by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.October 13, 2009 7:51 pm UTC 1 Comment
For those of you not in the know, the new attraction’s first five inductees (out of a previously announced pool of 25) will be announced on Wednesday at 4 PM on SPEED Channel. As NASCAR is the most recent sport out of the “big five” to create a hall of fame, the first five men to be enshrined in the hall will receive a great honor.
Now, all 25 members of that list deserve to be Hall of Famers. There’s not a soul on there that didn’t do his part to make NASCAR what it was in the past, and what it is today. Whether an old-timer like Herb Thomas or Raymond Parks, or a still-active member of the sport like Rick Hendrick or Darrell Waltrip, they all ought to go in within the first five years.
Earnhardt, obviously, has a strong case. He has 76 Sprint Cup wins as a driver, seventh on the all-time list. He has seven championships, tied with Richard Petty for the most in NASCAR Sprint Cup. His 1987 Sprint Cup season, where he had 11 wins and 24 top-10s in 29 races, may be one of the best statistical seasons in NASCAR history.
Add 21 Nationwide and 11 IROC wins as a driver, and 47 wins over NASCAR’s top three series as an owner (counting from 1995, when he first started fielding full-time Busch and SuperTruck teams, through the 2001 Daytona 500), and Earnhardt is one of the most successful figures in NASCAR history. Few can claim more successes on the track, besides perhaps the Petty family.
So where does some Northern kid like me get off on saying that the Intimidator ought to wait a couple years to get in the Hall of Fame?
Simple: I think the pioneers of the sport ought to go in first.
My other passion in life besides sports is music, and although I generally criticize the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for being a letdown, they’ve gotten at least one thing right. When the Hall was first established, its voters decided to induct the founders of the genre – men like Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Fats Domino – over such dominant bands as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones.
This move ensured that memories of the founding fathers of rock and roll would be preserved, and re-introduced the public to those figures during its first few years, when those other important, but chronologically later, bands weren’t in the Hall.
Transcending boundaries of art and sport, I think the philosophy fits. NASCAR has claimed to be a tradition-oriented sport in the past, and we all know that its fans enjoy tradition. Changes to cater to the shaky West Coast crowd on television have not been well-received in the past, partially because they have messed with tradition. I contend that if NASCAR really wants to get back to its roots, the announcement of its first five Hall of Fame inductees is a key cog in the equation.
Thankfully, the voting committee is made up of many who were in the sport long before its modernization of the 1990s and 2000s, and not too many NASCAR representatives (or an overwhelming fan vote), so I’m hoping that they will share my sentiments. Inducting members chronologically, and not based on popularity, seems like the best way to do NASCAR’s rich and storied history justice.
So here’s to my ballot – Red Byron, Herb Thomas, Raymond Parks, Lee Petty, and Big Bill France – making it in the first year.
We all know that the Earnhardt fans will keep coming back until he gets in.