October 14, 2009 -- a red letter day in NASCAR history

BY Darrell Waltrip • October 13, 2009

This Wednesday will be a day to remember in NASCAR history as the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be announced.

Deck the hall

Hall of Fame

Who will make the cut for NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class? Meet the 25 finalists right here.

The voting panel will meet early that day and begin their deliberations of the 25 nominees. At 4 p.m. ET, the votes will have been tabulated by an accounting firm and NASCAR Chairman Brian France will announce the five names live on SPEED TV. Then next May, NASCAR will hold its first-ever enshrinement.

I don't know, maybe it comes with being retired, but I see this like a race season: Those 29 years I spent going all over the United States racing were like the season and then being chosen to go into the Hall would be like winning the championship.

Trust me, I feel fortunate and proud to be one of the first 25 nominees. Would I love to be in the first class chosen? You betcha. That's what we racers live for, finishing first. Do I think I will be in the first class? No, really I don't. There are a lot of deserving people who came before me. These people paved the way in our sport so that a kid from Owensboro, Ky., to be able to enjoy an incredible career in NASCAR racing.

Will I look forward to the day my name might be announced as an inductee? You betcha. When you talk to any professional athlete, I don't care what sport — football, baseball, basketball, etc — those folks will tell you that being inducted into their Hall of Fame is the crowning jewel of their career. There's nothing sweeter than folks saying you had a "Hall of Fame career."

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I am thrilled about the NASCAR Hall of Fame because we finally will have one place to preserve, highlight and promote our rich history. Let's face it, without a past, you can have no future. Now we have a place to finally honor that past. You've heard me talk many times about how special it was to be in the driver fraternity in NASCAR. Let's face it, it's a mighty select group. Well the new NASCAR Hall of Fame takes even that to the next level.

Go to Canton, Ohio, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That place is incredible. There you can learn about George Halas, Jim Thorpe, Jim Brown, Vince Lombardi and so many others. The place has artifacts and exhibits from the way they used to play the game. But think about all the years there has been professional football. Think about the owners, teams, coaches and players over the years. Out of all those people, only 253 are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 253! Now that's rarified air. That's immortal.

Now I know there are some folks that are saying that five is a low number for induction into NASCAR's new Hall, but folks we don't have a 100-plus-year heritage. We only have a 60-year heritage, so there is a long way to go. Our sport is still growing and there are a lot of great people that are deserving of huge honor as we go down the road.

One of the beautiful things about the Hall is that it will showcase so many people that worked so long and so hard and sacrificed so much to get us to where we are today. We have an incredible foundation. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is going to be the cornerstone of that foundation.

I hope you will tune on Wednesday on SPEED. Myself, Mike Joy, Kyle Petty and Ken Squier will be on hand to bring you all the excitement and again, the announcement of the first five names to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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