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NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility should not be changed just to get recognizable drivers in earlier

By admin | December 8, 2013

By Richard Allen

I want to start off this piece by stating that I am a big fan of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. When it was built, it had been long overdue. But now that it is here, the HoF serves the great purpose of honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport.

However, one concern that I have had since the beginning for the Charlotte-based facility is that the earliest pioneers of NASCAR will be forgotten as more recent drivers become eligible. A recent announcement made regarding driver eligibility for the shrine causes me even more concern that those who laid the sport’s initial building blocks could be further delayed in receiving their just rewards.

According to a press release sent out by NASCAR last week, a driver will now be eligible for consideration if he has competed for a minimum of ten years and reached his 55th birthday on or before December 31st of the year prior to the nominating year. Also, any competitor who has competed for 30 years in NASCAR by December 31st of the year prior to the nominating year is automatically eligible, regardless of age. These new requirements will go into effect for the Class of 2015, which will be voted in the coming year.

Drivers may continue to compete without sacrificing their eligibility after achieving the milestones listed above.

Could it be mere coincidence that Mark Martin turns 55 this coming January? Bill Elliott is already 59. Terry Labonte just turned 58.

Under the old rules, drivers were made to wait three years after their retirement to be eligible, regardless of age. Martin and Labonte each competed in 2013 while Elliott’s last Sprint Cup start was logged in 2012.

Before going any further, let me state that I believe each of the three drivers mentioned above are Hall of Fame caliber. I just wonder why this sudden change of policy. I find it hard to believe that a sport that went for over 50 years without a Hall of Fame is so lacking of qualified candidates that it had to change the rules to make more names available to the voters.

NASCAR’s Hall of Fame has indeed honored drivers from the sport’s past. Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Allison are among those already enshrined, and deservedly so. And some of the very early leaders such as Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens and Bill France, Sr.  have also been placed in the Hall.

But again, I don’t see the need for a change. This just seems to have the feel of a move made to capture a short-term boost of attention rather than to do what a Hall of Fame is actually supposed to do, and that is honor those who deserve being honored at the appropriate time.

The HoF has not produced the numbers of visitors as was originally hoped for or projected.

The problem, as I see it, has come from the fact that NASCAR alienated many of its core fans years ago and now can’t understand why people won’t come to their monument. The new fans they have so desperately sought over the last decade don’t remember or know who some these pioneers are or what they accomplished. Hence, these fans have little desire to visit a building that is meant to honor them. It seems as if NASCAR feels the need to give them inductees that they have heard of and remember watching.

I have visited the shrine and intend on going back again. I believe in what it stands for. I just don’t want to see it cheapened for the sake of getting better TV ratings on an induction day or of getting a few more people to come through the turn styles simply because they actually remember those placed in the building.

Martin, Labonte and Elliott have made great contributions to the sport, and rightfully will be in the HoF someday. But the rules for enshrinement shouldn’t be changed to get them in just so there would be a name on the list that the more recent fans(and media members) actually recognize.


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16 Responses to “NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility should not be changed just to get recognizable drivers in earlier”

  1. Terry T Says:
    December 8th, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Let’s just call this what it is ‘the Mark Martin rule’.

    NASCAR and good ole BZF are changing policy because ole Mark is popular and they want him in there to get a few more fannies to come through the door.

    And the guy never won a championship or a Daytona 500.

  2. Leto Says:
    December 8th, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    It’s disgusting that the reason for this, according to Brett Jewkes himself, was so that the focus would be more on the drivers:

    Yet the drivers have always been the ones to get the attention. The crew guys rarely are in the spotlight (unless, of course, they screw up). The NASCAR Hall of Fame needs to put more emphasis on the people behind the scenes, the ones that really were the backbone of the success the sport has had the last 65 years.

    Nick Bromberg said it best: 7 of the first 25 inductees were not drivers. That means that 18, or roughly 2/3, were drivers. I hardly doubt that of everyone eligible, 2/3 of the people worthy were drivers.

  3. kb Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Love the idea of any HOF, but I knew Nascar was going to botch it when you had Wusty Wallace and Jaws flapping to get in the the very first rounds, their ego’s just turned me off. Plenty of old timers that DESERVE to be their before any of the modern day whiners.

  4. oldirtracker Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 9:54 am

    First and foremost there should have been more selections in the first five years of the hall selection process, there is no way to catch up with over 50 years of great drivers , crew chiefs, owners , and crew members from ALL the divisions of Nascar. This rule just makes it worse as many greats from the past will never be selected. Many modified and sportsman drivers who won hundreds of races will be overlooked and that is disheartening to the true race fan. Guys like Ray Hendrick, Sonny Hutchins, Sam Ard, Butch Lindley and a host of others will never be recognized for there contribution to grass roots racing that built this sport.

