DEARBORN, MI – Dale Earnhardt, who died at age 50 in a crash heading for the home stretch at the 2001 Daytona 500, may be the most famous of six men inducted recently into the Automotive Hall of Fame, which is located here.

The other six, however, are hardly unknowns:

  • Bill France Jr., 73, whose family invented NASCAR starting in the 1940s and has guided it to its present-day prominence.
  • H. Wayne Huizenga, who made a fortune in Waste Management Inc. and Blockbuster Inc. before forming AutoNation, the largest U.S. retail automotive group.
  • The late Giuseppe “Nuccio” Bertone, who died at age 85 in 1997, a renowned pioneer among Italy’s famed coachbuilders.
  • Arjay Miller, 90, one Ford Motor Co.’s famous “Whiz Kids” of the 1940s and ’50s, who became Ford president in 1963.
  • Bruno Sacco, 73, who retired in 1999 as design chief at Mercedes-Benz and is credited with Mercedes’ unique styling cues over the past three decades, many of which continue on today.
  • Shojiro Ishibashi, who died in1976 at age 87 and whose tire brand – Bridgestone – actually is better known than the man who built it into an international powerhouse.

Seeking to identify tomorrow’s automotive leaders, the Automotive Hall of Fame also selects four junior executives under age 35 to receive its Young Leadership & Excellence Awards:

  • Aaron Bickford, director-warranty for light vehicle systems at ArvinMeritor Inc.
  • Ann Fandoozi, director-product marketing at Chrysler Group.
  • Michael Gingell, vice president-strategic markets for R.L. Polk & Co.
  • Frank Orsini, president-Lear Corp.’s General Motors business unit.

Earnhardt, an aggressive driver nicknamed “The Intimidator,” grew up in North Carolina driving dirt-track cars built by his father, Ralph, and went on to win nearly every major event on the NASCAR circuit.

His No.3 car captured millions of fans as he went on to win more than 70 races including seven Winston Cup Championships. His son, Dale Jr., continues to compile a strong record on the NASCAR circuit.

Bill France Sr. was a stock-car racing pioneer who helped form NASCAR in 1947. Young Bill worked side-by-side with his father and took the helm in 1972.

He gets much of the credit for building the sport to its current popularity. NASCAR has more than 7 million paying fans, and millions more follow the races on TV.

Huizenga began his business career by managing three waste-collection routes in southern Florida for a friend. He soon bought all three and added more.

In 1971, he merged with Waste Management, a Chicago waste-hauling company, growing it within a decade to the world’s largest waste disposal company. In 1987, Huizenga bought control of Blockbuster video rental, built it into a $4 billion company and sold it in 1994 to Viacom.

Two years later, he launched AutoNation and built it into 370 new-vehicle franchises in 17 states before retiring in 2001. AutoNation has sold nearly 6 million vehicles and in 2005 reported $19 billion in revenue.

Bertone’s father, Giovanni, launched Carrozzeria Bertone SpA in 1912, in Torino, Fiat Auto SpA’s hometown, as an independent coachbuilder to design and manufacture car bodies and, ultimately, niche vehicles.

Nuccio joined the family company at age 20 in 1934 and then took the helm after World War II. By then the business was outdated with few customers – but not for long.

In 1952, he showcased two eye-catching MGs at the Torino auto show and won a contract to build 200.

He went on to win contracts to design and build numerous special cars for Fiat and Alfa Romeo, as well as unique niche vehicles for various other auto makers.

Arjay Miller got his unusual name by combining the initials of the first and middle names of his father, Rawley John Miller, a Nebraska farmer.

During World War II, he joined the Army Air Corps and rose to captain, serving under Col. Charles B. (Tex) Thornton, as part of a team of logistics experts.

After the war, Thornton offered his services and those of nine others from his Air Corps team to Henry Ford II, who was struggling to keep Ford afloat.

Thornton’s warriors became known as “The Whiz Kids” as they helped Ford through its post-war difficulties. Thornton left soon after, but most of the team stayed on and moved up to high positions.

One was Robert McNamara, who preceded Miller as president and went on to become a controversial U.S. secretary of defense under President Lyndon Johnson.

Miller remained on Ford’s board of directors until 1969, when he left to become dean of the Stanford University Business School, retiring in 1979.

Ishibashi joined the rubber industry following World War I, when he invented and manufactured rubber-soled footwear to replace traditional Japanese straw sandals. By 1930, he had developed his first tire prototype and wanted to make and sell tires in Europe and the U.S.

He originally chose Stonebridge, a literal translation of his last name, but reversed that to Bridgestone because he thought it sounded more familiar to overseas customers.

There is no record that he may have been influenced by Firestone, which already was a global brand. Bridgestone Tire Co. was incorporated in 1931.

After World War II, Ishibashi established a network of tire stores in Japan and built Japan’s first tire technical center and a new manufacturing plant in Tokyo.

Twelve years after his death in 1976, Bridgestone acquired Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. and went on to become the world’s largest tire maker.

Sacco was born in Italy, educated at the Technical University of Turin (Torino) and worked in the famed design studios Carrozzeria Ghia SpA and Pinifarina SpA.

He joined Mercedes-Benz in 1958 as a stylist and engineer on several projects, including the Mercedes 600 sedan and 230 SL roadster, as well as concept cars such as the C111 sports car.

By 1975, he had risen to Mercedes’ top design job and stayed on for the next 24 years before retiring in 1999. “A Mercedes-Benz must always took line a Mercedes-Benz,” he was fond of saying.

During his tenure, he held to that philosophy even as the brand evolved technically. His fans say his influence continues – and is likely to remain so in the future.