I bid you welcome gentle readers, to what has become an annual lesson in the workings of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame… who gets nominated by whom and who is finally chosen by whom for the next class of five to be inducted. First, allow me to thank both NASCAR and the Hall of Fame for finally, for the first time, having the names of the voting panel available for media access before the actual vote has taken place. Since the Hall’s inception, this has been privileged information that became available only when no longer of concern to anyone. Translated, that means that this year, we in the media don’t have to guess who died in order to come up with a somewhat relevant list.
If you are brand new to racing and not at all familiar with the workings of the Hall, it helps to know that though NASCAR has been a sanctioning body for racing for over 65 years, the Hall of Fame has only existed for six of them. Some gold-star calculus student decided that 5 would be a nice round number to induct annually, so somewhere around the year 2525, if man is still alive, things may even out, providing that very few new stars appear in the racing sky between now and then. To date, the Hall consists of 30 inducted members, and as Mike Helton would say, “It is what it is.” Our purpose today is not to say who should or should not be in that number, as that is something no two people can agree upon, let alone many thousands of us. That’s why they have a voting process, and that, dear hearts and gentle readers, is why we’re here.
In January, the Hall of Fame saw the Class of 2015 inducted, and that class included Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White. That, of course, left the list at only 15 in waiting, so it was time for the Nominating Committee to go to work and fill up the list… but wait. Last year, the rules changed, and there are now two lists; one of 20 names, as nominees in waiting, hopeful of induction into the Hall of Fame, and another of 5 names eligible to receive NASCAR’s Landmark Award, the first of which went to Anne B. France in January. First up, please allow me to introduce to you this year’s nominating committee:
NASCAR Hall of Fame: Executive Director Winston Kelley; Historian Buz McKim.
NASCAR Officials: Chairman / CEO Brian France; Vice Chairman Jim France; Vice Chairman of NASCAR Mike Helton; Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar; Executive Vice President / Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell; Executive Vice President / Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps; Senior Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton; Competition Administrator Jerry Cook (Note: Due to Jerry Cook's inclusion on the ballot for the NHOF Class of 2015, he was recused from voting for the Class of 2016 nominees.)
Track Owners/Operators: International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy; Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell; Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage; Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark; former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George; Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn; Pocono Raceway board of directors member Looie McNally; Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis; Holland Motorsports Complex operator Ron Bennett; Rockford Speedway operator Jody Deery; West Coast representative Ken Clapp.
Media: Mike Joy, FOX.
If one combs through the list, eliminating the impressive-sounding titles and counting only the human element, we find there are 22 persons involved in nominating new members to the list of those waiting and/or hoping for induction into the Hall of Fame. On February 20, the Nominating Committee released the names of the five new nominees to be added to the existing list of 15. Those names are:
Ray Evernham… three-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief
Harry Hyde… 1970 NASCAR premier series championship crew chief
Alan Kulwicki… 1992 premier series champion
Mark Martin… winner of a combined 96 NASCAR national series races
Hershel McGriff… 1986 NASCAR west series champion
Those gentlemen have been added to the 15 renominated from last year, giving us 20 names from which will be chosen the five that will comprise the Class of 2016. We also have 5 names from which one will be chosen as the recipient of the Landmark Award.
Buddy Baker, won 19 times in NASCAR's
premier (now Sprint Cup) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500
Red Byron, first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949
Richard Childress, 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series
Jerry Cook, six-time NASCAR Modified champion
Ray Evernham, three-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief
Ray Fox, legendary engine builder and owner of cars driven by Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and others
Rick Hendrick, 14-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series
Harry Hyde, 1970 NASCAR premier series championship crew chief
Bobby Isaac, 1970 NASCAR premier series champion
Alan Kulwicki, 1992 NASCAR premier series champion
Terry Labonte, two-time NASCAR premier series champion
Mark Martin, 96-time race winner in NASCAR national series competition
Hershel McGriff, 1986 NASCAR west series champion
Raymond Parks, NASCAR's first champion car owner
Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR premier series champion
Larry Phillips, only five-time NASCAR weekly series national champion
O. Bruton Smith, builder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and architect of Speedway Motorsports Inc.
Mike Stefanik, winner of record-tying nine NASCAR championships
Curtis Turner, early personality, called the "Babe Ruth of stock car racing"
Robert Yates, won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner
The five nominees for the Landmark Award are as follows…
Harold Brasington, founder of Darlington Speedway
H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway
Raymond Parks, NASCAR's first champion car owner
Ralph Seagraves, formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
Ken Squier, legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner/namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence
Next, we have the Voting Panel, which ultimately makes the decision as to who will or won’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame as the Class of 2016 next January. Those that follow such things will note the addition of some new names this year. Those are Ron Bennett, Jeff Burton, Steve Byrnes, Brent Dewar, Eli Gold, Kevin Harvick, Marty Smith and Jim Utter, all of which are included within the proper categories below. Also, please note that Dr. Jerry Punch has been moved to the Voting Panel for the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. The fifth recipient of the award will be announced during the July race weekend at Daytona.
