Monday night, the second class was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and the four living inductees took to the podium to talk about their lives and their careers. The stories of sacrifice and passion that drove them to become some of the greatest in the sport reminded all of those in attendance, and watching on TV, how much it took from all of the pioneers in the sport to lay the foundation that supports what we enjoy on the track today.
Today’s drivers live like rock stars: flying to races, staying in multi-million dollar motor homes at the race track, receiving compensation for appearances and sponsorship not to mention competing for teams with budgets that are well into the eight figure realm. The drivers who built this sport made sacrifices to get their cars built and to the race track not to mention competing in events. Ned Jarrett tells the story of writing a check he didn’t have the money for in anticipation of winning the money that weekend to cover it. Dale Earnhardt went through two marriages as he fought to establish himself as a driver, often borrowing money to get what he needed for his cars in anticipation of winning the money back at the track the following weekend. Raymond Parks put a large amount of his own money into the sport in the very early years to ensure that drivers were paid for their finishes in NASCAR sanctioned races.
As the crowd filed into the ballroom of the NASCAR Hall of Fame to take in the induction ceremony there were several drivers on hand. Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Mark Martin, Brian Scott and several of the Drive for Diversity participants made the walk down the Blue Carpet. Brian Keselowski was spotted in the crowd inside the ballroom. Sadly, that was the extent of the representation by the current list of drivers in all of the NASCAR touring series. With the Truck and Cup series in Charlotte this weekend the drivers would be hard pressed to make travel an excuse for not being in attendance. Martin actually calls Florida his home and yet he put forth the effort to be in attendance to commemorate the contributions of this year’s inductees. The rest of the drivers who had something better to do should take a look in the mirror when they put on their driving suit this weekend and remember who it was that got them there.
Fireball Roberts died in Charlotte after he sustained extensive burns in an accident at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Drivers have since worn fire retardant suits to prevent that from happening. Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt all died in a short period of time ultimately leading to the requirement of HANS devices or other head and neck restraint systems. Fuel spills and fires resulted in foam filled gas tank bladders which now minimize fuel loss during accidents. SAFER barriers came about because so many people paid the ultimate price during races. Thousands of people contributed to the current state of NASCAR and the life that the top drivers are afforded. The current crop owes a great debt of gratitude to each and every one of them, especially those who are being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
It is truly a shame, as fans and media lined the carpet outside the ballroom, waiting to get a glimpse of the celebrities who paraded into the event, they saw only a handful of current drivers. The Hall of Fame’s economic struggles are no secret, with first year attendance figures falling well below the initial estimates, and the revenue stream has resulted in shortfalls and potential default on bonds. The best thing that could happen for the Hall is having extensive support from the current drivers and a large amount of exposure because of it. However, that isn’t the most important reason for the drivers to be there. The most important reason for them to be at the induction ceremony is that they owe everything that they have now to the guys who are going into the Hall of Fame. Without the blood, sweat, tears, and lost lives of the men who put everything into the sport for the first twenty to thirty years, they’d be running around at local tracks and making next to nothing, if the local tracks even existed anymore.
Every driver, barring the handful who showed up on Monday night, should be ashamed of themselves. They should sit down at a desk and write a letter, not a tweet, not a text, not an email, an actual letter, to every living member of the Hall of Fame and express their sincere apology for not attending the induction. There is no question that some of them probably had extenuating circumstances, which should still require an apology letter. The current drivers most certainly wouldn’t have to pay for a ticket to get into the ceremony, even though they have the means and it would be the right thing to do, so there is no reason that they weren’t there.
To the 10 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and especially to the six living members–Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, Bud Moore, David Pearson and Ned Jarrett–thank you. Thank you for putting your wives and families through the separation required to succeed in stock car racing. Thank you for taking the risks and accepting the challenges to become champions and heroes for all of the fans of this sport. To the current list of drivers in the upper echelons of NASCAR, you should be embarrassed.
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