By admin | May 25, 2010
By Richard Allen
When I first heard there would be five inductees into the new NASCAR Hall of Fame I picked Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, and the Frances as my initial class. As it turns out those were the five to be chosen.
Petty and Earnhardt seemed obvious choices as the only seven time champions in NASCAR history. Johnson had enormous success as a driver and car owner as well as being the person most responsible for bringing big sponsorship to the sport. The sport would not exist nor be at the level it is today without Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr.
Not to take away from those who were just inducted into this new and immediately hallowed place, but my thoughts have already turned to the next class of inductees.
Since the NASCAR Hall of Fame is only accepting five new members per year, the next selection will perhaps be even more difficult than the first. There are so many who could be argued for.
With that said, here are the five people I would recommend. David Pearson, Lee Petty, Glen â€˜Fireballâ€™ Roberts, Ned Jarrett and Bruton Smith should make up the next class. One of my fears about the HoF is that those involved in the earliest days of the sport will be ignored as more recent people become eligible. With no disrespect intended to deserving drivers like Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett, there are some who should go in before they do.
Of all those who could have had an argument made on their behalf to be part of the first class, David Pearson likely had the strongest case. He is NASCARâ€™s second all time winner with 105 victories in 574 career starts. An incredible 22 of those wins came on the crown jewel tracks of Daytona, Darlington and Charlotte.
Even though he ran only a limited schedule for much of his career, the â€˜Silver Foxâ€™ scored three NASCAR championships in a four year time span between 1966 and 1969. Whether it be as a full time or part time driver, Pearson was a force to be reckoned with every time he showed up at the track.
Many questioned the fact that David Pearson was left out of the initial Hall class. There is no doubt he should be included in the next group.
Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500. That alone should make him Hall of Fame worthy. However, there was much more to this man than just that one victory.
The father of â€˜The Kingâ€™ was the patriarch of the sportâ€™s royal family. But not only that, the elder Petty scored 54 wins and three championships over the course of a relatively short career.
Without Lee Pettyâ€™s early achievements and the legacy he left behind, it is safe to say that NASCAR would not be where it is today.
Ask almost any of the old time veterans of this sport who their hero was and many will say one name, Glen â€˜Fireballâ€™ Roberts. Stories about this driver are legendary.
In the short time he had, Fireball made the most of it. He won 33 races, including the 1962 Daytona 500, in only 206 career starts. He also had 32 poles and finished in the top-5 ninety-three times. However, since he failed to ever run a full season, Roberts never won a championship.
In an unfortunate way Roberts also caused some of the most important changes the sport has ever seen. Ironically, the man known as Fireball died as a result of injuries sustained in a fiery crash at Charlotte in 1964. Because of his untimely death, fuel cells and fire retardant suits would eventually become standard equipment in racing.
Ned Jarrett deserves a place in NASCARâ€™s Hall of Fame for two reason. First, he had an outstanding career as a driver. Second, he came to be recognized as the television face of the sport during the infancy of NASCAR broadcasting.
As a driver, â€˜Gentleman Nedâ€™ won 50 races and two championships even though he retired at the young age of 34. It was said that he was one of the smoothest drivers the sport has ever seen on dirt as well as asphalt.
In 1965, Jarrett won the Southern 500 at Darlington by an astounding 14 laps.
Aside from his driving, Jarrett was every bit as important to the growth of the sport as an announcer. As both a pit reporter and booth commentator for CBS and ESPN, he brought a driverâ€™s eye view of NASCAR into the living rooms of an America that was not yet very familiar with the sport, and he did so in a way everyone could understand and appreciate. And who could forget, â€œDale Jarrettâ€™s gonna win the Daytona 500!â€ as the proud father talked his son across the finish line of the â€˜Great American Raceâ€™ in 1993?
And of my five choices if I were a voting member on the NASCAR Hall of Fame committee, I realize my fifth choice is likely to be the most open to debate. With that said, however, I believe O. Bruton Smith should go in with the next class of inductees.
Allow me to offer what I consider the most definitive piece of evidence as to why he deserves the honor. It was said that the Frances should be inducted because without them there would be no NASCAR. Well, without Smith the city of Charlotte might very well not be the home of the HoF.
It is largely because of Smith that NASCARâ€™s home base is in this particular region. He built the Charlotte Motor Speedway into a show palace when most other facilities on the NASCAR circuit were hardly ready to make the jump into the modern era.
Along with the Charlotte track, facilities in Bristol, Texas and Las Vegas have grown to represent the model for track building and operation while under the leadership of Bruton Smith and his Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
NASCAR was attracting nice crowds and racing on decent facilities before Smith and his company really took hold. After SMI grew into a corporate giant, NASCAR was attracting enormous crowds and racing in luxury palaces.
There you have it. These five men are the ones I would nominate for the 2011 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There are so many deserving candidates that it would be difficult to argue with choices such as Yarborough, Turner, Weatherly, Lorenzen, Waltrip, Allison and so many more. Hopefully all of these listed will make it into their rightful place before their contributions are forgotten.
Please feel free to list your choices in the comments area.
Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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