Tough Choices for Class of 2015

NASCAR

Selection of the next class to the NASCAR Hall of Fame is always intimidating. No matter how long voters discuss, debate and dissect, it rarely feels like there's enough time. (Photo: Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It’s always intimidating when they announce it is time to select the next class to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

No matter how long voters have discussed, debated and dissected candidates, it rarely feels like we’ve had enough time.  Points and counterpoints float through the mind.  Often the five you had entering the discussions change throughout the day until the ballots are distributed.

Every year, we get the ballot, my hands get clammy.  There’s an enormous responsibility on selecting the next five to enter the Hall of Fame.  As a voter, we are gatekeepers to NASCAR’s most precious shrine.  You know what it will mean to the inductees or their families.  And you know the disappointment for those who don’t make it.

As I decide who will make my ballot, I look at personal accomplishments.  For drivers, championships matter.  These are to be the best of the best.  I hold others - car owners, crew chiefs, administrators - under such a microscope in other ways.

Selecting a class gets more challenging each year.  The discussion among voters was as robust as it has been the previous five years.  Eventually, it becomes time to vote.  Then, a ballot stares at you.  The nominees all listed in alphabetical order.  It is time to mark an "X" in the box next to five names.

Here are the five I selected:

Joe Weatherly - An easy selection.  He’s a two-time champion, capturing titles in 1962 and ’63 - the only two seasons he ran a full schedule.  Weatherly scored 25 wins in 229 career starts.  He also won a NASCAR Modified title in 1953 and a total of 101 Modified races from 1952-53.  His versatility and success made it easy to make Weatherly, who has been eligible for the Hall for six years, a worthy pick this year.

Rick Hendrick - I tire of people who say that Hendrick shouldn’t get in because he’s still competing and his record is growing.  Really?  What more do you want?  Let’s be honest here, if Hendrick had accumulated his stats - 11 Cup championships and 220 Cup wins - in the first 30 years of the sport instead of the last 30, he’d already be in the Hall of Fame.  He should not be penalized for still competing.  Instead, Hendrick should be viewed on how he changed the sport.  He played a major role in moving toward multi-car teams.  He gave a young Jeff Gordon a top ride in an era when such drivers often didn’t get a good ride for years.  After Gordon’s success, teams began looking for young drivers.  In what is considered the most competitive era in the sport, his organization has reigned.  Why wasn’t he already in the Hall?

Bill Elliott - His 44 wins are the highest of any driver eligible for the Hall of Fame not already in.  Look at those wins.  Elliott won three Southern 500s, two Daytona 500s and a Brickyard 400.  If one considers those races, along with the Coca-Cola 600, as the sport’s majors, you can’t overlook these numbers.  He also was the first driver to win the Winston Million in 1985 when he won the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.  Add a championship and it only strengthens his case.  Another easy pick.

Curtis Turner - I’ll admit, this was a name that climbed high on my list Wednesday morning before we gathered to discuss the nominees.  A good amount of support from voters reaffirmed I was making the right decision to put Turner on my ballot.  Admittedly, his statistics are not overwhelming.  His 17 wins are fewer than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has 20, but Turner missed nearly five seasons after being banned by NASCAR for trying to form a union.  I recall Bruton Smith telling me one time that Turner was the greatest driver he had ever seen.  Considering Smith’s longevity in the sport, I’ve always kept that in mind.  Those who spoke of Turner expressed similar opinions.  Like Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts, who never won a championship, one has to look beyond his statistics to understand what he meant to the sport.

Terry Labonte - He was the last one on my ballot.  I was deciding between Labonte and a few others.  In the end, Labonte’s two championships proved to be the tipping point for me.  He won 22 races, which included two Southern 500s, and had the record for consecutive starts until Ricky Rudd passed him.  I would have had a hard time leaving a two-time champion off my ballot.

Photos

  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Bill Elliott
  • Class of 2015: Fred Lorenzen
  • Class of 2015: Fred Lorenzen
  • Class of 2015: Fred Lorenzen
  • Class of 2015: Fred Lorenzen
  • Class of 2015: Fred Lorenzen
  • Class of 2015: Fred Lorenzen
  • Class of 2015: Fred Lorenzen
  • Class of 2015: Joe Weatherly
  • Class of 2015: Joe Weatherly
  • Class of 2015: Joe Weatherly
  • Class of 2015: Joe Weatherly
  • Class of 2015: Rex White
  • Class of 2015: Rex White
  • Class of 2015: Rex White
  • Class of 2015: Rex White
  • Class of 2015: Rex White
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  • 2015 Class: Wendell Scott
  • 2015 Class: Wendell Scott
  • 2015 Class: Wendell Scott
  • 2015 Class: Wendell Scott
  • 2015 Class: Wendell Scott
  • 2015 Class: Wendell Scott
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