Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Making the case for the NASCAR Hall
By Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Info
ISC Images & Archives/Getty ImagesThe NASCAR Hall of Fame will announce its fourth class of inductees Wednesday afternoon, and it might be the Hall’s most interesting and debatable class yet.
Buck Baker is the first driver to win back-to-back Cup titles in 1956 and 1957.
Each of the first three classes were armed with big-name superstars: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in the first, David Pearson and Bobby Allison in the second, and Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough in the third.
NASCAR has recognized its big-name superstars from the 1970s and 1980s, along with influential owners and crew chiefs, not to mention the founders of the sport. But overlooked have been the pioneer drivers that set the framework for the sport in the early days, the 1950s and early 60s.
Their biggest drawback? Not driving in the era where races were widely televised, and not being able to be there to give induction speeches in person.
Their stats speak for themselves. There’s Herb Thomas and Tim Flock, the only drivers in Cup Series history to make at least 100 starts, and win more than 20 percent of them. Thomas has a 21.1 win percentage, Flock a 20.6. Both won a pair of titles and rank within top 20 all-time in wins, but both did the bulk of their winning in the early 1950s.
Also up for induction is Buck Baker, the first driver to win back-to-back Cup titles (1956-57), along with Joe Weatherly, who also won back-to-back titles (1962-63), but died following a racing accident at Riverside in 1964.
Straying from the pioneers, a recent name, but perhaps a longshot given that it’s his first year on the ballot, is Rusty Wallace. Among the drivers in the top dozen all-time in Cup wins, everyone who is retired is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame with the exception of Wallace.
But to show I’m not entirely biased towards the NASCAR driving pioneers, based on who is in the Hall of Fame already amongst car owners, Junior Johnson, Bud Moore and Glen Wood, two of the most-successful owners are also for up induction this year.
Only four owners have won more than five Cup championships, two are already in, Richard/Lee Petty for Petty Enterprises, and Junior Johnson. The other two are Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress, both of whom are nominees once again. Those two are also the owners of two of the five teams with at least 100 Cup wins.
NASCAR’s first few classes honored those who became household names as NASCAR rose to national prominence. But this one should star the trend of honoring those who laid the framework of the sport years before.