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Odd couple: Jeff Gordon, Howard Hughes join motorsports hall

(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Four-time and retired NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was an obvious choice for the Motorsports Hall of Fame. One of his fellow inductees seemed like a totally random selection.

Some might even think his name was plucked out of thin air.

Gordon and record-setting pilot and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes were among seven people selected for the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

The 2018 class was announced Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

The other inductees are dragster builder John Buttera, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl G. Fisher, motorcycle great Fred Merkel, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion owner U.E. Pat Patrick and sports-car team creator Bob Tullius.

They will be inducted March 13 in Daytona Beach.

Hall of Fame President Ron Watson called the joint selection of Hughes and Gordon "probably the best example we've ever had to illustrate the breadth of our inductee roll."

"Some of these aviators were the Babe Ruths of their day," Watson said. "So Hughes, with his colorful life, was a tremendous aviator and set records, and this is totally deserved."

More information on the inductees:

-Buttera: Known as "Lil John," the late Buttera built championship-winning dragsters, funny cars and pro stocks for the biggest names in the sport in the 1960s and `70s, including Danny Ongais, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, Tom "Mongoose" McEwen and Don Schumacher. He was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.

-Fisher: The late Fisher helped popularize the automobile by competing in a series of exhibitions on Midwest fairground tracks beginning in 1902. After failing repeatedly to persuade automakers to support plans for speedways, he persuaded three business associates to join him in the 1909 construction of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He served as track president until 1923.

-Gordon: The retired driver and current Fox Sports ranks third all-time in Cup Series wins (93) behind Richard Petty and David Pearson. Gordon's four championships (1995, `97, `98, 2001) trail Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon won three Daytona 500s, five Brickyard 400s and six Southern 500s.

-Hughes: Founded Hughes Aircraft in 1932 and became one of the world's richest men. He set numerous records and built some of the world's most advanced planes. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973.

-Merkel: "Flying Fred" is an American road-racing legend, winning two FIM Superbike World Championships (1988-89), three AMA Superbike Championships (1984-86) and setting multiple records along the way. He retired at the end of the 1995 season after a crash at Firebird International Raceway. He was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2001.

-Patrick: Made his fortune as a wildcat oilman and then became a team partner in 1970. His three Indianapolis 500 victories came with Gordon Johncock (1973, `82) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1989). The same duo brought him two championships, with Johncock in 1976 and Fittipaldi in 1989. Patrick also served as first president of rival Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series. He was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.

-Tullius: Created the model for the modern American amateur sports-car team with Group 44. He was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2014.

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Updated January 5, 2018

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