After the hundreds of men and women who have flowed through NASCAR like so much water over the decades, it all comes down to five.
After considering the 25 nominees, each year, the NASCAR Hall of Fame selection panel chooses just five to represent the sport inside those hallowed walls each year. Drivers, crew chiefs, mechanics, owners and executives, all are represented on the ballot most years, but it still comes down to five.
That made sense in the beginning; when the Hall was new, there was a need to put enough people in each year to build up the exhibit area but not so many that the inductions were endless and perhaps less meaningful. But those days are gone now, and it’s time for a change in the way future members are selected.
There doesn’t need to be a number, but there does need to be a standard.
That’s not to say that there should be a set criteria that all must meet to be considered, but for a driver, fewer than 25 or so wins is getting a little thin in the credential area without some other contribution to the sport. While that might mean a popular driver doesn’t get in, it could mean the right ones do.
What really needs a revamp is the way the selection process works. I’m starting to think there should be two separate selection committees, beginning with a pioneers committee that solely looks at those from the early days of the sport, ensuring that they don’t get overlooked in the shuffle of the more recent and better-known personalities.
Let this group be responsible for at least two inductees per year, but up to five. The committee should be a mix of longtime media members and drivers, mechanics and crew chiefs from all eras of the sport. That ensures that those who truly built the sport get the recognition they deserve without being compared to those in the sport’s modern era, because in many — if not most — cases, the early days can’t be compared with recent ones.
Drivers who entered the sport in its infancy were not necessarily in it as long as others as they were older when it all began. Without decades-long careers, the numbers will be different from later participants. It’s not just drivers, though. Mechanics and engine builders then are not the same as those in those roles now. Giving them a look when they’re not compared to those they should not be compared to assures nobody is lost in the shuffle.
For the modern-era drivers, the selection process needs to move toward the way the Baseball Hall of Fame chooses its inductees. The selection committee for Cooperstown does not include industry executives or past players, but the membership of the Baseball Writers of America, journalists who make a living analyzing each aspect of the sport with at least 10 years of experience to have voting privileges. This reduces politics, at least to a degree, though those who were hostile to the media have struggled in baseball but generally get the nod when deserving.
The ballot should consist of all eligible drivers, owners, mechanics and others. From there, those who get a certain percentage of the vote (done by mail, to avoid lobbying and influencing) are inducted, whether it’s one or five or 10. After perhaps a couple of years, it’s probably not going to be more than five anyway.
It’s a lofty goal because of the sheer number of people eligible—not only Cup participants, but also those from other sanctioned series. It might be possible to divide further, with a committee for different series narrowing the ballot before the final vote.
By doing this, the hope is that nobody gets overlooked and the most deserving get the call. Perhaps the second-best driver on this year’s list behind Tony Stewart, Mike Stefanik, was overlooked. The Hall needs to take a close look at why that happened and take steps to avoid it via the voting process. That means no lobbying, secret ballots, a set (high) percentage of votes needed rather than the top five.
The Hall of Fame is a great place to visit, but everyone is missing out by not improving the process by which the best of the best are chosen. That ensures the highest of standards when considering drivers, crewmen and owners. Wins, championships and then other contributions should be carefully weighed. There doesn’t need to be a certain number of inductees each year, but there need to be inductees from different eras and a step above the competition every step of the way.