NASCAR Hall Of Fame:
(AP) CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The rumble from a pair of motors interrupted the opening ceremony at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Nobody seemed to mind, though, when Richard Petty pulled his 1974 Dodge Charger onto the ceremonial plaza, with Junior Johnson trailing in a 1940 Ford. The two members of NASCAR's inaugural Hall of Fame class climbed from the cars they are most associated with to a rousing ovation.
"This is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," Johnson said of being part of the first induction class.
Started in 1948, the National Association of Stock Car Racing finally opened its Hall of Fame on Tuesday with a star-studded ceremony.
North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue joined Charlotte area dignitaries and representatives of NASCAR's past and present on a stage outside the Hall for the hour-long opening ceremony. After Johnson and Petty's arrival - Petty in a replica of his No. 43 STP Dodge, and Johnson in a No. 3 Ford that read "Carolina Moonshine" - several past champions scanned their entrance cards to officially open the doors.
The city spent $195 million on the project and is touting it as the biggest and most technologically advanced Hall of Fame in professional sports. The 150,000-square-foot building is a shrine of memorabilia, exhibits that recreate old-time NASCAR lore, 154 video screens, racing simulators and interactive activities.
NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, who helped the city of Charlotte with its winning bid for the rights to the Hall of Fame in 2006, spoke at Tuesday's ceremony and was one of the first visitors to tour the facility after the doors opened.
"I just think if you don't hold on to history in anything, that it doesn't mean much," Hendrick said. "he fact that we can showcase our history in such a great setting is going to pay us huge dividends down the road because new fans ought to know about Junior Johnson and they ought to know Buck Baker and those kind of guys. And they ought to be able to see the old cars.
"I think a fan walks away knowing we care about our past and our history.To me, that's what's important - that our history, our roots and our heritage is important. It's not all just about today."
The inaugural class, elected by 50 voters last year, is: NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., longtime chairman Bill France Jr., seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Johnson and Petty. The induction ceremony is May 23.