By admin | July 8, 2009
By Richard Allen
The first class of members will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. NASCAR has released the names of 25 people who make up the candidates for that initial membership and narrowing the number down to the maximum of five entries will be difficult to say the least.
For what it is worth, I have compiled my list of the five men I would vote for if I had a vote. Here are my choices for the NASCAR Hall of Fame:
Bill France, Sr.- ‘Big Bill’ was a larger than life character who was responsible for the very creation of NASCAR. After having promoted races on the beach in Daytona he saw the need for an organization to make and enforce a standard set of rules for stock car racing.
Not only did he lead in the founding of NASCAR but he built the track most associated with the sport. In 1959, his Daytona International Speedway opened and has been the center point of stock car racing ever since.
France ruled NASCAR with an iron hand until his retirement in 1972. An example of his dominating control of the sport came when drivers once refused to race in Talladega. France simply rounded up more drivers and put the show on anyway. When his drivers saw that the sport would go on without them, they came back.
Without ‘Big Bill’ France there would be no NASCAR, much less a Hall of Fame.
Bill France, Jr.- Where ‘Big Bill’ left off, ‘Bill Jr.’ picked up. The younger France ushered the sport into a new era. His father created the organization, and he took it to the next level.
It was under the second of the France family that the sport became the modern day behemoth it is today. He modernized the sport by tightening the schedule, luring in major sponsors and putting NASCAR on television.
The massive grandstands at the tracks, the huge sums of money involved in racing and the spectacle that is NASCAR today are due to ‘Bill Jr.’. Without him there would be no need for a Hall of Fame because few would know the sport even exists.
Richard Petty- The sport’s most successful and recognizable driver has to have a place in the Hall of Fame.
Petty won 200 races, seven NASCAR championships and seven Daytona 500s. Those accomplishments speak for themselves. His number of race wins and Daytona 500s is not even close to being matched by any other driver and his number of championships is matched by only one other.
Dale Earnhardt- This is the one driver who can match Petty’s number of championships with seven. And no other driver has come within realistic striking distance of matching the championships of these two.
‘The Intimidator’ was one of the toughest and most talented drivers to ever sit behind the wheel of a NASCAR race car. In an age in which the sport was transitioning toward modernization and new ways of doing things, Earnhardt remained a throwback to a tougher era. For that, he was very popular among a large group of passionate followers.
Unfortunately, Earnhardt died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Junior Johnson- One of the most successful drivers and car owners, Johnson symbolized the very roots of NASCAR. He came from a background of moonshine running to become one of the most successful businessmen of his time.
After winning 50 races as a driver, he retired at a young age to become a car owner. His teams won six NASCAR championships and dominated the series throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s with drivers Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip.
Johnson is often credited with discovering the technique of drafting. And perhaps most importantly, he was responsible for bringing the first major sponsor, Winston, to the series.
The problem with the list I have compiled is that it is too short. Names such as Pearson, Yarborough, Waltrip and Allison among many others have been omitted. But, Hall of Fame memberships are supposed to be selective. And, those left out on the first ballot will have many more opportunities to make it in later.
The Hall of Fame is a good idea, perhaps one that is overdue. My one concern is that drivers and other personalities from many years ago will be forgotten. If I could suggest one thing it would be that NASCAR establish an old timers committee such as that in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This committee would have the ability to induct someone from many years ago who might have otherwise have gone forgotten.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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