The big question: Who should get into the first NASCAR Hall of Fame class?
Come 2010, that same debate will be held among NASCAR fans, who will actually hold a small role in determining which five people will be inducted into the first official NASCAR Hall of Fame, which will be opening in Charlotte.
Former drivers, crew chiefs, owners, manufacturer representatives, NASCAR bigwigs, and even some media members will make up 47 of the 48 ballots. No. 48 will be a collective vote by the fans. It’s less than 2 percent, but it’s better than nothing.
So let the debate begin. There are five admissions per year, and it’s pretty obvious Big Bill France Sr. has to be inducted because he’s the reason the sport is here in the first place. That leave four spots, and I’m going to go under the assumption that all four will be filled by drivers.
Let’s get the easy ones out of the way.
Richard Petty is The King, with 200 wins in the sport, and there’s no way he doesn’t make it in on the first ballot. Seven titles will take you far. Same goes for Dale Earnhardt Sr., who is even more popular than The King.
That leaves two open spots. If there is any justice in the world, one will go to David Pearson, with 105 wins and, in my opinion, more talent than either Earnhardt or Petty. If he doesn’t make it on the first ballot, I will be severely disappointed. But once you get past Pearson, the final spot is completely up for grabs in my mind.
There is no clear fifth option, and I am very curious to see how the voting turns out. There are a few that will certainly be looked at.
Junior Johnson -- His driving career, at only 14 years, was short compared to many of the others being considered. But the former moonshiner and speed demon on the race track is one of the most recognizable faces in NASCAR’s history and has 50 wins to his name, not to mention his 139 wins and six Winston Cups as a car owner. He is widely viewed as the best dirt track racer ever, and is credited with discovering the concept of “drafting” at Daytona”.
Lee Petty -- Not a likely first-ballot pick, as it’s doubtful two Pettys will be inducted in one year, but he’ll surely be in very soon if not right away. The first three-time champ, he raced in a time without all the technology of today, and did a lot to develop NASCAR into a more modern and safe sport. He is the lasting legacy of the days of leather helmets.
Bobby Allison -- A true talent who could have had many more victories than the 85 he got, but was hampered by his inability to get along with any one car owner. He hated Richard Petty with a vengeance, and a steady ride would have changed the career results of both Allison and Petty severely, in Allison‘s favor. He has the true respect of all in the garage, even Petty nowadays, and he has gone through more personal tragedy than most people in the sport, so mabye that will sway some voters to him.
Cale Yarborough -- His domination of the series led to three straight Winston Cup titles in the 1970s, the highlight of a great overall career with 83 wins and 255 top-5s. He will get some first-ballot votes.
Darrell Waltrip -- He’s fresh in everyone’s mind, due to his constant presence on television, but I hope it’s the second year before DW is inducted. I don’t discredit his talent when he was racing or his 84 wins, but he last thing he needs is something else to talk about. I get a headache before he even opens his mouth most weeks.
I’m a big fan of the sport’s history, so my pick for the fifth inductee would be Junior Johnson, but all the names mentioned above would be deserving of a first-year admission to the Hall of Fame. The other wild card that could be thrown for this fifth pick is a legendary crew chief like Harry Hyde of Dale Inman, but I doubt that will be used in Year 1.
However it turns out, I’m glad to see the fans are getting a small part of the vote, because after all, we’re the reason the sport is the success it has become today and deserve a say on who the true Hall of Famers are.
My biggest hope for this Hall is that somewhere down the road, maybe in a few years, the late Tim Richmond will be inducted. The way he was treated by the NASCAR bigwigs as he was dying of AIDS is unforgivable, and a spot in the Hall of Fame would go a long way toward letting people know just how talented he really was on the track. As it is, they hardly even recognize his existence when discussing the history of the sport.