HEDGER: The Long Look
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — We had the pleasure this week of participating in the voting for NASCAR’s prestigious Hall of Fame as the representative of the Eastern Motorsport Press Ass’n.
With the exception of missing a few turns in downtown Charlotte and the minor inconvenience of finding some streets blocked off for the popular 600 Festival, our debut on the voting panel was a wonderful experience.
It’s hard to imagine another gathering with as broad a perspective as the voting panel, which runs the gamut from those who built cars or drove during the sanctioning bodies’ formative years to “twenty something” journalists armed with an array of electronic devices. While their backgrounds were many and varied, the participants shared a passion for the sport and an eye for and an appreciation of those who truly excelled.
The qualities of each of the 25 candidates were thoroughly discussed by those who knew them best, educating those who were unfamiliar with certain nominees and reinforcing our initial perception that there were no “unworthy candidates” on the slate.
Once they’ve made it onto the list of 25 nominees to be considered, the question for each candidate becomes not “if” but “when?” But with just five of the 25 selected each year, election will never be easy and some very deserving candidates may well wait many years before being honored.
Many we spoke with had their list down to six or eight when they arrived. The hard part is getting from that point down to the five names to be marked on the ballot. In the end, we had three of the five winners — Jack Ingram, Tim Flock and Fireball Roberts — and one of the three who just missed making the cut.
The other two elected, Dale Jarrett and Maurice Petty, were chosen in their first year on the ballot and deservedly so. But with many more talented, popular nominees from the modern era also likely to be on the ballot in the near future, it appears that candidates like Raymond Parks, Red Byron and Ray Fox will have less and less chance each year of being among the top five vote getters.
It might be time to start thinking of a “Pioneer” designee to be elected in addition to the traditional five inductees. That would help to level the playing field a little and allow the Hall of Fame to honor people like Parks and Anne B. France, whose behind the scenes efforts laid the foundation the sport is built on.
Had the Hall of Fame been established ten or fifteen years ago, elections would be right on pace, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. And like the old commercial telling you to eat all the Dorito Chips you want because “we’re making more all the time,” NASCAR will keep making new Hall of Famers. It’s not hard to imagine Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Bill Elliot, Jack Roush, Mike Stefanik and others of that ilk being on the ballot before too many years pass. Deservedly so, but let’s not forget the old-timers in the process!
That said, we’d urge fans to brave the traffic of downtown Charlotte and make a visit to the museum and Hall of Fame. The cars on the banked wall are worth the price of admission, making the remaining memorabilia and interactive displays a bonus well worth the trip.