southwest United States and in Baja California. West Coast Stock Car Hall of Famer Parnelli Jones took an interest in Rick, who shared Jones’ off-road trucks and posted multiple class victories. Safety equipment manufacturer Bill Simpson introduced him to U.S. Auto Club championship cars, leading to a career-long association with Roger Penske. With Penske, Mears became one of just three to win the Indianapolis 500 four times – and continues to hold the record for poles (six) and front row starts (11). He won the 500 in 1979, 1983, 1989 and 1991. He won three USAC titles (seven wins) and three Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) titles (26 wins). Mears was selected to four International Race of Champions (IROC), finishing second at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Following retirement, Mears, 47, has remained in a consulting role with Team Penske.*
Eric Norris. Eric Norris of Redondo Beach, Calif. balanced a career in the entertainment industry with a successful stint in NASCAR racing. Norris, the youngest son of actor and martial arts champion Chuck Norris, won the 2002 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship. He competed in the series from 1996 through 2012, posting three wins, two poles, 18 top-five and 32 top-10 finishes. The majority of his success came in Ultra Wheels Fords. Norris, 53, also competed in the NASCAR Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck series. Norris has acted in a number of motion pictures and television productions as well as working as stuntman, stunt coordinator and second and main unit director.
Jim Pettit II won the 1984 NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Pacific Coast Region championship at age 19. Pettit was one of the most accomplished northern California dirt track late model stock car competitors, competing at tracks in San Jose, Antioch, Watsonville and Merced. During his championship season – in which total points/starts were tabulated – Pettit raced on Saturday in California, then with two crew members towed overnight to Portland Speedway, barely making it in time for a Sunday afternoon event. The Seaside, Calif. driver won two NASCAR Elite Series Southwest Tour championships back to back (2004-05), winning eight times. Pettit, 53, finished among the top 10 in more than 50 percent of his Southwest Tour starts (54 of 103).
Tom Sneva. From supermodifieds to the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, Spokane, Wash.’s Tom Sneva more than earned the nickname “The Gas Man.” Sneva, a high school math teacher and bus driver after graduating from Eastern Washington State University, was a top competitor on the Canadian-American Modified Racing Association (CAMRA) before catching the eye of U.S. Auto Club owners – most notably Roger Penske and later West Coast Stock Car Hall of Famer George Bignotti. Driving for Team Penske, Sneva became The Captain’s first champion (USAC, 1977). He won back-to-back 500 poles in 1977-78, ultimately winning the race in 1982 – the last 500 triumph by chief mechanic Bignotti. Sneva won 10 Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) events, notably four of them at ISM Raceway in Phoenix. He competed in eight NASCAR premier series races with a best finish of seventh in the 1983 Daytona 500. Sneva, 70, was selected to five International Race of Champions (IROC) events, posting a best finish of second in 1985 at Daytona International Speedway.*
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.
Over the past three years, the induction has helped raise a half million dollars for charitable causes. The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The group’s current list of charities and foundations – expected to increase – counts 25 different groups. They include charities dedicated to health, including autism research, children’s cancer, breast cancer and Parkinson’s; education; history; animal rescue; homelessness and military and veterans’ assistance.
For a complete list of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame’s charity partners please go to http://westcoaststockcarhalloffame.com/our-charities/.