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Mike Harris: Silence Is Fleeting In Voting Room

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2012

Rusty Wallace got into the Hall on his first try.

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Being a part of the voting process for the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a pleasure, an honor and, most of all, a responsibility I take very seriously.

But the first year the voting panel met to go through the mechanics of the vote (2010), I looked at the printed schedule and began to chuckle.

After getting started with a light breakfast, the next three hours were supposed to be devoted to “Discussion of the candidates.’’

Three hours? What the heck were we going to discuss for three hours?

The meeting was called to order by the late Jim Hunter, then vice president of communications for NASCAR. He went over the 25 nominees one by one, giving us statistical background and a few anecdotes, most of which many of us had heard before.

Then Hunter opened it up for discussion.

Dead silence. Uncomfortable silence.

The thought crossed my mind, “What are we going to do for the rest of the three hours before the vote is taken?’’

Then, someone raised a hand and took the microphone to talk about one of the candidates. Then the hands began to shoot up in waves. One after another, the people in that room, including a great mix of writers, broadcasters, retired drivers, retired crew chiefs and engine builders, track owners and NASCAR officials got up to make a point or tell a story.

I never again looked at my watch or the clock on the wall. And, suddenly, Hunter said, “Let’s take a short break and then we’ll vote.’’

Unbelievably, the three hours had flown by.

It was the same the next year, and the year after. And, voting day, this week, was just as interesting and perhaps even a little more impassioned. And nobody is afraid to speak his or her mind because we have all pledged to keep what is said in that room to ourselves.

One the talking is done, the voting begins.

Choosing the first couple of classes was comparatively easy because you had the best of the best to choose among. The big controversy the first year was over Junior Johnson being selected instead of David Pearson. But everyone knew Pearson would be enshrined in the second year.

Now, four years into the process, things are getting considerably tougher. While every one of the 25 people nominated for the Hall of Fame is deserving, only five can go in each year.

The debate now is whether the voters should honor the early years of NASCAR first, electing five pioneers of the stock car sport first, or try to pick the most deserving based on numbers or actual fame.

The fourth class – Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens, Leonard Wood, Buck Baker and Rusty Wallace –represents the entire 64-year history of NASCAR.

Thomas, Owens and Wood were there at the beginning. Baker came along early and was a huge star for decades and Wallace retired as a driver only a few years ago and still has a big presence in the sport as a TV commentator, team owner, track owner and ambassador at large.

My vote was slightly different. I included Wallace, Thomas, Owens and Wood on my ballot. But, instead of Baker, I voted for Tim Flock, another pioneer.

The first vote resulted in a tie for the fifth spot between Baker and Fireball Roberts, a huge driving star from the `60s. I voted for Baker in the runoff simply because he had two championships in NASCAR’s top series, while Roberts, whose career was cut short by a fatal crash, had none.

Before I even left the Convention Center in Charlotte Wednesday, I was thinking ahead to who I will vote for a year from now.

The process is only going to get harder each year. And, yes, I can’t wait for that three-hour discussion. Maybe they should make it four hours.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2012
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