Hall voters should honor NASCAR pioneers

The fourth class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame should be dominated by those who paved the way

Tuesday, May. 22, 2012

If any of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame voters thought picking the members of the first three classes was just too hard, they might as well skip voting in Charlotte on Wednesday.

The fourth class of inductees will be announced at 6 p.m. and will contain five members, just like the first three did. But the difference is that the most obvious choices have all been cherry-picked.

This class will be the most difficult to choose yet. And given that, I think NASCAR should honor its early days for this group. Make this the “Year of the Pioneer.”

Charlotte’s hall, after all, began its work with a 60-year backlog of worthy contenders. My choices for class No. 4 are five deceased drivers who did their best work decades ago: Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock and Wendell Scott.

My reasoning: The oldest generation of NASCAR greats is under-represented in the hall. It’s time to go strictly “old school” with one class, and this is the ideal time to do it.

Men such as Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Rusty Wallace should, and will, be inducted at some point. But they have reaped the benefits of racing in the modern era, and that era never would have occurred had it not been for these trailblazers.

Incidentally, I don’t have an actual vote in all this. But I do have one request of the hall voters. Don’t vote for Anne France (who is among the 25 nominated finalists). There are two Frances in the hall already, and that’s plenty. Her main claims to fame: She was the wife of a NASCAR giant (Bill France Sr.) and she was a superb bookkeeper.

Seriously? If we’re honoring women who stood by their men and did fine behind-the-scenes work, shouldn’t Teresa Earnhardt and Elizabeth Petty go into the hall, too? I’m sure Anne France was a nice person, but if she goes into the hall in front of all these pioneer drivers who deserve entry, NASCAR will have an enormous controversy on its hands.

OK, let’s move on to who should get the call from the hall Wednesday (and if one of these is left out, I hope it's because Buck Baker gets in):

Fireball Roberts. He never won a series championship, but he was an early breakout star with loads of charisma and 33 wins at the top level. His winning percentage of 16 percent is sixth all-time. Roberts got his nickname because of his fastball. But he had a tragic, ironic death in 1964 following an accident at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when he wrecked his car and was engulfed in a fireball.

Curtis Turner. Known as the “Babe Ruth of stock-car racing,” Turner was, like Roberts, known for his personality as much as his driving. A hard partier and former teenaged moonshine runner, Turner was the first NASCAR driver ever to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Turner also helped build the colossus that is Charlotte Motor Speedway (with Bruton Smith, who should also enter the hall one day). He endured a four-year ban from NASCAR during the prime of his career in the 1960s for unsuccessfully trying to unionize the drivers.

Tim Flock. A two-time series champion in the 1950s, Flock won 37 times at NASCAR’s top level and was the most successful of the racing Flock brothers. He was also known for racing with a pet rhesus monkey named “Jocko Flocko” for part of the 1953 season, winning once with the monkey riding shotgun.

Herb Thomas. Thomas won two of NASCAR’s first series championships (in 1951 and ’53). But the statistic that is most startling about Thomas is that he won 48 of the 228 races he started in NASCAR’s top series – a winning percentage of 21.05 that ranks No.1 all-time. By comparison, Jimmie Johnson is tops among today’s drivers at 15 percent.

Wendell Scott. Yes, he won only one top-level race, in 1963. But Scott broke NASCAR’s color barrier and – despite inferior equipment, little money and prejudicial treatment – was competitive for much of his career. He finished in the top 10 in 147 races, and he deserves inclusion because of all he overcame.

Fowler: 704-358-5140;; @Scott_Fowler

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