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Current Drivers Give First Hall Class Thumbs Up

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 15 2009
Construction is well under way at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. On Wednesday, the first class was elected and the debate heated up. Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Construction is well under way at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. On Wednesday, the first class was elected and the debate heated up. Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Concord, N.C. – Wednesday’s selection of the inaugural class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame has generated a fairly hefty amount of heated discussion among fans and critics. But in the sport’s garages on Thursday, the discussion was nothing but civil and positive.

Driver after driver lined up to say first, that they are thrilled that their sport finally has a place to honor its people and heritage, and second, that the first class is a worthy one.

The Hall is currently under construction in Uptown Charlotte. It’s a massive, modern facitlity which will feature people and artifacts from NASCAR’s past.

There will be cars and uniforms and displays and theaters and plaques.

There are other auto racing halls of fame scattered around the country but the one in Charlotte will be The Hall.

“Cool,” current driver Ryan Newman said.

“Cool as hell,” driver Jeff Burton said.

About time, several other drivers said.

“I think it’s real important for every major sport to have a hall of fame,”  Burton said. “I think it’s important to recognize the people that have made a major impact on the sport and have moved this sport and done things that have made it what it is.”

The format for the voting dictated that the first class would be comprised of five drivers who would be culled from a list of 25 nominees.

As a result of Wednesday’s vote, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Junior Johnson will be enshrined when the Hall opens next May.

The voting has set the internet chat rooms and letters-to-editors files ablaze. Many of the comments have taken issue with one or more of the people who were elected. Others have taken issue with who was not elected.

Burton said he has zero issues with how the vote – which was cast by a panel of 50 which was made up of former drivers, industry insiders and the media – turned out.

“The easiest classes are going to be the first three or four,” Burton said. “There was nothing you could debate. Well this guy should have gotten in or that guy shouldn’t have gotten in but you couldn’t debate they all didn’t deserve to be in.

“By the way you couldn’t debate that some of the people that didn’t get in this first time they deserved to be in as well. This first two or three processes are going to be pretty easy then they are going to get a little more challenging. I think it’s a great first class. It’s real exciting to see.”

Some current drivers think that perhaps the first class could have been bigger, that by limiting it to just five people, several drivers who warrant first-ballot election got stiffed.

“I think the first class should have been more than five and five in years afterward,” Tony Stewart said. “There were a lot of other driver that didn’t make the first cut that will make it” in coming years.

“It is so hard to narrow it down to five,” driver Jeff Gordon said. “Those are certainly at the top of my list and I don’t think there were any big surprises. Maybe (David) Pearson but it is hard to narrow it down to five.”

Pearson’s name was worked into a lot of  discussions of drivers who did not make it but should have. Pearson won 105 races, second most to Petty’s 200. He won three Cup championships and those came in the only three seasons in which he competed full time.

NASCAR officials revealed that Pearson was among the top eight vote-getters Wednesday. For some in blogs and chat rooms, that was not good enough.

“It kind of pleased me when I looked at all the comments today because I wondered about Pearson myself,” driver Mark Martin said. “I would have liked to have seen them induct a lot more than five the first year because we really needed this thing many, many years ago.

Some have said that two Frances should not have been in the inaugural class. Martin agreed – kind of.

“Also,” Martin said, “who needs to vote Bill France, Sr. and Jr. in? They should have been a fixture in the beginning. That is the history of NASCAR.”

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 15 2009