June 2, 2012
By Jim Fitzgerald
Up In The Marbles…After The Coca-Cola 600
For Some, The Hall Of Fame Window May Be Closing
With the announcement of the Class of 2013 inductees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame occurring last week, a new world was opened to five very important people in the history of our sport.
These drivers are most assuredly deserving of their places in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I do not think anyone would disagree if twenty years and one hundred inductees from now you would say that these gentlemen belonged in the Hall of Fame. Without question, and probably well past when they should have been inducted. For the record, I do not have any issue with these men being inducted at this time, either.
- Leonard Wood, who is sometimes known as the father of the modern pit crew was also the main mechanic for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team.
- Herb Thomas was the first multi-time Champion in NASCAR, and won nearly 50 races in only 228 starts spanning fourteen years as an active driver. It would take a driver just under seven years today running all 36 races to make 228 starts.
- Buck Baker won just under 50 races as well as 45 poles in his career, and was the first driver in NASCAR history to win consecutive Championships. He is, of course, father to successful driver, broadcaster, and ambassador to the sport, Buddy Baker.
- Cotton Owens may have won only nine races as a driver, but he also won nearly 40 as a car owner, including many races with David Pearson as his driver.
- Rusty Wallace, the 1989 series Champion, retired in 2005 while still competitive. Wallace won 55 races in his career and then moved onto car ownership, as well as a television commentator. Wallace is also the first inductee, aside from the inaugural class four years ago, to be inducted in his first year of eligibility.
I do have a concern, however. I look at the list of twenty five possible selections for the 2013 class, and I see some names on that list, and when I think about their chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, I think about their diminishing chances to get into the Hall of Fame.
I see names there, such as Raymond Parks. I see names like Wendell Scott. I see names like Jack Ingram, Red Byron, Fred Lorenzen, and Anne B. France. Just as this year’s inductees belong in the Hall of Fame, I have no doubts that some of these very important contributors to our sport will one day make it in as well. However, I fear that the window for some of them is closing faster than that of others.
With each passing year, more and more drivers, car owners, crew chiefs, broadcasters, and ambassadors will be added to the ever growing list of eligible names for enshrinement into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Also, with each passing year and the addition of new names, some very important names may be left out, and may continue to be left out.
Raymond Parks was the car owner for Red Byron when Byron won the first what was to become Sprint Cup Series Championship. It was then, in 1949, called Strictly Stock. Byron himself had won the Modified division Championship the year before. Before this success, he had also served in World War II as a Flight Engineer. He was injured during the war and doctors took nearly two years to rebuild his leg.
When he returned to racing in 1946, Byron won the first race he entered, beating some guy named Bill France. When talking about “pioneers”, a word that is used a lot when Hall of Fame talks arise, I would argue that the first Championship winning driver and the first Championship winning car owner would most certainly be in inducted, but every year, because of new nominees and the five new induction limit, I believe the opportunity for each is lesser and lesser.
The Hall of Fame took a major step in the right direction this year, with the introduction of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, with the inaugural award going to Ken Squier and Barney Hall. This will open the opportunity for deserving members to enter the Hall in a more timely fashion, and I would like to see more types of these portals.
I would love to see a “legends” class exemption, so that we could see names such as Joe Weatherly and Tim Flock, or Curtis Turner and Fred Lorenzen. I would not mind seeing a track owner/promoter class, so that T. Wayne Roberston and Ralph Seagraves, or Les Richter, Larry Carrier, and H. Clay Earles would be assured of making their way into the Hall of Fame.
Finally, I would like to see a memorial exemption, so that those who visit the Hall of Fame in the future will know about NASCAR personalities such as Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, or Neil Bonnett and Tim Richmond.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame itself, as a business, is struggling. In 2010, attendance for the Hall averaged just over 24,000 per month. In 2011, that number dropped to 18,000 attendees. Now, in 2012, reported numbers show only a 14,000 person average.
The highest concentration of attendance has historically been in May, when the All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 take place in nearby Concord, North Carolina. The second highest monthly totals are in October, during the 500-miler. In order to get people into the Hall as visitors, you have to give them something to see.
While the exhibits are a great accompaniment to the driver shrines, they are not the main reason for visiting. People visit to see those driver, crew chiefs, and car owners that are enshrined in the Hall. As we add more and more inductees into the Hall, hopefully the attendance will increase.
We cannot, however, ignore the past in favor of the present when it comes to the induction of personalities into the Hall itself, just for the sake of attendance and money. It is not only important to remember the roots of our sport, but also those who were planting the seeds.
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"The horizon is out there somewhere, and you just keep chasing it, looking for it, and working for it."
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