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One Hall of a Debate Set for NASCAR

Source: Greer Smith, Independent Tribune   

January 23, 2009

Now the debates can begin in earnest. Since NASCAR broke ground three years ago on its Hall of Fame in Charlotte, talk has occasionally swirled about how many people should go in the first year and who should be in the class.

There is no more speculation about the number that will be among the first class, now scheduled for induction when the Hall opens in May 2010 -- presumably in conjunction with race weeks at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The number for that class and all subsequent classes will be five, dashing the hopes of those who thought the first group should be as many as 10 to give the facility a kick start.

"Personally, I like five," Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley said. "As I fan, I like five because you get to focus on five people every year and they get their due. It could have been four or could have been six. Some people said, "You need a bunch of people in there early.' I didn't like that concept and gave my feedback to NASCAR."

The Hall will be located in downtown Charlotte and will be part of a complex that includes a 20-story office tower, studios of NASCAR's media group, a retail/restaurant building, parking and convention area space.

Those elected to the Hall will have their likenesses placed in a rotunda-like Hall of Honor that will be a centerpiece of the exhibit space. Other features of the Hall include an area known as the Great Hall, an area of changing exhibits, displays that detail what happens during a race weekend and will include a team transporter, a section known as Heritage Speedway that details the sanctioning body's history and technical evolution, and a section where patrons can choose any of 50 greatest finishes.

The first five inductees will be chosen from a list of 25 nominees that will be selected from a 20-member committee that includes Kelley, Hall historian Buzz McKim, seven NASCAR officials, seven track owners and reps from four historic short tracks -- one of those Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem.

Those selected to the Hall will be the five receiving the most votes from a committee of 47 people plus one vote that will be entered from the top-five in fan voting to the Hall of Fame Web site. The voting committee includes the nominating committee, 14 media reps, drivers, owners, crew chiefs and reps from the four car makes in the sport.

Drivers must compete for a minimum of 10 years and have been retired from driving for three years. Non-drivers must work in the industry for 10 years.

The 25 nominees will be announced in June. Voting will be completed by Sept. 15, with the results to be announced in October.

"People can go to the Web site and put their five selections, and your five and my five may not be the same," Kelley said. "If we have four alike, then you could say "why this person and not that person.' That's going to be the same from years 1 and 2 and years 8 and 9 and years 14 and 15. You'll keep that debate."

And there will be plenty of debate, because there are enough deserving candidates from NASCAR's 60 years to fill several classes without trouble.

The argument for many of those who will be considered is not if they belong in the Hall but when they deserve to be inducted.

That even applies to who needs to be in the first class.

At least three people should be locks as solid as ice in Alaska. Those would be NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and seven-time champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.

As for the other two: It's hard to deny that David Pearson should be in with his 105 victories that are second to Petty's 200 and titles in all three years that he attempted to win the championship.

The fifth person could be Bill France Jr. (who guided the Cup Series' growth into a national sport); or R.J. Reynolds executives Ralph Seagraves or T. Wayne Robertson, who took promotion of the sport to a higher level through Winston cigarette sponsorships; or Junior Johnson (winner of 50 races as a driver and six championships as a car owner); or a driver from the earlier days such as Fireball Roberts, the first superspeedway ace; or a short-track legend such as eight-time Modified champion Richie Evans.

Because it is a NASCAR Hall of Fame instead of a Cup shrine and I have a soft spot for short track racing in general and modifieds in particular, my pick for the fifth spot is Evans, the New Yorker who held the record for most championships in any division for two decades, was versatile enough that he could win anywhere (including Bowman Gray and once embarrassing the competition in a Modified race at Daytona) and certainly would have won more titles if he had not been killed in a crash at Martinsville Speedway.

For the second-year selections, I'd start with the trio of Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison -- all Cup champions with 80-plus victories.

The younger Bill France gets one slot. The other goes to Johnson.

The third year: Dale Inman (who was the crew chief behind six of Richard Petty's championships and one of Terry Labonte's titles); Herb Thomas (the first two-time Cup champ who was the first three-time winner of the Southern 500 on the way to getting 48 wins); two-time champ and winner of 46 races Buck Baker; and Rusty Wallace (one title, 55 wins).

The fourth year: Roberts, whose 33 wins includes four of the first 10 at Daytona; Ned Jarrett, who won 50 races and two championships before going on to TV work on CBS and ESPN; two-time champ Tim Flock with 39 wins; team owner Glen Wood, whose cars have won 96 races and was noted for revolutionizing pit stops in the 1960s; and Fred Lorenzen, who made his mark on the superspeedways while winning 26 times in the early '60s and becoming the first to win $100,000 in a season.

Fifth year: Legendary driver Curtis Turner; early Nationwide Series champs Sam Ard and Jack Ingram; Bobby Isaac, a winner of 37 races and a Cup championship; and RJR exec Seagraves.