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The Hall of Fame Nominating Committee Doesn’t Get It

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame announced the new list of nominees for consideration for the 2015 induction class on Friday at Daytona International Speedway. This year the eligibility rules for the Hall changed so there are a few more people in the pool to choose from. They also reduced the list from 25 to 20. In the end, the nominating committee, for the first time in its existence, didn’t nominate some people who were nominated the previous season. Even though the total number was reduced, there are new people on the list.

Smokey Yunick may have had the best damned garage in town. But for NASCAR’s Hall of Fame Committee, his accomplishments just aren’t worth a damn.
Smokey Yunick may have had the best damned garage in town. But for NASCAR’s Hall of Fame Committee, his accomplishments just aren’t worth a damn.

Smokey Yunick may have had the best damned garage in town. But for NASCAR’s Hall of Fame Committee, his accomplishments just aren’t worth a damn.

People who were nominated for 2014 that were not nominated for 2015 include: H. Clay Earles, Anne B. France, Les Richter, T. Wayne Robertson, and Ralph Seagraves. With the five drivers who were inducted into the hall in 2014 that made ten names removed from the 25 on the 2014 list. With those openings, the 2015 list has 15 people who were previously on the list and five new names that have not been nominated before. The five new names are: Buddy Baker, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates.

For the most part, the nominating committee does a good job of identifying the most deserving candidates for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Not only do they have competitors in the Cup Series, but they also include drivers from other series and people who have contributed to building the sport in other ways. They do have a great eye toward accomplishments on the race track but they’ve also acknowledged people who’ve made commitments off of the race track. The most glaring omission from the nominee list is a name that was synonymous with success in the early years of the sport and also contributed almost as much to the early rule books as Junior Johnson. He operated the “Best Damn Garage in Town” and often ruffled the feathers of the NASCAR brass. That has to be the reason that he’s not being included in the nominee list, let alone the Hall of Fame when his accomplishments certainly justified an inclusion in the second or third class.

Smokey Yunick won 21 races as a crew chief in the Cup Series which led him to two championships and two runner up finishes. The amazing part of those statistics is that they all took place in nine years. 17 of his wins took place in two seasons with Herb Thomas when he won titles in 1951 and 1953. Yunick was also a crew chief at the Indianapolis 500. He is sometimes credited as the winning crew chief when Jim Rathmann won the race in 1960, but that is disputed. Yunick has more than ten patents credited to him and most of them were so far ahead of their time that they weren’t used for years after he came up with them.

Yunick was a World War II pilot who also helped found Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach. He has been presented with numerous awards for his ingenuity and prowess as a mechanic and has been inducted into 15 different halls of fame that not only deal with racing but also deal with the automobile market in general.

The problem for Yunick must be his adversarial relationship with NASCAR. Yunick was notorious for working in the gray area of the rule book. The famous story of him driving a car home from Daytona International Speedway on just the fuel in the fuel line has been denied by people who were there when it happened. However, there was no denying that he managed to snake enough fuel line around the interior of his car to hold a full gallon of gas that his competitors were not holding in their cars. He routinely pushed the envelope and forced NASCAR to implement rules to prevent him from engineering far superior vehicles from the rest of the competition.

Between Junior Johnson and Smokey Yunick, 90% of the rulebook from prior to the Car of Tomorrow was based on their “engineering” in the gray areas. For whatever reason, Johnson is celebrated and was one of the first inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Yunick not only has been kept out of the Hall, he hasn’t even been nominated. That fact alone is a travesty. Yunick defined the spirit of the early years of NASCAR and he is a legend from the sport that should be celebrated. For the nominating committee to put Robert Yates name on the ballot with nary a mention of Smokey Yunick is a slap in the face to the Yunick family and his fans.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame is in its early years and is growing and evolving. While the committee and the voters have done a good job, the glaring absence of Yunick completely illegitimizes the Hall and devalues everything that is supposedly does for the sport. It is time for NASCAR to rectify this situation and give the voting committee the ability to properly recognize Yunick and what he meant to the sport.

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