On Thursday night, the 25 contenders for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s second class were announced.
In October, a voting panel will whittle that esteemed group down to five, and those five men will be inducted in Charlotte in 2011.
But why wait?
I’m going to give you my five new inductees today. You’ll notice this one is a lot heavier on drivers and lighter on businessmen than that first class was.
My second hall of fame class would be: David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Lee Petty.
The hall of fame’s first class – Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. – had many wonderful qualities but also one big issue. I wouldn’t have put two Frances in it – 40 percent of the first class didn’t need to go to NASCAR’s founding family. Both businessmen deserved a spot, certainly, but Bill France Jr. could have waited a year or two.
Given that’s how the voting turned out, though, I’m going with five men who did their best work as drivers for Class No.2, because they are what the sport is really about.
Why these five?
David Pearson won 105 races at NASCAR’s top level, second only to Richard Petty’s 200. The “Silver Fox” should have entered with that first class. Richard Petty believes this, and a whole lot of other folks do, too.
As it is, though, Pearson is a lock for Class No.2. On a side note, I grew up mostly in Spartanburg, which was basically Pearson’s hometown. The guy is as down-home as a plate of biscuits.
Bobby Allison is tied for third on the all-time Sprint Cup win list (with Waltrip) with 84 victories. He also played a huge role in the 1979 fight at the Daytona 500 that helped NASCAR go national.
Darrell Waltrip can go all “boogity-boogity” on you at times, but the guy was an incredible driver long before he became the sport’s most well-known color analyst. With 84 victories and three season titles, he deserves a spot.
Cale Yarborough never gave an inch on the track. A former all-state high school fullback in South Carolina, he drove like every lap was fourth-and-goal while winning 83 races and three season championships.
Lee Petty. Although maybe best-known for shepherding son Richard’s career, Lee won 54 races and three season championships himself, as well as the first-ever Daytona 500 in 1959. And talk about a competitor. He lodged an official protest at the first race Richard won. The protest was successful and Lee Petty ended up as the race winner instead of his son.
Certainly, there are many other men who could be included from Thursday’s list. Herb Thomas, Ned Jarrett, Fireball Roberts, Rick Hendrick, Curtis Turner, Raymond Parks, Richard Childress, Buck Baker – they all should get in eventually. Among current drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will be shoo-ins once they have retired.
I think this second hall of fame class should keep the focus of Charlotte’s showpiece where it needs to be – on speed rather than money. These five men were great drivers who later became ambassadors of their sport. They were committed, above all else, to going fast.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; firstname.lastname@example.org