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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame class … Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, and three question marks

The new nominees for the next class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame came out this week, and what will come out of it is up for debate.

Two things are certain: Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough are very deserving, based on their multiple titles and 80+ wins, and will both make it without question.

After that, it’s a crapshoot. The remaining nominees are: Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Jerry Cook, H. Clay Earles (1st time), Richie Evans, Tim Flock, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Dale Inman, Bobby Isaac (1st time), Fred Lorenzen, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Les Richter (1st time), Fireball Roberts, T. Wayne Robertson, Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Glen Wood, Leonard Wood (1st time)

Notable exceptions that were left off the list include Wendell Scott, the only black NASCAR driver who won a race and who faced so much adversity he should get in just on that basis alone. His story is truly inspirational and he’s a Hall of Famer in my mind whether he ever makes it or not. It’s a shame he’s not even nominated.

Also, mechanic Smokey Yunick rewrote the NASCAR rule book and set the stage for future generations in the sport, and it’s also a shame that he’s not nominated. He and Scott should have, at the very least, been on the ballot.

Getting back to the 23 that are nominated, if I had to pick 3 that will make it, I’ll go with: Fireball Roberts (a tremendous talent in the 1950s and 1960s prior to his tragic death), Raymond Parks (he helped create NASCAR and owned the first championship team – they have to include someone from that early era of the sport); and Dale Inman – (winner of eight NASCAR Cup championships as a crew chief, paved the way for today’s master crew chiefs.)

The Wood Brothers are worthy for all they’ve brought to the sport, but how do you pick just one to induct? They might split their vote and lose out, but either one would be a good choice.

I fully recognize that all the nominees are worthy of entry to the Hall, and there are some wild cards like modified-legend Richie Evans who are bound to get some votes and could upset the apple cart.

The bottom line: The first couple classes were easy, but now it gets tough after all the biggest names have already made it in and everyone’s on a more level playing field. And next year, they better put Wendell and Smokey on the list of nominees if they have any sense of history.

Former garage of NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick burns to ground
A piece of NASCAR history died this week when the final portion of the garage formerly owned by Smokey Yunick burned to the ground in Daytona Beach.
The “Best Damn Garage in Town,” as Smokey so humbly put it, burst into flames about
7 p.m. Monday and is gone.

Those fans who don’t know who Smokey Yunick is are unaware of an important part of the sport’s history – when the mechanic was king and there was no COT. One of the highlights of my career is running into Smokey in the garage during the 1998 Brickyard 400 weekend, and having a nice chat with him and fellow legend Dave Marcis.

Talking to Smokey, who was arguably the best mechanic in the sport’s history and a thorn in Big Bill France’s side because he got around the rules so much (probably part of the reason he isn’t nominated for the Hall), I heard some great stories about a time that the sport was a lot different than it is now. The cars looked like cars, the drivers weren’t a bunch of superstars reciting a list of sponsors and keeping their image clean, and mechanics like Smokey could actually tinker with the car since there weren’t 500 templates to fit. Yunick-built cars carried Marvin Panch and Fireball Roberts to Daytona 500 victories in 1961 and '63.

Yunick made significant inventions for the automobile and racing industries -- including variable-ratio power steering and the extended tip spark plug, a design used in most vehicles today. His garage was an icon in Daytona Beach and one of the places where the sport began to make its mark so many decades ago, and while it was out of Smokey’s hands even before his 2001 death, it’s still a shame to see it go.

According to fire officials, smoke was so thick at times the fire trucks battling the blaze couldn't be seen through the plumes.
Department spokesman Lt. Larry Stoney said: "We're fighting this from outside. It's going to be difficult to figure out the cause of the fire."

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