I have to admit I got inspired when I read a piece by veteran motorsports writer – and long-time friend – Al Pearce.
I read ol’ “Crazy Al’s” discourse on the NASCAR Hall of Fame and quickly discovered we shared the same opinions on the hall’s shortcomings.
Pearce was, not unexpectedly, thorough and reasonable. He made excellent points.
Like him, and everyone else, I have my thoughts on the NASCAR Hall of Fame and its selection process.
That selection process is unquestionably the Hall’s most hotly debated issue. It has been made abundantly clear that fans and media members will always contest it.
Their reasons range from the number of eligible HOF inductees per season to the veracity of the selection committee – not to mention, of course, the critics’ personal preferences for hall membership.
One thing needs to be mentioned before this goes any further: No hall of fame in any sport, how it operates, how it elects members and which individuals it rewards with membership, is ever going to satisfy everyone.
It’s never happened. Nor will it ever happen.
So it will be with the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
But there are some things I think NASCAR can do that will, at the least, end some criticism and perhaps produce a more complete, balanced and respected hall of fame.
When the NASCAR Hall of Fame was opened, and its membership guidelines announced, the sanctioning body quickly put itself into a hole.
Among other things, the guidelines mandated that only five new members would be inducted into the hall each year.
Given that when the hall was opened, there was already a 60-year backlog of worthy candidates. It was going to take one heckuva long time for the even the best of them to be inducted.
Sure, the first individuals enshrined were obvious choices: Richard Petty, Bill France Sr., Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and a few others.
They all achieved such greatness competitively, or in the development of NASCAR itself, that they became icons known and appreciated by everyone.
To quickly install them in the hall of fame was simply a matter of common sense, with which no one can argue.
But after three years things are a little different. Now the issue of who is inducted becomes more debatable.
Perhaps it would not be so if, say, 10 individuals were inducted.
But that only five will enter is of serious concern to many. The fear is that many of NASCAR’s pioneer drivers, mechanics, owners, officials, businessmen and others who worked in the “dark ages” and carved the path for what the sport is today, will be shuffled aside.
Why? Because there are so many of then and so few are elected per year.
But it’s also because of selection panel’s membership. Many of those who vote see few races per year and have followed the sport for only a small number of seasons.
Others include heads of media organizations, those linked to, and even employed by, NASCAR and even three members of the France family itself.
Which can lead to two conclusions: NASCAR-influenced panelists can be induced to vote as the sanctioning body might demand.
Second, the relatively small number of panelists with any real knowledge of NASCAR’s past may forget, if they ever really knew, the sport’s pioneers – those who must be inducted into the hall sooner rather than later before they are entirely forgotten.
They are the very foundation of NASCAR.
They achieved great things simply by racing. They did so in an era where there was little radio, certainly no TV, no marketing, no public relations, no cyberspace, no social media – nothing.
They became stars via newspapers and word of mouth. Fans liked them and told others about them.
Thus, their reputations grew. So did NASCAR.
My only real concern with the NASCAR Hall of Fame is that these individuals’ inductions will come so slowly that, given time, they may well be forgotten.
Among the newest nominees to the hall are team owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick and champion driver Rusty Wallace.
I don’t have a problem whatsoever with their entrance into the hall. They certainly deserve it. For that matter, so do several others whose noteworthy careers were shaped after NASCAR’s pioneer days.
But I believe those pioneers deserve first consideration, simply because without them, there would be no Childress, Hendrick or Wallace.
NASCAR was formed on the shoulders of such individuals as multiple champions Herb Thomas, Tim Flock and Buck Baker; crowd-pleasing competitors such as Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts and Fred Lorenzen; innovative team owners like Raymond Parks and Carl Kiekhaefer; skilled technicians exemplified by Smoky Yunick and Red Vogt; the courageous competitor Wendell Scott – and more.
A hall of fame represents a sport’s past and honors those whose lofty achievements helped make it grow.
Right now, that can be said of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
But as time goes by, it surely does not want to forget many of those whose accomplishments helped make it grow.
To assure that does not happen, the hall has some work to do.