Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt are there, so are Bobby Allison and Ned Jarrett. So who will join them as part of NASCAR's Hall of Fame class in 2012? Jorge Mondaca predicts which five of the finalists will get the nod, along with a dark horse choice who could surprise.
The first driver ever to win seven Cup championships, Richard Petty, was part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class. Now it's time for the man behind the scenes of Petty's success to get his Hall pass. Inman is the most successful crew chief in NASCAR history, leading Petty to all seven of his championships and then Terry Labonte to the first of his two in 1984. Along the way, he also picked up a record 193 wins atop the pit box and helped revolutionize the position of crew chief.
Before there was Jimmie Johnson's reign of dominance, Cale Yarborough was the standard bearer when it came to championship dominance — becoming the first driver in Cup history to win three-straight season titles beginning in 1976. On top of that, he finished as series runner-up three times. Along the way in his 31-year career, the Timmonsville, S.C., native earned 83 wins (tied for fifth all time) — including four Daytona 500s — and 69 poles (fourth all-time). There are only two people not in the Hall that are ahead of him on those lists — Darrell Waltrip (famously snubbed alongside Yarborough in 2011) and Jeff Gordon (who is not eligible yet as he is still active). Yarborough has got to be in this year.
Darrell Waltrip always has been a winner in NASCAR on and off the track. From his three Cup championships (84 Cup wins) and two Most Popular Driver awards, to his Emmy awards, appearances in blockbuster films such as "Talladega Nights" and "Cars," to his New York Times bestseller, there are few with a résumé quite like the NASCAR on FOX analyst. And none who aren't already in the Hall of Fame.
Without Glen Wood (center), NASCAR's longest-running Sprint Cup team would not exist. He made a name for himself first as a driver starting in 1950, winning five convertible races and four Cup races, then as a championship owner after retiring in 1965. Wood also boasts the longest running relationship with one manufacturer — Ford Motor Company. Together, the partnership has earned 98 victories with a who's who of drivers including David Pearson, Junior Johnson, A.J. Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Bobby Rahal, Parnelli Jones, Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and most recently Trevor Bayne. In all, 19 of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers drove for the Wood Brothers. Among those victories, Wood has 15 at Daytona, most recently with Bayne, who brought home the company's fifth Daytona 500 victory.
Leonard Wood, the youngest of the five Wood Brothers, is one of NASCAR's most revered innovators. To this day, Wood, 76, is sought out by crew chiefs in the garage when they are looking to solve a dilemma. During the team's formidable years, Wood was the chief mechanic — a title that would evolve into crew chief. Wood was also a master engine builder until the organization became a factory Ford in the mid-1960s. He remained a crew chief until the late 1980s — winning races with driver Kyle Petty. While he still attends races on a regular basis, during Wood's heyday he was instrumental in revolutionizing the modern pit stop in NASCAR. The team's precision attracted the attention of Lotus owner Colin Chapman, who brought in the Wood Brothers to pit Jim Clark's car for the 1965 Indianapolis 500 — which Clark won.
Dark horse: Richie Evans
We've seen our share of surprises in the first two Hall classes, and Evans could be the one to leave many wondering "Who?" when the votes are tallied. But the Hall is a NASCAR Hall, not just a Cup one, and few arguments could be made against Evans' inclusion. From 1973-85, it is estimated he competed in 1,300 modified races, winning approximately 475 of them. He also won nine NASCAR modified titles in that span, including the first on the current Whelen Modified Tour in 1985. Whether it happens this year or not, expect him to be the first non-Cup affiliated person in the Hall.