The Voting Panel consists of the above 22-member Nominating Committee and the following 36 representatives.
*In addition a Fan Vote is the 59th -- and final -- vote.
American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association: Dusty Brandel, AARWBA President.
Eastern Motorsports Press Association: Ron Hedger, EMPA President.
National Motorsports Press Association: Brian Nelson, NMPA President.
Print & Online Media: Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com; Jenna Fryer, Associated Press; Al Pearce, Autoweek; Jim Pedley, RacinToday.com; Bob Pockrass, ESPN; Nate Ryan, USA Today; Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer.
Broadcasters: Rick Allen, NBC; Jeff Burton, NBCSN; Steve Byrnes, FS1; Eli Gold, MRN; Dave Moody, SiriusXM; Doug Rice, PRN; Marty Smith, ESPN.
Manufacturers: Jim Campbell, Chevrolet; Edsel Ford, Ford; David Wilson, Toyota.
Retired Drivers: Ned Jarrett; Richard Petty; Ricky Rudd.
Retired Car Owners: Junior Johnson; Bud Moore; Robert Yates.
Retired Crew Chiefs: Buddy Parrott; Waddell Wilson; Eddie Wood.
Industry Leaders: Former NASCAR Senior Vice President Paul Brooks; MRN announcer Barney Hall; Retired Associated Press writer Mike Harris; former motor sports journalist Tom Higgins; former broadcaster Ken Squier; former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler.
The 58-member panel will vote for the NHOF Class of 2016 on Wednesday, May 20 in Charlotte, North Carolina, to be announced that afternoon in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall and on the NBC Sports Network. (NBCSN)
But wait… something is missing. No, it’s not. Please refer to the red asterisk (*) above. This is how the fan vote works:
Voting was opened on March 31and will close at noon on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, one day before the Voting Panel meets to vote. Voting is accessed here:
That’s a bit tricky to locate on the site, as first one has to access the dropdown menu found by hovering over “Discover” which then allows you to click on Hall of Fame Voting. It’s NASCAR, and “It is what it is.”
They do have rules, and I read through those to become familiar with any restrictions there might be. Quite literally, if you are not a machine, you can vote from now until noon on May 19, non-stop. This lack of limitation assures that there will be a vast number of votes cast, probably in the millions on the way to infinity. Go for it! But… it’s important to note that no matter how many votes are cast… millions, billions, whatever… they are then tabulated by a reputable accounting firm and reduced from Mount Everest to a single grain of sand at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean… quite literally. No matter how many times you push the “Vote” button, the fans… all of the fans, everywhere, only count altogether as one single vote at the end of voting day. Not to say they would, but that means that just a duo of perhaps Brian France and Mike Helton can outvote all those millions and billions of votes made by adoring fans for their favorites. The odds are fairly enormous that you won’t get your wish, but go for it anyway.
Did I vote? Of course I did. In fact, I broke my own rule and voted twice this year… because the first time through I neglected to read the “Rules” thing, which is on the voting page, so I went back for seconds. Will I tell you for whom I voted? Sure, why not? I tell every year and impress absolutely no one by doing so. If my ballot seems a bit weighted on the side of age, there is good reason for that. At almost 77, I’m running short of folks my own age that even remember some of the names that have already been on the ballot far too long. If we can’t stem the youth movement long enough to get them in, they will never be a part of the Hall of Fame.
Remember… 65 years! Most of you haven’t been alive that long, but the sport of Stock Car Racing had its stars, even before you were born. They were men of a different era; soldiers that returned from a World War, anxious to reinstate a sport that had only begun to bud before they were all called away. They weren’t pampered and they weren’t rich. They built and maintained their own cars for the most part, and if lucky, eked out a living in doing so. Just because times were different doesn’t mean those men were not deserving of the recognition they surely earned. Here are my choices for 2016:
Is there anything missing or not understood? By all means, leave questions below and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you.
And now, not a moment too soon, it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout. Way back in the beginning of this one, I played with the lyrics from an old song entitled “Dear Hearts and Gentle People”, so why not start out with that one? As was the custom in “olden days”, this was recorded and made it to someone’s charts by many different artists including Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Dinah Shore and others. I believe it was born in a movie called “Beyond the Purple Hills” and sung there by Gene Autry. That was almost the version you got to hear, but YouTube delivered again and pointed me to a version of this golden oldie as done by Red Foley, and you all know Mama can’t pass up a chance to hear Red, especially doing a song that I don’t have in my library.
Next up, and our last one today, due to its length, is a compilation of one-liners and fast lines designed to bend you over laughing, from the Queen of Country Comedy, Cousin Minnie Pearl. (Born Sarah Ophelia Colley) This gal was and is what clean comedy is all about. Please enjoy a laugh on Minnie and me.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!