  5. Al Torney Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 10:05 am

    You hit the nail on the head. I lost interest immediately in the HOF when Pearson did not go in with the first group. If I ever get to Charlotte again I will visit the Hall but there will be no special trip for me. Anymore every move the France Family makes is about the money. Such a shame to see a sport take 50+ years to reach the pinnacle and then become the fastest declining sport in a mere 5 years under Brian’s leadership.

  6. GinaV24 Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 10:37 am

    I wish NASCAR had inducted the pioneers on a quicker basis. I know that they were focused on inducting driver’s who more people would recognize and Petty & Earnhardt were reasonable and obvious choices, but other than that, I haven’t been terribly impressed with the way they are going about inducting others.

    I have to agree with kb - Wallace & DW? We know Jaws would have continued to whine incessantly until he was in and personally since both are still “active” in the sport with broadcasting, IMO, they shouldn’t have been eligible for an early induction.

  7. Troy VandeKamp Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I don’t like the fact that they are changing the rules to make it “easier” to be enshrined (which is bascially all the change does, as what’s going to happen is there will come a day (in the not too distant future) when Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart will all be eligible in the same year, by changin the rules, even if they are still racing, they can get Jeff in one year, Tony the next and Jimmie the following PRIOR to them retiring from driving.

    Other Hall of Fames have similar rules when it comes to age (National Sprint Car Hall of Fame for Example), but they purposely have a certian # of inductees that come from previous eras and just this past year REDUCED the # being enshrined yearly (they had a lot more catching up to do than NASCAR as their Hall of Fame didn’t start until 1990 and there were already 90 years of racing to induct from (and WAY more drivers, team owners, officials, etc.).

    The big problem is that NASCAR thinks ALL their superstars are Hall of Fame worthy and that’s simply not the case. The Hall of Fame should be for the “best of the best”, which means that currently, only Jeff Gordon (4 titles), Jimmie Johnson (6 titles), Tony Stewart (3 titles) and Matt Kenseth (2 titles) should be enshrined out of ALL the current drivers (one title to me just isn’t enough, and zero titles is definetly not enough).

    So, Bill Elliot, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, etc., etc., etc. should not even be on a ballot at this point no matter how much talent they have.

    Being a pioneer in the sport also isn’t enough in my opinion. Just becuase you were there when it started doesn’t make you Hall of Fame worthy.

    As far as attendance goes at the Hall of Fame, my opinion is this. Someone didn’t do ANY research on others sports Hall of Fame to see what their attendance #’s actually are and made too many assumptions that attendance would be greater than the baseball of football hall of fames. I’m sure they wouldn’t have gotten any taxpayer $$$$ if they had used figures that were more in line with what other Hall of Fames across the country see on a yearly basis, so the #’s had to be “skewed” in order to receive those all important tax $$$’s to pay for it insteadof paying for it themseleves.

  8. Pokey Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Troy, since Matt Kenseth is my favorite driver I hate to be the one to tell you that Matt only has one title. He has finished second for the Cup to Jimmie Johnson twice, he has won the Daytona 500 twice, and he has 31 wins to his credit. He has the credentials to get in a few years after he retires, no doubt, but I agree that a driver or crew Chief must be retired at least three years before they can get in to the Hall of Fame. I think the number of inductees should be increased to 7 for the next five years and the number of drivers admitted should be limited to 2 each year and the number of inductees from over 40 years ago should be a required 2 for each of those five years. Then after 5 years, the number of inductees should be reduced to 4 each year and keep the limit to 2 drivers each year and let anyone else be part of the other 2. This would force them to admit at least 10 more legacy participants and maybe more of the grassroots of our sport will be honored. Also, after about 10 more years the number of inductees should be reduced to 2 per year so that getting admitted is a greater honor.

  9. john Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Matt Kenseth 2 titles? Did I miss one? Pretty sure just one but he did bring us the chase.

  10. mrclause Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    This HOF thing is getting worse all the time. Induction has been a game from the beginning. NASCAR has never honored it’s history, except maybe the Donny, Bobby, Cale, fight. To begin with none of the France family should take a spot from any other inductee. They simply need to be added at anytime after their demise in an area dedicated to the founders. There should not be a member of the voting or selection panels that is a part of NASCAR management. Before any loading of the ballots that these changes might bring about, a change needed to be made in the number of inductees to say 10 total and maybe 5 recent inductees with 5 historical inductees, to hasten a more complete HOF. Far too many of the historical builders of this sport have already passed, or will pass, before they ever receive the honor of induction. Several will never be nominated or voted on simply because of different feuds with the France Family. The induction process has been flawed from the start. The HOF should be a place of reverence, of honor, not one of politicking or gamesmanship.

  11. Chris Fiegler Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Do you think that Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader, Morgan Shepherd & Janet Guthrie will be Inducted to the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

  12. Rob Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Compared to a lot of NASCAR fans, I’d be likely considered a casual or a step above that with my knowledge. No, I do not know the numbers game. As a casual fan, I agree and disagree with some of the previous comments.

    I agree, let’s get some of the old timers or pioneers of the sport in before the modern era participants are eligible. The inducties, no matter what their roles were, should be out of mainstream NASCAR for X number of years, five or ten years for example. However, defining mainstream would need to be done first. Ray Evernham is definitely a HOFer, but does his current role as a consultant make him still considered mainstream? This may be considered an exception, but Richard Petty is technically still an owner. But current owners, crews/crew-chiefs, drivers, engineers back at the shops need to wait.

    Sorry, but winning championships should not be considered for eligibility. Mark Martin is a prime example. No, he hasn’t won a championship. But look at the other contributions he’s made to several teams since becoming a part time driver.

    One change that hasn’t been mentioned is the current champion being a part of the selection process. The HOF will be getting a current generation’s view of what inspired that driver to become part of NASCAR; who he/she looked up to as a youth and why.

    As a casual fan, my opinion is to first get the pioneers of the sport into the HOF (which includes being out of NASCAR for so many years before eligibility). Then the selection committee needs to look at their contributions as a whole; not only that as a driver, crew-chief or owner.

  13. Troy VandeKamp Says:
    December 10th, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Sorry, guess I mis-spoke (politcal speak for was wrong) when I said Kenseth had 2 titles.

    In that case, IMO, he’s not a Hall of Famer.

    The Hall of Fame (in ALL sports), should be for the best of the best, and to be the best, that means you win championships (multiple), not races (even the Daytona 500 is just a race).

    I’d say the same thing when it comes to football, is Trent Dilfer a Hall of Famer? Heck no, but he did win a Superbowl. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisburger (Hall of Famers, they won MULTIPLE Superbowls).

    Same goes for the NBA - IMO, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and John Stockton are not a Hall of Famers, they were GREAT players, but they were unable to elevate their TEAMS to win titles.

    Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johsnon, Tony Stewart, Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, are all Hall of Famers IMO as they have elevated their TEAMS to win multiple championships (in Roush and Hendrick’s case, they were able to get different groups (the 24, 48, 5, 17, 97) to elevate and win titles, that may be more impressive than the drivers winning titles. In auto racing it’s generally very difficult to get multiple groups to step up their game and Hendrick and Roush have been able to get 3 and 2 of their race teams (respectively) all to win a Championship (and in Roush’s case, they sometimes did it against superior competition).

    I stand by my comment above that Mark Martin is not a Hall of Famer (if he were, he’d have won championships with Roush, Hendrick and Waltrip, however the closest he ever came was 2nd). He’s still a GREAT driver, but he couldn’t ELEVATE his teams to the championship level IMO (and neither could Elliott or Kurt Busch (thus far)).

  14. Leto Says:
    December 10th, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Unless I missed something, Bill Elliott won a Cup title, back in 1988. And Kurt Busch won one in 2004.

    If you’re going to rant about how certain drivers don’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they haven’t won a Cup title (not to mention, this isn’t just the Cup Hall of Fame, this is every division of NASCAR), it would help you a lot if you actually had your facts right.

    Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, etc belong in the Hall. So does Terry Labonte. They’ve all made significant contributions to the sport, and that’s not just in winning titles.

    I’m not entirely sure that this new rule, after giving it some thought, is actually aimed at getting these specific drivers into the Hall. Didn’t they also announce a decrease in the number of people that will be on each year’s ballot as well? I would swear we now will have 20 instead of 25 people to pick from for the Hall. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it in theory be more difficult to get these drivers onto the ballots? They’d have to make a cut of 20 people, not 25 to even be considered.

    That isn’t to say that changing the rules isn’t kind of despicable. I think it’s idiotic to change the rules like this, but hey, what do I know?

  15. Tony Geinzer Says:
    December 10th, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Rich, I think this is Brian France realistically having to find ways to stay at work vs. doing whats right. And I would go for Southern History (Wendell Scott) , Bob Jenkins and BP going in together, Jerry Cook (The Living Equal to Richie Evans) and offer refendum, region, or gone too fast within reason (Richmond and Moroso DO NOT COUNT!)

  16. Steven Says:
    February 4th, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    For those unfamiliar with driver stats from the early era of NASCAR, compare the numbers for Bill Elliott vs Bobby Issac, Terry Labonte vs Joe Weatherly and Mark Martin vs Fred Lorenzen and Rex White.

    Example: Elliott 44 Wins, 55 Poles, 1 Champ in 828 starts. Issac 37 Wins, 49 Poles, 1 Champ but in only 308 starts. Thats similar numbers but with 500 fewer starts. WOW!

    We all know times have changed and racing has evolved over the years but shouldn’t some more of the Pioneer drivers be elected before some the new crop of drivers becoming eligible?

    I think most folks just haven’t taken the time to see what the pioneer drivers accomplished. All the drivers mentioned are worthy of consideration but check out the number of starts, wins, poles and championships for each of these comparisons.

    Issac, Weatherly, Lorenzen and White are deserving (and two are still alive). By the way, while I’m a fan of Benny Parsons as well, his stats fall a little short of the old-timers too.