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Virginia Motorsports Hall of Fame honors trio

Speechless, stunned and honored were the most often used words to describe the reactions of honorees to be inducted into the Virginia Motorsports Hall Of Fame.

Three-time NASCAR Nationwide Series runner-up, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year and former South Boston Speedway track champion Jimmy Hensley of Ridgeway, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick and the late Gayther Wallace “Runt” Harris of Richmond, one of the famed “Four H Boys” that also included Ray Hendrick, Sonny Hutchins and Ted Hairfield, were inducted into the Virginia Motorsports Hall Of Fame during a special pre-race ceremony Saturday night at South Boston Speedway.

“For a few seconds there I was speechless,” said Brenda Harris Newhouse, the daughter of late NASCAR Modified racing star “Runt” Harris.

“This is the most exciting thing I can think of that could happen for my dad. South Boston Speedway has always been my heart and soul in racing. I grew up here watching my dad race every Saturday night. I love this track. This was his favorite place to be. For him to be honored like this, and have it done here, is so exciting.”

Hensley’s reaction was much the same.

“It was really an awesome feeling when I was told,” Hensley remarked.

“I never thought about being inducted into the Hall.”

Like it did for Harris and still does to his daughter, South Boston Speedway holds a special place in Hensley’s heart.

“The first lap I ever drove was at South Boston Speedway,” Hensley pointed out.

“It was April, 1965. It was on a Sunday afternoon in a 267-lap (100-mile) Modified race. To receive this award at South Boston Speedway, even  though its not for South Boston Speedway, is a pretty neat thing since I ran my first race here.”

Hensley said the lure of South Boston Speedway was the fact that the best of the best of the nation’s drivers competed at the historic oval. 

“In my mind, the drivers that raced at South Boston Speedway were the best,” Hensley said.

“When I got there for that first race, I was facing people like Ray Hendrick, Ted Hairfield, Eddie Crouse, Runt Harris, Sonny Hutchins, Al Grinnan, Perk Brown, Carl Burris, Pee Wee Jones, Ken Rush and all of those guys. I thought they were the best drivers. Some of them were my heroes when I was growing up.”

Hensley’s racing career spanned 27 years. During his career Hensley competed in and won races and track championships in the NASCAR Modifieds and NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division, the NASCAR Nationwide Series circuit and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The Ridgeway resident won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Award in 1992 in his 15th year of racing. Hensley was a nine-time winner in the NASCAR Busch Series and finished as the series runner-up in 1985, 1987 and 1990. 

His popularity among NASCAR fans is evidenced in the fact that Hensley was named as the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1985 and 1987 and the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 1996.

“That was a big deal to me,” Hensley said of winning the Most Popular Driver Awards.

“I was really proud to receive those awards. I always tried to be really involved with the fans. If the fans aren’t up in the grandstands we wouldn’t be running around in circles.”

Harris passed away in 1990 and is perhaps best known as one of the famed “Four H Boys,” being among Ray Hendrick, Sonny Hutchins, Ted Hairfield as the elite stars in NASCAR Modified racing in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

He won an estimated 300 races, was the 1960 Virginia state champion in the NASCAR Modified Sportsman Division, won the 1964 South Boston Speedway NASCAR Modified title and was the 1965 Beltsville (Md.) Speedway Sportsman Division Champion. Harris was also honored for being named as the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Modified Division in 1966. The presentation of that award was made at South Boston Speedway.

“I loved his driving tactics,” Newhouse said.

“I loved his aggressiveness. I think my dad was an excellent driver.  I feel like he was fair, a decent-mannered driver. This was really his niche. He was exceptionally talented at it.”

Hendrick is the owner of  the Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team which features drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.

Hendrick attended Park View High School in South Hill and began his career in auto racing at age 14. He is also a retired race car driver, having driven in three NASCAR races throughout the course of his NASCAR career. He also had served as a pit crew member on the famed Flying No. 11 Modified race car Ray Hendrick drove in the 1960s.

As a NASCAR racing team owner, Hendrick has won a total of 14 driver’s championships, including 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles, 1, NASCAR Nationwide Series title and three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championships.

Hendrick Motorsports has won a total of 212 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, 23 NASCAR Nationwide Series races and 25 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.

His teams have also won a total of 246 pole positions.