The NASCAR Hall of Fame, which was founded in 2010, is very unique when considered against its other major sport counterparts. Auto racing is quite vast, with scores of different disciplines, racing surfaces, distances, vehicles and so on. NASCAR itself has had its hand in a few different styles of racing, but of course it can generally be identified with large circuit track stock car racing for the last 70ish years. With that being said, what does it take to make the grade for enshrinement in one of America’s more recently built Halls of Fame? What represents the minimum, and what should we focus on as we enshrine more and more of NASCAR’s most famous competitors? I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while, but couldn’t find the right tone in which to bring it out. While as a guest on the MotorMax Racing Podcast in June, the young aspiring sports broadcaster and I eventually fleshed out some ideas, and made a case for who might belong in this Hall of Fame, and who might have slipped in without merit. As always I invite you to read with an open mind, and if you disagree…well, the Facebook comments are always there for you to put me in my place. Let’s get things started, what is the Hall of Fame most proud of?
“I would have picked Carl Edwards over Earnhardt Jr. for the Hall of Fame.” -MotorMax
Before cataloguing the competitors and contributors in great detail, let’s lay out the “types” of enshrinement. Most obvious of course, would be the drivers, the folks actually getting it done on track. Other options include Crew Chiefs, Owners, and Engine Builders. There’s also Executives and Broadcasters, but for the sake of this discussion their criteria as of 2020 has little effect on the other “competitor” types, so we’ll stick with the big four options here. It’s also important to note that someone can be listed with multiple roles which can all be considered together. The best example here being Junior Johnson. While certainly a hall of famer as a driver, his contributions as Crew Chief and Owner vault him further still to the much deserved mythic quality as a first year selection to the Hall. After the 2021 selection the totals of the four major roles are: Driver: 42, Crew Chief: 5, Engine Builder: 4, Owner: 13. Wait a second… did that say FIVE crew chiefs?! How could that possibly be? Looking even further down, there’s only even two of what I would call “pure” crew chiefs: Dale Inman (Richard Petty) and Ray Evernham (Jeff Gordon) that weren’t selected with other engine or ownership roles attached. This has to be listed as problem #1 with the NASCAR Hall of Fame: Not Enough Crew Chiefs. Every damn week, every single race, we get showered with analysis and interviews with and about crew chiefs, making them the second most important role when considering on track performance. Hell there’s even a case to be made that the crew chief makes the driver. So why are they getting the short end of the stick? Perhaps the first hurdle is the length of career. A good crew chief can last decades, and they typically move into different active roles after achieving success. Still, there’s no excuse as to this number being so low. I’m confident that the wildly successful Chad Knaus will someday be enshrined, but off the top of my head I can think of a bunch getting screwed. Larry McReynolds, Harry Hyde, Buddy Parrott, Jeff Hammond, and Andy Petree just to name a few: all have scores of wins and various championships…but there’s been very little in regard to getting this kind of roleplayer voted in. Sure, drivers come first, but are we really putting in the drivers that we should?
“Larry McReynolds, he’s in. -is told he’s not- Ohhhhhh…that hurts.” -MotorMax
When NASCAR first announced the process for inducting Hall of Fame members, with five members each year, now reduced to three, it was assumed the first handful of years would be spent getting in all of the obvious choices. Certainly, it took a few rounds to get all the Pettys, Earnhardts, and Pearsons of the world into the promised land. But as the numbers show, we took care of this task remarkably fast and started filling in gaps to drivers better known in other divisions and classes than the Cup series. The first instance of this that raises a question to me is the 2014 selection of Jack Ingram. Considered the first great Sportsman/Busch series driver, now known as the xFinity Series, Ingram scored 31 wins and 2 championships, holding the most wins for over a decade. Mind you, Ingram’s selection to the Hall of Fame was before drivers like Benny Parsons, Fred Lorenzen, and Bobby Isaac. I could bore you even more with stats and context, but the process really takes a shit come 2018 when Ron Hornaday Jr. was selected making the notion of a driver’s top level success completely worthless. It’s without dispute, Ron Hornaday was the most accomplished Truck series driver, and deserves praise for what he’s done to the sport. But does this make him more worthy of selection than a crew chief that’s won an equal number of races in the Cup series? The argument from most when considering drivers like these two is to make the Hall more well rounded, to encompass all the types of racing under NASCAR’s banner. Ok, fine, they’re in, and there’s no taking that back. But one all the boxes are checked, and all the outlier drivers are swept in, what becomes the new minimum?
“I think consistency needs to be important.” -MotorMax
Going forward, we need to set better minimums for what a driver should accomplish in order to get selected. For the sake of this article, let’s keep it short and sweet. If going off cup accomplishments alone, you’re going to need 25 wins, and one of those is going to have to be the Daytona 500 and/or a Cup Championship to go with it. If you have neither, the minimum will need to go to 35 wins. If the total of the top premier series combined wins is over 50, then, and only then, does that open the conversation to lower series accomplishments, which means Ron Hornaday still makes it in. While certain circumstances may warrant another look in the coming decades such as car ownership success after an average driving career, this metric will ensure that only the true great ones behind the wheel will be enshrined. If it feels too steep, GOOD, because that’s the point. The notion of less drivers in the Hall will clear the path for more crew chiefs, and maybe even open the conversation to some new ideas such as Spotters or crew members. It was never supposed to be the “hall of very good” so let’s make sure we’re not heading down that path. Debating who’s the best and who might be left behind is what keeps a sport on a fanbase’s lips the whole year round. NASCAR was always meant to be that kind of thing, and with a decade of enshrinement in we might be nearing that milestone. Cooperstown, Canton, Charlotte…let’s make that distinction hold water from now on.