Behind the curtain at the NASCAR Hall of Fame vote

Sitting on the voting panel for the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a fascinating process, one that everyone involved takes very seriously — and one where there are serious differences of opinion.

5 new members voted into NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Basically, it’s a simple enough idea — put the 37 members of the Hall of Fame voting panel in a single room at the Charlotte Convention Center, and give everyone an opportunity to speak his or her mind.

And the room is filled with some of the biggest names of NASCAR past and present — Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and Junior Johnson, plus Brian and Jim France and Lesa France Kennedy, to name just a few. It’s an honor to even sit in the same room with some of these giants, let alone to get a vote. 

Representatives of all three automakers in NASCAR sit on the voting panel as are journalists, broadcasters, team owners and former crew chiefs. It is a powerful group, to say the least.

Some panel members get up and give impassioned pleas about why friends should be elected; others take a very businesslike and analytical approach and go strictly by the numbers as far as who they believe should be in.

Frequently, voters go in with four or five nominees in mind, but the debate changes their mind and they wind up with different choices than they first envisioned. 

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This year’s discussion had a couple of oft-repeated themes. The first was should current team owners be elected while they are still active, or should they go in when they are retired? Ultimately, the voters opted to put both Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress in the Hall.

Should Raymond Parks, one of NASCAR’s earliest financial backers finally be elected in this, his eighth time on the ballot? Parks was the NASCAR Modified Series championship team owner in 1948 and the winning team owner in the first year of the Strictly Stock Series a year later in ’49.

If Parks goes in, should his driver, Red Byron go with him? Byron won two championships but only won two races. Is that enough? Parks got in, Byron didn’t.

Clearly, there was strong support for two departed greats, Benny Parsons and Buddy Baker. Both men were the recipients of eloquent, passionate speeches by voting panel members, but it was Parsons who was voted in.

NASCAR Hall of Fame voters pose for a photo at the Charlotte Convention Center in Uptown Charlotte on Wednesday.

The most gut-wrenching moment of the proceedings came when one panel member talked about visiting Baker in his dying days last summer and seeing a photo of the famous No. 28 Gray Ghost that Baker won the 1980 Daytona 500 with prominently placed so Baker could always see it from his bed.

If that doesn’t give you chills nothing will. 

In the end, everyone did their duty and the Class of 2017 was selected. And a damned fine class it is, with Parsons (85 percent of the votes), Hendrick (62 percent), Mark Martin (57 percent), Parks (53 percent) and Childress (43 percent) voted in.

I look forward to seeing the class inducted on January 20, 2017.

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