‘Next Year’ May Never Come For Some Pioneers
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As NASCAR Hall of Fame voting cranked on last Wednesday, there was one phrase that got increasing use. Perhaps disturbingly so.
That phrase was (paraphrased): If “X” doesn’t get elected into the Hall this year it’s no big deal because he’ll surely get in in the future.
Really? Will he?
As is the case every year, there were 25 names on this year’s ballot. Some of those names were new, some have been on the list of nominees since 2009, the first year of Hall voting. And, as usual, every single person on the ballot for the Class of 2014 was completely worthy of being enshrined.
But each year, five new nominees will be added to the ballot. Some of those names will belong to older-generation drivers, crew chiefs, engine-builders, promoters, team owners, pioneers and sponsors. But, increasingly, the names will belong to those of more recent generations.
For example, over the next 10-15 years, people like Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs, Ray Evernham, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, Chad Knaus, Jimmy Fennig, Eddie Gossage and many more could be placed on the ballot.
Because of the changing nature of NASCAR, many of these guys will have stats that dwarf some of the older candidates. Somebody like Fred Lorenzen, who, for example, has 26 victories in Cup. By modern standards, that’s not a lot. That number will be crushed by youngsters like Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin when they retire.
But Lorenzen absolutely belongs in the Hall. He raced in a time when drivers didn’t make hundreds of starts in Cup. Lorenzen, again as an example, started just 158 premier series starts.
What some younger fans and media members may not understand is that in the 1950s and ’60s, the Cup series was not the be-all, end-all for stock-car competitors. During those days, weekly racing and regional racing was as big a deal as was going national.
Racing weekly and regionally could put more money in a driver’s pocket than could packing up and hitting the road to race in Cup. All should remember that the multi-million dollar salaries for drivers, that 7-figure purses at Sprint Cup events, that air travel and luxury motor coaches are relatively new phenomenon.
And believe this: The competition at what is now thought of as the “lower levels” of stock car racing was just as tough and intense as it was in Cup back in the ’50s and ’60s.
Furthermore, some pioneers who have no stats at all – people who worked out front back in the day but in recent years have already began to slip from the collective memory – could be passed over as well.
Also in the next 10 to 15 years, many current older-generation Hall of Fame voters and nominating committee members will inevitably be moving on. People like Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, Ned Jarrett, Ken Squire, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Parrott and Richard Petty. Racers and media folks who know, who have experienced, racing culture back in the day.
Some day relatively soon, the people who had their shoes on the ground at places like North Wilkesboro, Langhorne, Titusville, Syracuse, Myrtle Beach and Hickory will no longer be around to remind the world about the people, places and events that played such vital roles in the history of NASCAR.
They won’t be around to remind people that racing did not start with Dale Earnhardt Sr. or at places like Texas Motor Speedway.
They won’t be around to explain just how good Rex White was, how tough Jerry Cook was, how inspiring Wendell Scott was, how essential Raymond Parks was, what a character Joe Weatherly was.
As more and more votes are held, as more and more deserving more modern contributors become eligible and as more and more of the past is obscured by the march of time, the more some of us worry that some very deserving – make that essential – NASCAR pioneers will never get their due.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments