Hall to honor 5 more


Wednesday, May. 16, 2012

Next Wednesday, five more members will be selected by voters for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Many of NASCAR’s most familiar names – like France, Earnhardt, Petty, Waltrip and Yarborough – already have been enshrined.

Who should be next?

I have no vote, but if I did, my next five-member class would include Robert “Red” Byron, Ray Fox, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks and Wendell Scott. All were pioneers during a time when the sport was building its foundation.

Red Byron won NASCAR’s first sanctioned race in 1948 on the beach road course in Daytona Beach, Fla., and was the first champion of what is now the Sprint Cup Series in 1949, driving a car owned by Raymond Parks. Many of those already in the Hall of Fame are there for winning multiple series titles. But someone had to win the first one, and that was Byron.

A World War II veteran, when Byron died of a heart attack at age 44, he was managing a team in Sports Car Club of America competition.

In 1956, Ray Fox went to work for Carl Kiekhaefer, whose Chrysler 300 cars won 22 of the season’s first 26 races driven by Herb Thomas, Buck Baker and Speedy Thompson. Baker won the championship and Fox was named mechanic of the year at season’s end. Fox opened his own engine shop the following year.

In 1962, Fox became a car owner and won nine times with Junior Johnson and twice – including the 1964 Southern 500 – with Baker. Fox retired during the early 1970s but in 1990 accepted the role of NASCAR’s engine inspector, a position he held until his second retirement at the age of 80 in 1996.

Cotton Owens began his career as “The King of the Modifieds” – winning more than 100 feature races – and transitioned into what is NASCAR’s Cup series in a big way. He was an accomplished driver, winning nine races and 10 poles, as well as team owner, teaming up with the likes of Johnson and David Pearson. In all, 25 drivers drove Owens’ cars in 291 races, earning 32 victories and 29 poles.

Raymond Parks was part of the original committee that helped form the sanctioning body at the famed meeting at Florida’s Streamline Hotel and won the 1949 championship with Byron. His teams ran four seasons in what is the Cup Series – 1949, 1950, 1954 and 1955 – getting two wins, 11 top-five and 12 top-10s in 18 events.

Wendell Scott might not have been the first African-American driver in the sport, but he was the most successful. Scott broke the color barrier in Victory Lane, becoming the first – and so far only – African-American driver to win on NASCAR’s top level on Dec. 1, 1963, in Jacksonville, Fla. Scott made 495 starts, tying him for 33rd all-time. He earned 20 top-five finishes, including eight during the same season. Scott also posted 147 top-10 finishes – more than 25 percent of the races he entered.

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