Harris: The Hall Debate Was A Lively One
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Charlotte, N.C. – Being part of the voting panel for the first class to be enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame was the experience of a lifetime.
Sitting in that meeting room Wednesday at the Charlotte Convention Center was very much like taking a personal tour through NASCAR history.
There were famous drivers like Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett and Ricky Rudd and Harry Gant and Cotton Owens debating the first class of the new NASCAR Hall of Fame alongside a gaggle of Frances (Brian, Lesa Kennedy and Jim). Mingling with them were track operators like Humpy Wheeler and Clay Campbell, NASCAR executives like Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton and a handful of journalist types, led by Tom Higgins and Barney Hall, both of whom have forgotten more about the stock car sport than most of us will ever know.
In all, 50 people were asked to be on the voting panel for what NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter rightly referred to as a “historic day.’’
It seemed like an easy job going in.
For nearly two hours, voter after voter voiced his or her opinion about who should be included in the first five to be enshrined in the gleaming new HOF in downtown Charlotte.
The biggest debate was over the inclusion of more than one member of the France family in the first five.
While Bill Sr., the founder of NASCAR and its guiding light during its formative years, was a lock, some thought his son, Bill France Jr., who took the sport from a regional niche to a national phenomenon, should be a second-year selection, opening up another spot for one of the legendary drivers.
Most agree that Bill Jr. himself would have argued for that.
In the end, though, the voters decided you couldn’t have NASCAR’s “Mt. Rushmore,’’ the five most important people in NASCAR’s history, going into the Hall without both of the Frances.
“My dad might not have agreed with it, but he would have been honored,’’ Lesa France Kennedy said.
That left room for three drivers and there was some debate over that, too.
While The King, Richard Petty, and The Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, were locks from the beginning, that fifth spot was up for grabs between Junior Johnson and David Pearson.
There were 25 NASCAR greats nominated and, before the vote, Johnson said, “Draw any five out a hat and then draw five more and they’d all be deserving.’’
After Johnson’s selection was announced, Pearson shrugged it off saying without rancor, “After I seen both Frances was in, I knew I had no chance. But that’s OK. I have no problem with it.’’
Pearson was sixth in the voting, followed by Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison, all of whom would seem to be locks for the 2011 HOF class.
Petty had done a little pre-voting day campaigning to have the voters give more attention to the pioneers of the sports, like his father, two-time champion Lee Petty. But, after the selections were announced, Petty, sporting his trademark grin, said, “Whenever I’m in a race, I want to win. So I guess I won this race, and I’m happy.’’
When all is said and done, though, there was really no wrong way to vote. There may be some debate about the makeup of this first class, but there can be no argument about all of them being deserving of enshrinement.
In fact, every one of the nominees deserves to be enshrined eventually. And there is little doubt they will be.
The new Hall of Fame is plenty big enough for all of them. It’s just going to take a while to fill it up.
– Mike Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org