By now, you’ve probably seen the list: 20 NASCAR personalities, ranging from drivers and owners to crew chiefs and TV broadcasters, are under consideration for the 2017 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame following the 2016 induction last month. All told, five will be admitted entrance into the Charlotte shrine, joining everyone from Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip alongside the recently retired Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott — 35 in all, dating back to the inaugural 2010 class.
Of those 20, 15 have been in this position before; they’re the also-rans of 2016’s nominee pool who did not make the final cut. Some have been listed for multiple years now, much like other professional sports’ halls of fame, continuing their quest to gain admittance despite not receiving a nod in their first year on the ballot. No need to dive too deep into the list, but the returning possibilities include Buddy Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Rick Hendrick, Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, Hershel McGriff, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Larry Phillips, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates.
On the other hand, five join the pool of nominees for the first time, snagging their maiden opportunity to make enough of an impression on the voters to become part of what’s considered in most sports the rank of immortality. They come from different sides of the sport; in fact, just two would make it as part of their driving prowess.
It’s enough to make one’s head spin. How can one compare the feats of a person’s career when their duties and skills can be so inherently different? Often it seems as though hall of fame inductions curve toward the most visible of personalities, specifically the players, drivers, what have you — and understandably so. But as seen throughout the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s relatively short lifespan, that’s rarely how it goes, save for the 2015 class, which featured all drivers (Elliott, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly, Rex White and Fred Lorenzen). So when it comes to a driver’s accomplishments versus an owner’s, or a crewman’s, or even one of the sanctioning body’s top brass’ achievements, how do you quantify or even rank such contributions?
Which is why this column won’t do that (and will leave such things to others, perhaps highly vocal Twitter users). Instead, let’s immerse ourselves with the newcomers — they often have a fairly good shot at these things their first time out, after all — and run down the accomplishments that elevated them to NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee status in the first place.
Ron Hornaday: It’s admittedly interesting to see Hornaday on the ballot already — not as a knock on his achievements per se, but because it’s odd to think of the four-time Camping World Truck Series champion as someone in the twilight of his career. Just last year, Hornaday was a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver — well, for about five races, that is, before stepping out of The Motorsports Group’s No. 30 and not resurfacing since. Does the nomination effectively spell an end to the 57-year-old’s career? Not necessarily, though none of the drivers who’ve made it into the hall were active drivers when it happened. Regardless, seeing Hornaday as part of the nomination list is unsurprising. Though he never quite broke through in Cup and had noteworthy-but-not-jaw-dropping success in the XFINITY Series, he’s unarguably one of the Truck Series’ greatest competitors in its two-decade lifetime, winner of 51 races and four titles (both the best marks in the series ever), remaining competitive even into this decade despite being well over 50. Couple that with success in NASCAR’s regional series in the early 1990s especially, and it’s easy to see why Hornaday would be one of the Truck Series’ flag bearers for inclusion in the hall of fame.
Jack Roush: Granted, runaway success as a NASCAR team owner has not yet paid dividends for even some of the greatest modern owners like Hendrick and Childress, but Jack Roush absolutely deserves his nomination. The owner of Roush Fenway Racing, formerly called Roush Racing before Fenway’s John Henry gained a 50 percent stake, Roush has become one of the most visible, well-known owners in NASCAR, thanks in part, of course, to his trademark Panama hat. Though his team’s efforts have been less than stellar as of late on the Cup side (an XFINITY championship with Chris Buescher last season helped soften the blow), Roush’s cars have become ubiquitous with two things: winning and Ford. In fact, Roush has been the torchbearer for Ford’s NASCAR efforts for some time now, granting the manufacturer two Cup titles in the early 2000s via Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch. If you’re going to have folks like Hendrick, Childress, Bud Moore and Glen Wood represented for at least hall of fame consideration, you must have Jack Roush in there, too.
Ricky Rudd: One of NASCAR’s enduring personalities in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s was Ricky Rudd, who managed an immense three-decade career in the sport that saw him win 23 times. Perhaps Rudd’s greatest accomplishment was his astounding run from 1983 to 1998, during which he won a Cup race at least once each season, doing so with everyone from Hendrick Motorsports to his own Tide-sponsored No. 10 team. He was easily one of the sport’s more likable presences too, and when he took off the 2006 season after a grueling streak running each and every NASCAR Cup Series race since 1981, an achievement unsurpassed by most, his absence still felt like a major hole in the hearts of many fans — though he returned for one last hurrah in 2007.
Ken Squier: Multiple broadcasters have gained entrance into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but thus far, they all have one thing in common: they were also accomplished drivers, from Ned and Dale Jarrett to Rusty Wallace. That could change if Ken Squier is elected to join them. Squier, now nearly 81, is credited with being one of the voices that brought NASCAR to the masses as part of television productions; not only was he a pit reporter for the first flag-to-flag race coverage on ABC in 1971, he was also announcer for the famous 1979 Daytona 500, the first to be aired from start to finish on national TV. Squier was also a founder of Motor Racing Network, instrumental in bringing racing broadcasts to homes via radio. Though he stepped back from covering NASCAR races once TNT no longer showed them, a real treat during last year’s nostalgia-packed Southern 500 found Squier briefly calling the race with the Jarretts.
Waddell Wilson: For a candidate on more of the technical side of NASCAR, consider Wilson, championship engine builder and crew chief. Until he retired from racing in 2000, Wilson worked for a veritable who’s who in racing, notably Hendrick Motorsports, Cale Yarborough and many more — dating back to the 1960s, when he built the engine Fireball Roberts used to win the 1963 Southern 500. With Wilson as part of the grand effort, you’re looking at well over 100 wins and multiple Cup championships to go with plenty of Daytona 500 victories.
About the author
Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.