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Another Hall Of Fame Voting Day To Remember

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2012

Leonard and Glen Wood will now have matching NASCAR Hall of Fame jackets. (Photos courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Zeroing in on criteria is the most difficult part when considering candidates for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s not that the criteria is nebulous, ill-defined. It’s that their really are none; except in the hearts in heads of each of the individual voters.

It was quite obvious from the outset of debate in that room in the Charlotte Convention Center where Wednesday’s vote for the 2013 class of the Hall of Fame was held, that among the 50 or so people who would cast their ballots, there were 50 or so opinions on what qualified candidates for entry.

In the end, after a tie-breaking ballot was needed/taken to settle the exact make up of the fourth class of the Hall, it would be tough to argue that any of the new people enshrined did not deserve enshrinement.

But it would also be tough to argue that a large number of candidates who many fans would feel to be qualified for election, got stiffed.

Those voted in Wednesday were Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood.

Where to start the list of the stiffed?

Here is who I voted for and why I voted for them:

–  Cotton Owens. I voted for him a year ago and the reasons I did so again this year remain the same. Owens is simply one of those pioneers of the sport whose inclusion in the Hall is a necessity.

Owens is one of those candidates whose importance to the sport is not defined by numbers. He was an owner and a driver who visited Victory Lane “0nly” 47 times in his career. But he was one of those guys who was there when they were racing on beaches and in convertibles with ropes for seat belts if they had seat belts at all.

The year Owens won the Daytona race on the beach, he had to work his way around, over and through 134 other drivers. People like David Pearson learned their trade and were ushered into the Hall by Cotton Owens.

– Fireball Roberts. As a youngster growing up in the open-wheel racing environment of the Midwest in the ’50s and ’60s, as a person who could name all 33 starters in the previous year’s Indianapolis 500, there was a small handful of stock-car driver names and personalities I could list and discuss. At the top of that short list was Roberts. And I was not alone back there and then.

Was it because of the nickname? No doubt that had something to do with it but, I was assured by an old NASCAR hand seated near me in the voting room, that’s OK. He called Roberts “the first superstar of the sport” and that is right on. In 1962, Roberts became the sport’s first Hickok Award winner. Huge stuff. Legendary stuff. Hall-worthy stuff.

Roberts only won 33 races, but he only entered 207. That means he won 16 percent of the races he started.

– Herb Thomas. Another one of those pioneers. One of those who, in photos taken at places like Darlinton back in the 1950s, is wearing a white cabana shirt, pleated dress pants and a beat up bare-minimum helmet with big old goggles purched on top.

Thomas was a two-time champion in NASCAR’s premier series – 1951 and ‘53. He was second twice. He was a three-time winner of the Southern 500 during the time when, first, there was no Daytona 500, and later, when the Darlington Labor Day weekend race was as big as the 500.

He won 48 races in 228 starts. That’s 21 percent. He did it all in cars he built and owned himself.

– Joe Weatherly. Another of those gritty, Modified types of the 1950s who slugged his way to the top of the premier series in the 1960s. He won back-to-back championships (‘62 and ‘63).

He won 25 races in 229 starts.

He is also one of those guys who his peers of the day, those who are still breathing, shake their heads and say something about toughness and nails at the mention of his name and style.

Weatherly got in on his fourth attempt as he was one of the original Hall nominees.

– Leonard Wood. For the past couple of years, the wallpaper on my laptop has been a wonderful old black and white photo of the Wood Brothers servicing the rear-engine Lotus of Jimmy Clark in the 1965 Indianapolis 500.

As a proud gearhead, the old innovators have a special place in the racing heart for me. An none innovated like the Wood Brothers. They realized that 500-mile races could be one by fractions of seconds. That they could be won in the shops and garages. Horsepower is sexy, light-weight jacks are just as important.

Last year, brother Glen Wood was inducted. Many in the voting room in 2011 insisted the two should enter the Hall at the same time. I didn’t buy that as Glen played first chair in that orchestra but, putting Leonard in the Hall as well – at some point – was essential. For me, that point was this year.

I did not vote for Wallace or Baker, who was picked over Roberts in the tie-breaker. I do not have a major problem with either getting in. Especially Baker, another of those old Modified tough guys who had no problem emerging from his car with dental work blackened with track grit.

Wallace, who got in in his first year of eligibility, won 55 races after entering the Cup Series in 1980. That’s a lot. Eighth most in history. But it was the lack of success in the big races of his day which steered me away from making him a first-ballot choice.

Wallace never won the Daytona 500 – not a big deal for the drivers of the previous generation but a big deal in Wallace’s era. It’s the Super Bowl. He also never won the Brickyard, never won the Southern 500. That is, never won the majors.

Yes, it is good to get more contemporary drivers in. Drivers, who as Wallace said, have had their photos published in color. But get in they will. And soon as the the Elliotts and Labontes and, yes, even the Gordon’s begin retiring.

Anyway, that’s how my Wednesday went. Yours?

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2012
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Donald Langley says:

    Mr Pedley just wanted to say this is a great article. Good to see your thought process on what it took for these guys to get your vote. Since you are on the voting committee what would it take for the HOF to change the process on getting into the Hall. Sent a comment to Deb’s article today about the vote. Wish you could look at it and see what your thoughts on that idea would be. As always,I enjoy your articles on Nascar.