Mike Neff · Thursday October 14, 2010
The NASCAR Hall of Fame voting is unlike any other sport. The current procedure puts all of the people who have a vote, with the exception of the fans, in one room and allows them to discuss, debate, deliberate, and declaim the merits and flaws of each and all of the 25 nominees. The opinions and ideas of the people in the room can be moved, swayed, and altered throughout the time they’re there before they cast their ballots. Ultimately, after the stories are told about the lives and impacts of the nominees, the panel casts their individual votes, Ernst and Young tabulates them, and the new class is announced to the world.
Just like NASCAR races, the entire process is settled in one day and the outcome is known by everyone before they go home. Also, similar to a day at the track, the media in attendance gets to speak with the players after the event, and the fans are also able to see and talk to them as they leave the venue. While the voting takes place, there is a celebration of the people involved, a look at the history and accomplishments of the group individually and as a whole. Once the checkered flag drops at the end of the day, everyone who is a part of it knows they got to see something special.
As a member of the media, by far the greatest part of the day is getting the opportunity to speak with people who are legends in the sport. Listening to Ned Jarrett beam about the fact that he is truly pleased, not only about being in the Hall of Fame, but also because his son Dale is able to be there and celebrate this moment with him was special – something they really didn’t get to do very much in earlier years. When Jarrett retired, Dale was only 10 years old, so most of the success that Ned achieved was when Dale was too young to truly appreciate it. There was no doubt that today this family bond grew stronger, a duo immensely proud of both the accomplishment and the moment that each were sharing together.
Bobby Allison was the true ambassador of the sport that he has been his entire career. Allison not only is third on the all-time wins list, whether NASCAR chooses to acknowledge the 85th victory or not, but he is constantly a reminder of what a great sport NASCAR is that we all love. Listening to Allison recount a race in Asheville, NC where the “Alabama Gang” nickname originated is doubly enjoyable when you see the smile come across his face when he shares that he, his brother Donnie, and Red Farmer finished first, second, and third. The excitement is equally evident when he recounts his first win in a modified car, or his last Daytona 500 win when his son followed him to the finish line. Allison’s not only a great race car driver, but his salesmanship of the sport most certainly played a role in why the man was selected this year.
David Pearson may have an image to people who don’t know him as an old school racer, a hard driver with no time for those things that stand in his way. That might be how he was back in the day – for those of us who weren’t there, we can’t say one way or the other – but talking with him at the Hall of Fame today he was as real and engaging as ever. The man was laughing, joking, and truly as excited about being elected into the Hall as anyone would expect him to be. After the disappointment of not being in the inaugural class, many people might have thought that Pearson would hold a grudge, but he looked at the entire thing very pragmatically. He feels as though making it into the Hall was going to happen; the “Silver Fox” just didn’t know what year that would be.
The actual announcements of both the inaugural and this year’s class are actually the one part of the last two years that were somewhat forgettable. While speaking with Pearson, he made the comment that he knew three weeks before last year’s meeting that he was not going to make it into the Hall. When someone told him that the vote was taken the day of the announcement, he said, “Not only did the TV folks already have the information all set up and ready to show, but Earnhardt’s old lady had a room rented across the street to celebrate after the announcement. Why would she do that if she wasn’t positive he was going to get in?”
Those may be the words of someone who is holding some bitter feelings over the disappointment of last year, but even sour grapes have a glimmer of truth couched within.
There was also quite a bit of talk and speculation that there are some sort of politics at play when the voting process takes place. People are wondering if Darrell Waltrip or Cale Yarborough might have some bias against them because of differences or problems they had with other people in the garage. Others are thinking that the fact that Yarborough has not been active within the sport much at all since he stepped away lessens his impact, a telling factor Wednesday as voters talked about off-track initiatives and support that made the difference. Listening to the television program that led up to the announcement reminded us that there are several people in the room during the vote that worked for Bud Moore and that may have played a role in him getting in before Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, and several others.
Is that the right way to handle a process where only the best of the best should get elected? Call it naivete if you want, but fans should be able to expect that past history and personal feelings would be swept aside when something as important as voting on a Hall of Fame came into play. However, Humpy Wheeler said it best today: “There has never been and there never will be a vote that doesn’t involve personal feelings.” It’s going to be hard to find a better setup for this process, one where emotions are stripped, voting commenced through nothing more than stats on paper.
The other factor that also plays into it is that the entrance into a Hall of Fame is a subjective thing. The Baseball Hall of Fame used to be a lock when someone had 400 home runs. Then, the steroid era came along and Dave Kingman hit 400 without doing much else, and the number switched to 500. Now, there’s no telling what number will get you in. The NASCAR Hall is the same way. It isn’t 80 wins or 50 wins. It isn’t four championships or two. The committee is doing the best they can to select people who have made a lasting impact on the sport through what they did both on and off the track. During the voting process, someone suggested that everyone use this acid test: When you look at the person, where would the sport be today if they had not been involved? If each of the members of the Hall uses that, and doesn’t hold some petty grudge because someone told them to pound sand or take a hike back in the day, the people that are inducted will be the kind whom we should all be proud of representing our sport.
At the end of the day, getting to rub elbows with men who are legends in the sport is without a doubt one of the coolest perks of being a member of the media. Finding out that the superstars of NASCAR’s past are real people, ones who will talk to you just like you are the guy next door is what keeps us coming back when the racing isn’t like we remember. So debate all you want this year’s final class, but know all 25 of those finalists will get in at some point; they’re the cream of the crop, the perfect selections for a Hall of Fame that’s truly for the best of the best.
For me, just getting to see all of them in person, together once a year reminds you of how special this whole process really is – regardless of who gets in a year ahead of someone else.
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