By John Close, www.closefinishes.com:
Trying to pick five inductees out of the 25 candidates for the NASCAR Hall of Fame is like trying to select one puppy or kitten out of the scores available at your local Humane Society.
Don’t you just want to let them all in – take them all home?
First glance at the 25 new candidates that have been placed into eligibility for NASCAR’s Hall in 2013 tells you all are worthy. A full 20 of them have been here before, Now five newcomers have been added to the mix.
Here’s a list of who is eligible this year –
Buck Baker – First driver to win consecutive NASCAR Grand National division titles in 1956-57
Red Byron – First NASCAR Strictly Stock Series champion in 1949
Richard Childress – 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series
Jerry Cook– Six-time NASCAR Modified champion
H. Clay Earles, – Founder of Martinsville Speedway
Tim Flock – Two-time NASCAR premier (now Sprint Cup) series champion
Ray Fox – Legendary engine builder and owner of cars driven by Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and others
Anne Bledsoe France– France helped build the sport with husband Bill France Sr. Affectionately known as “Annie B.”
Rick Hendrick – Has won 13 car owner championships in NASCAR’s three national series
Jack Ingram – A two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion and three-time Late Model Sportsman champion
Bobby Isaac – Won 1970 NASCAR Grand National Series championship.
Fred Lorenzen – Scored 26 NASCAR Grand National wins including Daytona 500 and World 600
Cotton Owens – Early NASCAR driver-owner, won 1966 Grand National owner championship with David Pearson
Raymond Parks – Early car owner who helped shape NASCAR, won first NASCAR champion-owner trophy in 1949.
Benny Parsons – The 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion and famous broadcaster.
Les Richter – Early NASCAR executive; former president of Riverside International Raceway, NFL Hall of Fame member.
Fireball Roberts – One of NASCAR’s first great stars wit 33 Grand National Series wins including the 1962 Daytona 500
T. Wayne Robertson – R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company senior VP who brought NASCAR into big league marketing.
Wendell Scott – First African-American NASCAR Grand National Series race winner and champion short-track racer.
Ralph Seagraves – Helped guide Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
Herb Thomas – NASCAR’s first two-time champion – Strictly Stock 1951, Grand National Series 1953
Curtis Turner – Driver, track builder, organizer, Turner was NASCAR’s most popular driver in the 1950’s.
Rusty Wallace – Won the 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.
Joe Weatherly – Former motorcycle star who won two NASCAR Grand National Series championships.
Leonard Wood – Part of the famed Wood Brothers racing team.
That said – here are our choices as to who get the nod into the Hall in 2013.
Raymond Parks – NASCAR wouldn’t exist without Parks, the first great car owner in the early years of stock car racing. Parks lent NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. money to keep his racing promotion afloat in hard times during the 1930’s and 1940’s. France even drove for Parks at times when he couldn’t afford to field his own mount. Finally, Parks was successful winning hundreds of races with top drivers like the Flock brothers and Red Byron. Byron delivered the first NASCAR Strictly Stock season championship trophy to Parks in 1949.
Curtis Turner – Turner was NASCAR’s poster boy in the 1950’s. A brash, flashy ladies man off the track, Turner was a terror on it and still draws votes in most every greatest-ever NASCAR driver conversation. Turner was also prominent in the sport as a co-builder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and in NASCAR’s early unionization battles. France wound up banning Turner from the sport for more than four years in the early 1960’s before reinstating him in 1965. Turner promptly won his first race back in the first-ever All American 500 at Rockingham.
Ray Fox – After a stellar driving career, Fox propelled many young drivers – including Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts – to the heights of the sport as a car owner/mechanic. One of the greatest innovators of speed in the early years of NASCAR.
Jack Ingram – We’re hoping the voters will stay in the same mood that allowed them to vote in Richie Evans last year and show the same courtesy to Ingram. Ingram – and others like Tommy Houston, Sam Ard and Tommy Ellis – grew the NASCAR Sportsman and later Busch Grand National (now Nationwide) Series throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.
T Wayne Robertson – I struggled making T. Wayne my last choice but only because that meant having to rule out so many others. Robertson worked NASCAR into the American consciousness in the 1970’s and 1980’s with money and marketing programs from R.J. Reynolds. Those programs reached from the highest form of the sport in Winston Cup to the local track level and it’s Winston Racing Series efforts. Nobody ever sold NASCAR better than T. Wayne.
Now I know almost all of you will agree or disagree with some of my picks. Again, everyone has his or her favorites.
If I have one gripe, I wish there would be a way more could be admitted to NASCAR’s Hall. From the very beginning, I thought only five per year wasn’t enough. Frankly, we should have had an opening class of at least 20, but that’s another story.
It sure would be great to compromise now. One way would be to continue to have the annual five inducted and then have several special categories to perhaps honor others worthy of enshrinement.
The first that comes to mind is a Heritage Group where a couple of drivers from the 30’s-60’s could be added each year. Think Veterans Group at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and you get the concept. We’re already leaving most of these people behind in the current voting and the influx of new stars in future years will pretty much ice most of these folks out for good.
A Contributor’s Group, would be cool too where people from behind the scenes could be added each year.
I’m sure there are more categories – heck, full wings of folks – that we all could imagine in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
We’ll know the next five soon when the Voting Panel – a mixture of the 21-person nominating committee with media members, manufacturer representatives, retired competitors and ‘industry leaders’ – cast their lots on May 23.
Meanwhile, fan voting for the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class is now open on www.NASCAR.com through May 16.