Minter: Are Two Frances Too Many In First Hall Class?
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
The phone began ringing within minutes of the announcement on Wednesday of the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
“How could they?” said Bud Lang, a long-time NASCAR fan from the north Georgia hills that produced some of the sport’s earliest stars like Lloyd Seay, Gober Sosebee, Roy Hall and the first championship car owner, Raymond Parks.
Lang was referring to the omission of David Pearson, the man many regard as NASCAR’s best driver ever. It’s hard to argue that point. He won 105 races and won the championship three times, once for every season he ran the full schedule.
Lang’s question is difficult to answer, but it brought to mind a Saturday morning in the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center a few years back. Pearson, Richard Petty and some of the sport’s top names were at a press conference in which Nicorette was unveiling a no-smoking program, something new to NASCAR, which at that point had just lost Winston as title sponsor of its Cup series.
The discussion afterwards among Pearson and a couple of reporters turned to the fact that many newcomers in the sport don’t know how good the ol’ Silver Fox really was as a driver. One speculated that it was because Pearson is the kind of person who isn’t going to bother to try to convince you of something obvious if you can’t figure it out for yourself.
Pearson’s comment was this: “I did my racing on the race track, not in the press room.”
It makes one wonder whether it would have been Pearson among the “Mt, Rushmore” class if Tom Wolfe had profiled him instead of Junior Johnson, who did make the inaugural class. Or if things would have been different had Pearson or his backers mounted a strong lobbying campaign.
Another Pearson comment that day at Atlanta could be another clue. Asked by a young reporter what he thought about NASCAR having a tobacco sponsor for all those years and then joining up with an anti-smoking product, Pearson responded: “It shows they’ll do anything for money.”
The reporter was so stunned that he never wrote a word in his notebook.
In recent years, Pearson hasn’t cut NASCAR much slack when asked about the current state of affairs. He was very vocal in his criticism of the decision to take away the Southern 500 from his home state track, Darlington Raceway, and move the race to California.
Other modernizations of the sport haven’t won his approval either.
But the interesting part is that time is showing that Pearson is more connected to the core NASCAR fans than the sport’s decision makers, who now are beginning to acknowledge that some of their moves were in the wrong direction.
The Labor Day race didn’t make it all the way back to Darlington, but it did get as far as Atlanta.
The TV broadcasts and race starting times are moving back to more traditional hours. Even drivers like Jimmie Johnson are starting to say publicly that the Car of Tomorrow needs a tune-up.
Lang, the die-hard Pearson fan, also wonders how the selection for the first Hall class would affect future inductions. With the inclusion of two members of the France family, the business of NASCAR, which is their family business, seemed to weigh heavily.
Lang fears that the exclusion of Pearson signals that old time heroes like Curtis Turner, Tim Flock, Herb Thomas and Rex White stand little chance of ever being inducted as time goes by and just five new names are picked every year.
Who’s going to lobby for them? What kind of Hall of Fame will NASCAR have?
As of now, it’s 40 percent France family.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments