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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rusty Wallace deserves Hall of Fame entry, even if some might believe it's too soon

I have little beef with the most recent NASCAR Hall of Fame class; everyone on the nomination list belongs in there eventually (except Anne France, in my view), so the only issue now is who gets in before the others.

Rusty Wallace made it in this round, along with Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas and Leonard Wood; all solid picks, and Fireball Roberts just barely got nudged out and should be the top vote getter next year.

Some people have said Rusty got in too soon; that more old-timers should have their turn first before the 1980s and 1990s superstar.

Honestly, though, I don’t see how it matters much. No one doubts Rusty is a champ worthy of being a Hall of Famer, and his entry was only a matter of time.
There is no set rule that the old-timers should get in first, so there’s no point in complaining that it’s not working that way.

Here’s the skinny on the Class of 2013 inductees:

Buck Baker
Elzie Wylie “Buck” Baker established himself as one of NASCAR’s early greats, becoming the first driver to win consecutive NASCAR premier series championships. His repeat performance in 1956-57 was the highlight of an incredible four-year span; in 1955 and ’58 Baker finished as the series championship runner-up. His career victory total of 46 ranks tied for 14th all-time.

Cotton Owens
Everett “Cotton” Owens enjoyed success as both a driver and owner in NASCAR. Behind the wheel, he won nine times in NASCAR’s premier series competition, including the 1957 Daytona Beach road course. He nearly won the 1959 championship, finishing second to NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty. But as an owner, Owens stood out as one of the greats of NASCAR’s early eras. His eye for talent was unmatched. He hired NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson in 1962, the same season in which he began a future championship relationship with another NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson. Owens won 38 races as an owner.

Herb Thomas
Herb Thomas was truly one of NASCAR’s first superstars. He was the first to win two NASCAR premier series championships (1951, ’53). He finished second in the points standings in 1952 and 1954 giving the North Carolina veteran top-two championship finishes in four consecutive seasons. He finished outside the top two in the championship only once (fifth in 1955) between 1951 and 1956. Thomas won both his championships driving self-owned cars.

Rusty Wallace
Russell William Wallace Jr., the 1989 NASCAR premier series champion, won his first of 55 races in 1986, capturing the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway. His 55 victories rank ninth all time. He was especially adept on the circuit’s short tracks winning 25 times at Bristol, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro and Richmond. His influence on the sport continued after his retirement, as an analyst on ESPN.

Leonard Wood
The Wood Brothers team is renowned as the innovator of the modern pit stop. Leonard Wood, brother of Glen and Delano Wood, was front and center in its development as chief mechanic (crew chief) for the Stuart, Va.-based team. As crew chief, Wood amassed 96 wins and 117 poles in 990 races.

Media award added to Hall of Fame
It was announced this week that a media chapter will be added to the Hall of Fame, named after Ken Squier and Barney Hall.

A special exhibit will be created as part of the existing media section within the NASCAR Hall of Fame to recognize the careers of Squier and Hall, as well as honorees in the years to come.

“Media have played an important role in the growth and popularity of NASCAR over the years by telling the stories of legendary drivers, championship moments and week-to-week action to millions of fans across the world,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. “The voices of Ken Squier and Barney Hall are an indelible part of our sport’s history and we couldn’t be more pleased to recognize their long and outstanding careers.”

Squier was the voice of the 1979 Daytona 500, aka the most important race in NASCAR history, and called races for decades after that.

Barney Hall has been around for over half a century and is known for his work as a broadcaster on MRN.

I’m curious who they’ll induct in later years, but don’t be surprised if eventually Darrell Waltrip is in the Hall in two capacities; He may annoy a lot of people, but he also has his share of fans.

The 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will be held Feb. 8, 2013.


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