The tweet from Darrell Waltrip went out at 8:44 p.m. on Oct. 13: "Just having a small pity party right now," he reported. "Thanks for all your kind words."
Why was Waltrip, who may be the most optimistic man in motor sports, feeling so blue? Because even though he's a three-time Cup champion and tied for third on the alltime wins list with 84, The 63-year-old driver wasn't voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last week. Instead, the 52-person induction committee—which is made up of past competitors, industry heavyweights, NASCAR executives and members of the media—selected (in order of most votes) David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty, Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore as the Hall's second class.
Waltrip wasn't the only deserving former driver snubbed. Cale Yarborough, after all, was Jimmie Johnson before Johnson could even walk, becoming the first driver to win three straight championships, between 1976 and '78. But both Waltrip and Yarborough were shut out this year for a reason that has nothing to do with racing: They didn't compete in NASCAR's early days.
Half of the 52 voters are over 60, and there clearly is a feeling among this contingent that the pioneers of the sport—even if their accomplishments don't match those of more contemporary drivers, crew chiefs and owners—should be inducted while they're still alive. How else to explain the 78-year-old Jarrett, who debuted in the Cup series in the 1950s and has 34 fewer career wins than Waltrip, getting the nod over DW? Or the 85-year-old Moore, a longtime car owner who won a grand total of two championships?
NASCAR should follow the example of the NFL and have a senior selection committee pick one to three individuals each fall. That way it will become a true merit-based Hall of Fame, not just an age-based Hall of Founders.