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Is The NASCAR Hall of Fame Getting Too Crowded?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2018

Five more people were added to the NASCAR Hall of Fame this week. Do they all belong?

During the early part of my tenure as a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel – like the first year or two voting was held – colleagues, friends and readers would constantly offer suggestions on the format and rules used to elect the honorees.

One of the most common suggestions concerned the decision to elect five members every year. The common complaint about that in that pioneering period was that five was not enough; that it would take too long to have enough inshrined members to attract crowds to the Charlotte-based Hall.

Now, however, 10 elections down the line and 50 stock car racing legends enshrined, Hall voting may have reached the tipping point.

Now, five inductees per year may be too many.

The first three years, the only mistake voters could make was leaving worthy candidates off their ballots. I remember the first year I felt ill at leaving David Pearson off. Especially after walking out of the room after the vote at the Charlotte Convention Center, looking across the wide, brightly sunlit concourse and seeing Pearson leaning against a railing all alone.

But in the early years, you knew that worthy candidates left off because of the numerical limit of yearly inductees would be elected the next year or, at most, the year after that.

By 2014 – the fifth year of voting – the bin of slam dunks was getting well picked over. By the time I left the panel after the 2016 class vote, I departed Charlotte thinking that perhaps the Hall was lowering the bar from legendary to merely great.

And I thought that politics and cronyism may be sneaking into that voting room by the back door.

The 2019 class was named this week and I give it a grade of B.

Two of those elected were slam dunks, one was more than acceptable and two, well, I would not have voted for either.

The slam dunks for this former voter were Jeff Gordon and Jack Roush. Electing Gordon on the first ballot is so well-duh that it won’t be debated here.

As a team owner, Roush’s numbers are superb: 325 wins and eight championships in Cup. He also was an innovator and a character.

The acceptable entry is Roger Penske. Penske is an icon of American racing but mainly for his accomplishments in open-wheel and sports car racing. Were this the Great Super American Racing Hall of Fame (if there was one), that Hall should be named after Penske. But in NASCAR, one Cup championship, 105 race wins in almost 1,800 starts and two 500 winners.

Then there are Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison.

Kulwicki was a personal favorite because he was a fellow Cheesehead. He was a one-time champion and a bit of a game-changer in NASCAR. That one championship was extremely memorable and endeared him to fans of the little guy. But five total wins? Yes, had he not died young in a plane crash, he likely would have built big numbers. Hall numbers. Perhaps adding more championships. But the Hall is not about potential.

Allison was, perhaps, even more popular and the possessor of yet more potential. He was undeniably a top tier wheelman and perhaps headed for mega greatness had he also not died young in a helicopter at Talladega. And, yes, he won the 500. But 19 race victories without a championship comes up a bit short of Hall worthy. Were there a Hall for drivers with the most talent and potential, Davey would be voted in on the first ballot.

Sports is an odd thing. Fandome is an odd thing. They “eye of the beholder” factor in both is off the charts.

For instance, to this former voter, the biggest slam dunk candidate after Gordon was Jim Hunter in the voting for the Landmark Award. His name is not that familiar to fans and that’s too bad. In this space after his death a couple of years back, he was referred to as the best friend NASCAR fans didn’t know they had. As a PR guy and series official, he had your back

Some of the preceding words are undoubtedly fighting words to NASCAR fans, competitors and officials. Especially in places like Hueytown, Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

And maybe the pool is deeper that it looks. There is a handful of slam dunks who are about to become eligible.

But mandating that every year, five more people are to be inducted into the Hall has the potential to cheapen the honor. And that might be a bigger mistake than passing over a candidate who is truly worthy.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 24 2018
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