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Jimmie Johnson Says HOF Voting Was Major Hoot

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 22 2014

Jimmie Johnson enjoyed making history – and rubbing elbows with history – Wednesday at the Hall of Fame. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – With all he’s accomplished, with everything he has in life, with the giant future he has, you would think that it would be tough to impress Jimmie Johnson. But from the sound of it, the day he had on Wednesday impressed the six-time Sprint Cup champion in a major and enduring way.

As the result of a new rule in voting procedures, Johnson, as the defending Sprint Cup champion, got to participate in the election process at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Johnson, who spoke in reverential tones when he addressed his fellow voters on Wednesday during the discussion process in a meeting room at the Charlotte Convention Center, carried his sentiments into the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday as practice for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 got under way.

“That was a huge honor and an amazing day to be a part of,” Johnson said Thursday afternoon. “To sit in a room with so many people that care for our sport, who know about our sport and then to discuss what took place in these eras, some I wasn’t even around for and others I was on the West Coast and didn’t know NASCAR, but it was a very awesome and unique experience.”

In that room were many of NASCAR’s legends. People like Richard Petty, Bud Moore, Ned Jarrett, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Parrott, Junior Johnson and Eddie Wood.

All participated in the discussion of the candidates. The discussion last five hours.

“To see the process and to see the care of our peers and our industry, it was a very good experience. And again, I think of myself as still kind of young in this sport, and it was huge for me; I think of Kyle Larson and other drivers coming along, how good it would be for them to see and witness all of that. So it was an awesome day. The champion gets that honor and it is a huge honor. I know that the champions behind me will have as great an experience as I did.”

It appeared Johnson, the first active competitor to vote in a major American hall of fame,  followed every word that was being said.

“It was one, a huge honor and two,” Johnson said, “in years to come it’s only going to help the drivers in the garage area understand the history of our sport it’s only going to help drivers in the garage area understand the history of our sport and grow closer and more attached to the people that built this sport.

“And in a big way, I wish that the garage area could sit in on that discussion and see the respect that the peers and the people on the voting panel have for our industry and for the people involved. It wasn’t an easy process to work down to five. All 20 on that list were very deserving to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Johnson said he spent a great deal of time doing his homework in the days leading up to the vote, which resulted in the election of Bill Elliott, Wendell Scott, Fred Lorenzen, Joe Weatherly and Rex White to the Hall.

He said he read the bound bio material supplied to voters cover to cover, “And those that know me know how much I despise reading. And I read the book twice. So, I studied up and enjoyed the entire process.”

This year’s vote – for the sixth class – produced much more back-and-forth among those discussing the candidates than in the earlier sessions as the list of slam dunk nominees have dwindled.

Several voters said that they changed their minds repeatedly during the discussion phase. Johnson was one of them.

“There was so much good discussion,” he said. “I probably had seven going in. And I thought the discussion would help me whittle it down to five. But after the conversations took place, I think my number grew to nine. And then we had lunch and things moved kind of quickly after that and the ballot was in front of me, in front of all of us. And it was time to check some boxes.

“So, I felt like I could have been there another couple of hours with the open microphone format and learning more about the individuals. It was not an easy decision. Just following social media and seeing people reply and being upset that someone they are a fan of or related to even, didn’t make it in. I feel for everybody. And I kind of sensed that some took the voting process lightly based on just 140 characters that come through a tweet. I wish others, especially the people on the outside of our sport looking in, could understand how much thought went into that. I was really impressed yesterday; and the whole prepping process and what went into it and how much consideration goes into each and every name on the ballot. So, those in there know, it’s not an easy process to pick those five.”

Johnson did not say which five candidates he voted for. Just one; he said he voted for his boss, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.

“I spoke to (Hendrick) on the drive up today,” Johnson said, “just catching up with him; and I’m not sure he feels he should be in there yet. He’s a competitor out there and he appreciates the phone calls he received yesterday and the concern from others, but I don’t think he feels like it’s time to be in there yet, although I voted for him. I just am so impressed with his stats and what he has done, but I still think there are many more to come.”

One thing is certain; Wednesday’s won’t be his final trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 22 2014
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