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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