NASCAR

Hall of Fame plan: Eight greats in first class

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
It is still early in the season, but already there is one overwhelming question that all fans seem to have on their minds — "Hey Ryan, now that we know where the NASCAR Hall of Fame is going, how are inductees going to be selected, and who should be in?"

That's a great question and not an easy one. Every writer that covers NASCAR seems to have offered his or her opinion on the HOF over the last two weeks, and being the stylishly-late individual that I am, it is time for my six cents worth. So, come with me now as I map it out and hope someone out there is listening. Or reading, whatever... you know what I mean.

Hall of Fame Eligibility

I currently vote for the National Motorsports Press Association's Joe Weatherly Stock Car Hall of Fame and Museum at the Darlington Raceway, and I believe that criteria works very well. You must either be:
  • retired from the sport for two years
  • over 65 years of age
  • deceased for a year
  • an "extraordinary" candidate
The age rule makes sure that a guy like Richard Childress, who will likely never retire as a car owner, still gets in while he is with us. The "extraordinary" rule was put into place after Dale Earnhardt's death, which the membership felt was worth bypassing the first three rules to go on and put in The Intimidator.

A special nomination committee looks over the massive list of eligible candidates each year and narrows that down to a manageable ballot for voting. Ballots go out to the roughly 200 NMPA members, and whoever receives 65 percent of the vote is in. What the NMPA doesn't do is require a certain number of drivers, owners, crew chiefs, media members, etc. to be enshrined each year. For example, this year's class included track owner Bruton Smith, longtime track owner/promoter Paul Sawyer and late-model ace Butch Lindley. Nary a Cup driver in the bunch.

The Voters

As much as I like the NMPA process, I believe that the NASCAR Hall of Fame should select its inductees by a special committee, not a general sportswriters' poll like the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or the Heisman Trophy. Simply put, there aren't enough current motorsports media members who know enough about the history of the sport to make smart decisions. That's no slight to anyone because presumably those who are currently too young or inexperienced now will one day represent the elder statesmen of the press room and thus eventually end up on the panel.

Instead, I believe the panel should be more like the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, a carefully-selected group of longtime media members, representing NFL cities and national publications. Membership is determined by the membership itself, which means only the best and most qualified get a vote. But my NASCAR HOF committee would be one part media, one part hall of famers themselves and one part NASCAR representatives. Tom Higgins of The Charlotte Observer sitting next to Richard Petty sitting next to NASCAR VP Jim Hunter. Imagine 15 guys of that kind of clout sitting in a room making decisions, and no one can argue with the results.

The Initial Class

The initial class should be eight inductees — listed alphabetically — Red Byron, Dale Earnhardt, Bill France Jr. & Sr., Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Lee Petty and Richard Petty. These picks are indisputable. Earnhardt and Petty are the two biggest stars and greatest champions in NASCAR history. Lee Petty was the sport's first great star and held the career records for wins and championships until son Richard broke them both. Red Byron was NASCAR's first champion in 1949. Junior Johnson and David Pearson are openly discussed as the most talented pure drivers in the sport's history.

The initial class needs to be larger than the others, but not so big that you don't have enough headline acts for induction ceremonies each year following.

The Next Classes

From there, incoming classes should be no larger than five with one star representing the decade in which he did the most damage.

Class No. 2: Herb Thomas (1950's), Bobby Allison (1960's-1980's), Cale Yarborough (1970's), Darrell Waltrip (1980's) and Rusty Wallace (1990's). Imagine seeing longtime bitter rivals Cale, DW and Bobby Allison sharing the stage together. They might very well start racing their limos around the Hall of Fame parking lot.

Class No. 3: Buck Baker (1950's), Fireball Roberts (1960's), Benny Parsons (1970's), Bill Elliott (1980's), Terry Labonte (1980's). You get the picture. Keep in mind that this place won't cut the ribbon until 2009 at the earliest so your stars of the 1990's and some from the current decade will likely be retired and eligible.

Non-Drivers

Poll
Each year's five-driver class of inductees should be joined by a group of non-drivers, men and women who made their mark on the sport through other avenues. Five-person groups in different categories are inducted each year with categories set up on a rotating basis.

The categories: mechanics, car owners, track owners/promoters, groundbreakers, short track heroes and media. Large groups are inducted each year, but the HOF isn't filled too quickly thanks to the rotating induction process.

  • 2009 / Mechanics: Smokey Yunick, Banjo Matthews, Ralph Moody, Dale Inman, Ray Evernham.
  • 2010 / Car owners: Holman-Moody, Carl Kiekhaefer, Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Glen and Leonard Wood.
  • 2011 / Track owners/promoters: Bruton Smith, Humpy Wheeler, Paul Sawyer, Enoch Staley, H. Clay Earles, Harold Brasington.
  • 2012 / Media: Tom Higgins, Chris Economaki, Ken Squier, T. Taylor Warren, Barney Hall.
  • 2013 / Groundbreakers: Wendell Scott, Janet Guthrie, Bob Latford, Sara Christian, and whoever wins the race to become the first full-time minority team owner. Surely that will be done by 2013, right?
  • 2014 / Short Track Heroes (NASCAR stars away from the Nextel Cup series): Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, Jerry Cook, Richie Evans and Ralph Earnhardt.
  • Induction Weekend

    Two possibilities here.

    1. Hold the annual induction ceremonies on the Sunday afternoon following the Nextel All-Star Challenge, which should stay in Charlotte. It would be a nice classy addition to what is already an amazing 10-day stretch each Memorial Day week.
    2. Place an open weekend in the Nextel Cup schedule around June 19 each year and hold the ceremonies on Saturday. That date is the anniversary of NASCAR's first "Strictly Stock" race, which was held in Charlotte only a few miles west of where the Hall of Fame will stand. It would be the perfect nod to the sport's oft-forgotten rough and tumble roots.

    So, there you have it. Now matter how the details shake out in the end, each year's induction class is likely to bring with it tons of debate, controversy and conversation. But hey, that's what racing is all about, right?


    Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.
    Tagged: Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott

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