Who should be in NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class?
Posted: Wednesday March 29, 2006 4:45PM; Updated: Wednesday March 29, 2006 11:30PM
Dale Earnhardt Sr. belongs in the sacred first class at the NASCAR HOF.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Well, NASCAR finally has settled on a location for a Hall of Fame all its own: Charlotte. (There are a handful of motor-sports halls of fame scattered around, but this one will operate under the aegis of NASCAR.) Now that location is no longer up for debate, we can move on to the next pressing issue: On their plaques, will drivers be pictured wearing a sponsor's hat? Yes, I say, which brings us to pressing issue No. 3: Who belongs?
My former cohort Rupen Fofaria (a fine writer and one of the funniest people I've ever encountered) suggests a system based largely on numbers -- accrue a certain number of wins or titles and you're in, but give voters some wiggle room if a driver doesn't hit his marks but still belongs. I kind of like the idea of removing a lot of the subjectivity. Exceptions can be made to include drivers (or owners or crew chiefs), but not to exclude them. (Ask Jim Rice why that's a good idea.)
What I'd like to see, though, is NASCAR waiting a couple of years before implementing any rigid guidelines. There's something special about the first class inducted into a Hall. Baseball, which admittedly used some ridiculous methods to settle on its inaugural group of inductees, still ended up getting it right. In 1936 only five players made it: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Tough to argue with them, and despite the fact that the procedure was somewhat flawed, it sent a nice message: To make it into the first class, you've got to be better than really good.
The precedent has stood. The Basketball Hall of Fame took just one team (the original Celtics) and four players (and a slew of contributors). The Football Hall had 10 players and a handful of administrators and coaches.
So here's what I'd like to see NASCAR do: Limit the number of enshrines, for the first year at least, and make that initial class really special. A round number would be nice. Ten is probably too many. Hell, only 168 drivers have ever won a race -- taking six percent of them is being a little generous. So we'll take five, plus a few contributors. Here goes:
Bill France. The guy pretty much invented the sport, so it's tough to argue against him. Plus, it's still not a good idea to cross the France family. Any writer who doesn't vote for him is likely to find that his Daytona 500 parking pass the following year requires him to park in downtown Orlando.
Dale Earnhardt. Build this place and don't induct him, then see how long it takes for someone to spray-paint the exterior black and whitewash a giant "3" on the front lawn.