After the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class was announced there was much discussion about who was in and who was out and why certain people were included while others weren’t. That debate was even more heated when the second class came around and people were inducted with lesser numbers than some of the folks who were left out. This year’s class seems to be the best of the three. The balance between two of the greatest drivers, the greatest crew chief ever, one of the most innovative owners ever and the king of the modifieds covers almost the entire spectrum of NASCAR. There will certainly be some people who think that there were some snubs from this class but it is, without a doubt, the best balanced class to date.
Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip both have three Cup championships and are within one win of each other on the all-time wins list. Both of them have also pissed off quite a few people in the NASCAR establishment over the years which could explain why there were left off of last year’s inductee list. This year was a different story as they were the first two names announced for the 2012 induction class. Yarborough was not in attendance at the announcement but Waltrip rushed the stage to give Brian France a large smooch on the cheek after the head of NASCAR announced his name as the second member of the class. In the post announcement media availability Waltrip reflected on last year’s disappointment and on his emotions for this announcement.
“Last year I volunteered for the TV deal because I was worried and wanted to be doing something else to take my mind off of it if I didn’t get voted in,” he said “This year I figured that if Cale and I didn’t get in they’d be sending a message that we were going to have to wait a while so I’m glad I don’t have to wait anymore.”
In an interesting tidbit that many people might not know, Waltrip was asked about his fellow classmates and recalled watching Richie Evans dominate in a Modified at Martinsville for years.
“I used to sit at Martinsville and watch Richie tear around there. I went to Daytona in a Modified the first year they ran there and won the race. Richie came back the next year with an identical car to the one I won with and dominated the race.”
Evans was the fourth name announced for the class and demonstrated a significant change from the first two classes. Mike Helton noted after the announcement that it is the NASCAR Hall of Fame and he’s pleased to see that the voters finally have made the step to include someone from outside of the Sprint Cup ranks. Evans has long been known as the King of the Modifieds, winning nine National Championships in modifieds, including eight in a row from 1978-1984.
While waiting for the class announcement, I spoke with a Hall of Fame voter who noted that there was much discussion, all of it good, about not only Evans but also his chief rival Jerry Cook as well as Jack Ingram who is one of the original pioneers of the Nationwide Series. That is a stark departure from last year when another Hall voter noted that Evans came came up for possibly five minutes during the discussion and was hardly considered at all. Hopefully the positive momentum generated this year with Evans’ inclusion will signal a change in attitude by the voters and open the door for Ingram and Cook to get their foot inside within the next two years.
Also included in this year’s class, Dale Inman–who has eight Cup titles as a crew chief–set the bar that all crew chiefs have worked towards over the last thirty years. He’s also been a mentor to hundreds of crew members who’ve passed through the garage area over the last fifty years. After the announcement was over Richard Petty stopped by to congratulate Inman for being inducted and showed him the Hall of Fame Inductee ring to tell him that he will finally have one too. In true competitive fashion Inman told the King that he should have had his first because if it wasn’t for Inman the King wouldn’t be in the Hall. They both had a good laugh and it was at least partly in jest, but there is some truth to it too.
Inman is as much responsible for putting Petty Enterprises on the map as either of the two most famous drivers in the history of the organization. It is fitting to know that the France family was included in one Hall of Fame class while the Petty Enterprises family has been included in all three of the inductee classes announced for the Hall. Inman is still actively involved with the Petty organization and continues to share his knowledge with anyone willing to listen.
The last inductee is Glen Wood, one of the patriarchs of the Wood Brothers organization. Glen is probably most responsible for the modernization of pit stops and the choreography that is utilized today to make the amount of time spent on pit road as minimal as possible. Wood noted that it wasn’t that startling of a revelation that time could be saved on pit road, they just focused on it first.
“All you had to do was look at the track and realize that you came in behind a car and went out and were 100 yards ahead of them after the pit stop that it was made up in here not out there. We were just the first ones to really focus on saving that time.”
Wood was honored to be included in the Hall, acknowledging that he did not expect to make it in this year and did not think he’d be alive by the time that day rolled around. He did not focus on changing his lifestyle or worrying about his health to stay alive long enough to hear his name announced but he is glad it worked out so he could.
NASCAR’s Hall of Fame is growing and generating more interest every year as more and more people are included. There has been debate over the last two years about who was included and some of the people who were excluded. This year, for the first time, it feels like the voters got it right and the Hall is finally reflecting the total history of the sport and not just the Cup series. Now if we can just get the Nationwide Series represented we’ll be looking even better.
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