The nominees for the 2012 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame have been announced and now the voting committee has until June 12th to determine who will receive their ballots and ultimately become the next class of five inductees into the Hall of Fame. The 20 people who were on the list last year return along with five new names to replace the five that were named to the 2011 class. H. Clay Earles, Bobby Isaac, Cotton Owens, Les Richter and Leonard Wood are the first time additions to the nominee list this year.
The nominee list in alphabetical order from NASCAR media services:
Buck Baker,first driver to win consecutive NASCAR premier series championships (1956-57)
Red Byron, first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949
Richard Childress, 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series
Jerry Cook, six-time NASCAR Modified champion
H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway
Richie Evans,nine-time NASCAR Modified champion
Tim Flock, two-time NASCAR premier series champion
Rick Hendrick, 13-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series
Jack Ingram, two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion
Dale Inman, eight-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief
Bobby Isaac, 1970 NASCAR premier series champion
Fred Lorenzen, 26 wins and winner of the Daytona 500 and World 600
Cotton Owens, driver-owner, won 1966 owner championship with David Pearson
Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner
Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR premier series champion
Les Richter, former NASCAR executive; former president of Riverside International Raceway
Fireball Roberts, won 33 NASCAR premier series races, including the 1962 Daytona 500
T. Wayne Robertson, helped raise NASCAR popularity as R.J. Reynolds Senior VP
Herb Thomas, first two-time NASCAR premier series champion, 1951, ’53
Curtis Turner, early personality, called the “Babe Ruth of stock car racing”
Darrell Waltrip, 84 wins and three NASCAR premier series championships
Joe Weatherly, two-time NASCAR premier series champion
Glen Wood, as driver, laid foundation for Wood Brothers’ future team success
Leonard Wood, part-owner and former crew chief for Wood Brothers, revolutionized pit stops
Cale Yarborough, three consecutive NASCAR premier series titles, 1976-78
As with any Hall of Fame or list in general that purports to identify the best or greatest at anything, there will always be some debate about who belongs on the list and who does not. The nominee list for the NASCAR Hall of Fame is no exception. The balance between administrators, drivers and mechanics is always going to be difficult to orchestrate and this year’s list portrays that difficulty with the five new names on the list.
The Wood Brothers realistically should be inducted as a single group but that is not how the Hall wants to conduct business so it certainly makes sense that Leonard Wood should be on the list next to his brother Glen so that, when the time comes, they’ll hopefully both go into the Hall together. In the grand scheme of things it would be great to see Delano, Glen, Leonard, Len and Eddie all go in together but that might make for a rather boring induction ceremony.
Cotton Owens falls into the owner/driver category similar to Junior Johnson. Owens won nine races as a driver including the 1957 Daytona race on the beach/road course, but he also won 38 races as an owner, including the 1966 series championship with David Pearson behind the wheel. Owens owned the car that Pearson drove to victory 27 times and also hired Junior Johnson for four races. He was named to the list of 50 greatest drivers in NASCAR history during the 1998 50th anniversary of the sport.
Les Richter, aside from being a Pro Football Hall of Fame member was also an administrator who was the president of Riverside International Raceway, a Vice President of Competition and a Senior Vice President of Operations for NASCAR. He finished out his racing administration career as the Vice President of Special Projects at Auto Club Speedway. While Richter did bring NASCAR to California with two different race tracks, there are certainly some people who deserve to be on the list ahead of him.
The names omitted from the list might be even more surprising than the names on the list. The two most prominent, in this writer’s opinion, are Bruton Smith and Smokey Yunick. Both of these men have notoriously battled with the France family throughout the life of NASCAR and that would seem to be the only reason that their names are being omitted from the nominee list.
Smith owns nearly half of the race tracks where NASCAR holds their national touring races and has spent quite a bit of his money purchasing tracks to move dates to his bigger facilities. Smith pioneered lighting race tracks over one mile in length and brought many of the Intermediate/Cookie cutter tracks to the schedule. Most of the tracks he purchased to move the dates to those tracks were short tracks that are now sorely missed on the NASCAR Cup schedule.
Yunick is one of the most innovative car builders and mechanics in the history of the sport. While it may no longer be the case, at one time he and Junior Johnson were responsible for well over half of the rules in the NASCAR rule book. Yunick owned 57 Cup series wins, two championships and an Indianapolis 500 victory. He is also responsible for at least nine U.S. Patents. He was notorious for working in the gray area of the rule book, once including 11 feet of fuel line in the race car because the rules did not limit the length of fuel line, just the diameter. The end result was that Yunick’s car could hold an additional five gallons of fuel in the line. When NASCAR confiscated his gas tank at Daytona International Speedway he got in the car and drove it the six miles down the road to his shop with just the fuel in the line.
The names on the nominee list are, without a doubt, deserving of being enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday. However, there are at least two names that, without question, should be on the list before some of the other names included at this point in time. Let’s hope that there aren’t personal agendas at play in determining the list but, until the voting numbers are made public we’ll never know.
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