The Hall of Fame – regardless of sport – is there to honor the history, founders, integral contributors and past champions of that sport. But while this is true, the other thing it always seems to be is the focal point for debate. No matter who is in, who is nominated, and who is left out, there is always a heated discussion over the names included and the names excluded. This year, there is no doubt that there will be much discussion about who will be in the Hall come May, but there will also be some vigorous argument about those people who do not even have a chance to be voted in because they are not part of the list of 25 names to be considered.
The list that has been proposed to the voting panel includes drivers, owners, crew chiefs, and a marketing executive. They run the gamut from the very first year of NASCAR to the current world of the sport, from Cup to Nationwide to the modifieds. The list looks like this as it appeared:
Bobby Allison: 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and winner of 84 races
Buck Baker: First driver to win consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships
Red Byron: First NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, in 1949
Richard Childress: 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series
Jerry Cook: Six-time NASCAR modified champion
Richie Evans: Nine-time NASCAR modified champion
Tim Flock: Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion
Rick Hendrick: 12-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series
Jack Ingram: Two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion
Dale Inman: Eight-time NASCAR Sprint Cup championship crew chief
Ned Jarrett: Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion
Fred Lorenzen: 26 wins and winner of the Daytona 500 and World 600
Bud Moore: 63 wins and two NASCAR Sprint Cup titles as a car owner
Raymond Parks: NASCAR’s first champion car owner
Benny Parsons: 1973 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion
David Pearson: 105 victories and three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships
Lee Petty: Winner of first Daytona 500 and first three-time series champion
Fireball Roberts: Won 33 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, including the 1962 Daytona 500
T. Wayne Robertson: Helped raise NASCAR popularity as RJ Reynolds Senior VP
Herb Thomas: First two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, 1951 and ’53
Curtis Turner: Early personality, called the “Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing”
Darrell Waltrip: Winner of 84 races and three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships
Joe Weatherly: Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion
Glen Wood: As driver, laid foundation for Wood Brothers’ future team success
Cale Yarborough: Winner of three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles, 1976-78
The list consists of the 20 people who were not inducted into the Hall last year and five new names to be considered this year. It is encouraging to see that four of the five people new to the list are not Cup drivers, and two of them have not driven at all. The five new people are:
Jerry Cook: The career long adversary of Evans in the modified series. Between 1971 and 1985, either Evans or Cook won the modified championship. The piece that made the rivalry all the better was that Evans and Cook had absolutely no love lost between them.
Jack Ingram: Unquestionably one of the two founding fathers of the Nationwide series as it is known today. Ingram and Sam Ard were the two drivers to beat as the series was taking off, and Ingram was the all-time series leader in wins until the recent years of Cup drivers infiltrating the series. In a career that spanned until the early 1990s, he has 31 victories and still holds the record for consecutive wins at a track which was tied this year by Kyle Busch. Ingram won five consecutive races at South Boston from late 1985 through 1986.
Dale Inman: When it comes to winning races and championships at the Cup level, Inman is the true king. Inman has crew chiefed eight Cup championships and 193 Cup victories. He laid the groundwork for the most successful racing organization in the history of the sport, Petty Enterprises, and mentored more than a dozen men who went on to become top-level crew chiefs. His contributions to the sport are immeasurable.
Fred Lorenzen: There have been several drivers in the sport who have been more than just racecar drivers – Turner, Roberts, Tim Richmond, Waltrip to name a few. Lorenzen was one of the very first to be famous outside of the track. He retired at an early age and attempted to pursue an acting career. He never ran for championships, choosing to only run in the big races at the time. Interestingly, when compared to the legends of the sport (Richard Petty and Pearson) during the years he competed, Lorenzen scored more Cup wins (26, compared to 21 by Petty and eight by Pearson.)
T. Wayne Robertson: For someone who never worked on a race team and never drove a racecar, T. Wayne Robertson probably did more to make NASCAR a household name than anyone else in the history of the sport not named France. Robertson went from piloting cars around the tracks before races with Ms. Winston as a passenger to piloting the entire sport’s marketing budget of RJ Reynolds tobacco and working tirelessly to move NASCAR forward with Winston visible anywhere and everywhere.
The list is certainly a great one, but it seems to be heavily weighted toward drivers and a little lacking in the area of people who are the foundation of the sport that we all know and love. There have been several people who made enormous contributions to the sport in its formative years that have been left off of the list.
Among those I feel were snubbed was T. Taylor Warren, a legendary photographer who documented a huge number of the races through the first 60 years of NASCAR, including the photo that was used to determine the winner of the original Daytona 500. There’s also Chris Economaki and Ken Squier, two of the legendary broadcasters who have called hundreds of the most important races in the history of the sport. On the ownership side, we have Smokey Yunick who, along with Junior Johnson, is probably responsible for more of the current NASCAR rulebook than any other people who have competed in the sport because of the way he pushed the envelope. Bruton Smith? Love him or hate him, he’s done more to make racing more enjoyable for fans and more accessible to more fans than anyone outside of the France family. Humpy Wheeler is probably the most famous promoter in the history of motorsports, and was never afraid to blow something up if it would entertain fans.
There are more than three months of debate ahead before the vote for the 2011 inductees occurs in October. The people who back drivers will argue that all five of them should be drivers, while the backers of innovation will pull for the crew chiefs and other supporters. Modified fans will be screaming that Evans has more championships than anyone in NASCAR and should therefore be in the Hall. New fans to the sport will be backing the people that have raced most recently and are names they recognize. It is hard to say who the voting panel will select when the ballots are all cast, but it is certainly going to be an interesting debate between now and then.
Author’s note: My personal picks for the 2011 Hall of Fame class – Pearson (should have been in the first class), Evans (nine championships, including eight in a row), Lee Petty (the first three time champ, the first Daytona 500 winner, the patriarch of Petty Enterprises), Inman (the ultimate crew chief who oversaw eight Cup championships) and T. Wayne Robertson (the most influential man, outside of the France family, in the history of NASCAR).