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The NASCAR Hall Of Fame Has Its First Class

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 14 2009
A brief video biography of Dale Earnhardt's career was shown upon his election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Wednesday.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

A brief video biography of Dale Earnhardt's career was shown upon his election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Wednesday. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Charlotte, N.C. – Several of those who took part in Wednesday’s voting for the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame stood up to remind other voters that what they were doing was nothing less than deciding whose faces will appear on the sport’s Mount Rushmore.

If that’s true then it will be Bill France Sr., Richard Petty, Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson whose faces will be carved into the the NASCAR mountainside.

Those five drivers emerged as the first class of the new Hall of Fame.

“This is a big day,” Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR said.

Few disagreed. And while not everybody agreed on the outcome of the vote, all respected it.

“They’ll all get in, everybody on that list (of nominees),” Petty said.

Wednesday’s vote took place at the Charlotte Convention Center, which adjoins the still-under-construction of the hall in uptown Charlotte.

Doing the voting was a panel of 50 members – the entire Nominating Committee, 14 media members, four manufacturer representatives and nine retired competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs; three each) and two recognized industry leaders. In addition, a fan vote resulted in the voting panel’s 51st and final ballot.

The panel selected from a list of 25 names which was determined by the Nominating Committee.

France Sr. is regarded as the founder of NASCAR. He led the group of racing folks who gathered at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla. in 1947 to plan and launch NASCAR.

Petty is the Cup series’ winningest driver. He won 200 races and seven championships. With his cowboy hat and dark glasses, he remains one of the most identifiable figures in the sport.

France Jr. inherited leadership of NASCAR from his father and ushered the sport into the modern era – an era which saw NASCAR challenge all but the NFL in terms of popularity.

Earnhardt was also a seven-time champion. He was also, and remains in the minds of many, the people’s choice as the all-time great among drivers. When he died in a crash at Daytona in 2001, his face made the cover of Time magazine.

Johnson was a top-tier driver and car owner. A rural farmer and moonshirer, he represented much of what the sport stood for. A major Hollywood movie, The Last American Hero, was made about his life and times.

A two-hour debate among the panelists preceded the vote.

That debate got quite lively.

Some members wanted to vote for pioneers in the sport, others for their popularity. Some thought only one of the France family members should be elected and that contingent was led by current chairman and CEO of NASCAR, and Bill France Jr.’s son, Brian France.

It appeared the biggest controversy which emerged from the vote was the omission of David Pearson from the list of inductees.

“I feel real bad for David,” H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, the former president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway and a voting panelist. “Certainly, he deserved it. Should Bill France Jr. have been elected the second year? That will be forever debated.”

Pearson, who was at the Convention Center during the day, said he was not bothered by his omission.

Petty said he believes his old nemesis.

“I don’t think it will bother him one bit,” Petty said. “Knowing him the way I do, I don’t think so.”

Petty also said that he would have voted for his father, Lee Petty, who was also on the ballot, instead of himself.

“Without him, there would be no me,” Petty said.

Earnhardt’s election was greeted with the biggest cheer during the post-vote announcement, which was attended by fans.

Earnhardt’s son also liked the pick.

“For what my dad has achieved in this sport, both on the track and off, he certainly earned his place in history and deserves to be distinguished in this inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in a statement. “I want to thank the voting panel and nomination committee for recognizing that and honoring him in this way. It means a lot to the Earnhardt family and it means a lot to my dad’s fans, which I am one.”

Also honored was Johnson.

“I’ll tell you, this is a big, big deal to me,” he said. “It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me in this sport. I’m almost speechless to say that I am going into the Hall of Fame. You just don’t know how it feels to be one of the five people selected to go into this first class. It’s so big; it’s so honorable.”

NASCAR also released the names of those who finished sixth, seventh and eighth in the voting. They were Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 14 2009
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