Tuesday, June 30, 2009
And the nominees are ...
By Terry Blount ESPN.com
OK, folks. Who's in your 25?
NASCAR will announce Thursday the 25 nominees for the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Bill France Sr., left, turned the NASCAR reins over to Bill France Jr., right, in 1972.
Only five will get in, and some of those are obvious. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Bill France Sr. all are locks for the first induction ceremony.
But picking 25 names is a much tougher assignment. Once you get below the top 10 or so, opinions will differ greatly.
The 20-to-25 group is the fun one. Below are my 25 who deserve a spot among the first nominees for consideration.
As stated above, the first three are no-brainers: the two seven-time Cup champions and the NASCAR founder.
The fourth name on the list is the late Bill France Jr., who guided NASCAR into the modern era. Bill Sr. made NASCAR a legitimate sport; Bill Jr. made it a national sport.
Fifth for me is David Pearson, the only man besides Petty with triple-digit victories.
Pearson earned his 105 wins with the third-best winning percentage ever at 18 percent. Only four times did he race more than 75 percent of the season schedule, and he won the championship in three of those years.
So those are my top five for the inaugural class. Here are the other 20 nominees:
6. Cale Yarborough: The first man to win three consecutive championships, and the only man to do it until Jimmie Johnson equaled the feat last year.
7. Junior Johnson: The old moonshiner won 50 races as a driver, and his teams won 139 races and six championships. But Johnson's legacy goes much deeper as the man who brought R.J. Reynolds and the Winston brand into the sport.
8. Darrell Waltrip: Three championships, 84 victories and a longtime NASCAR broadcaster who is one of the sport's most recognizable and beloved figures.
9. Bobby Allison: The three-time Daytona 500 winner equaled Waltrip with 84 Cup victories.
10. Rick Hendrick: The team owner by which all others are judged. He has eight Cup titles and probably more to come.
11. T. Wayne Robertson: R.J. Reynolds executive who oversaw the Winston sponsorship that transformed NASCAR into the big time. He was killed at age 47 in a 1998 boating accident.
12. Lee Petty: He won three championships and 54 races, but Richard's dad is best known for his photo-finish victory in the first Daytona 500.
13. Glen and Leonard Wood: When they do enter the Hall, and they will, these two should go in together as the founders of the pioneering NASCAR team of Wood Brothers Racing. Some of the top drivers in history raced for the Wood Brothers, including Darrell Waltrip, A.J. Foyt, Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough.
14. Herb Thomas: He won two championships and 48 races and has the highest winning percentage (21 percent) among drivers who competed in at least 100 Cup events.
15. Dale Inman: The only crew chief with eight championships. He was with Richard Petty for all seven of his titles and earned an eighth Cup crown with Terry Labonte in 1984.
16. Bruton Smith: NASCAR wouldn't be what it is today without him. The Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul has built and rebuilt some of NASCAR's best tracks. He transformed Bristol from a 25,000-seat house in the Tennessee backwoods to a 160,000-seat facility that is the racing version of the Rose Bowl.
17. Rusty Wallace: The 1989 Cup champion is eighth on the all-time wins list with 55 victories. He also is a two-time runner-up for the championship. Wallace is tied for second on the all-time list for road-course victories with six.
18. Richard Childress: Earnhardt won six of his seven championships with Childress, who overcame the death of the sport's biggest star to make Richard Childress Racing successful again.
19. Joe Weatherly: He raced a full season twice in his career and won the championship both times, when he was 40 and 41. He was killed in a 1964 crash, the year after winning his second title.
20. Humpy Wheeler: He was NASCAR's most innovative track promoter during his three decades of work as the head of Lowe's Motor Speedway.
21. Tim Flock: A two-time Cup champion who has the second-highest winning percentage (20.8 percent) among drivers with at least 100 starts.
22. Ned Jarrett: A true gentleman racer who won two championships and 50 events. Jarrett also was a top NASCAR broadcaster for many years.
23. Jack Roush: He has 115 Cup victories as a team owner, and counting, over a 21-year span, and two championships.
24. Wendell Scott: The first and only black driver to win a NASCAR event. And that was 45 years ago during the highly volatile times of the civil rights era.
25. Smokey Yunick: An innovative engine builder and designer whose cars won 57 races in NASCAR's top series. Yunick also was one of NASCAR's most colorful characters for years.
That's my list, but the official 25 come from a 21-person committee of NASCAR officials, team owners and track operators.
A voting panel, which includes a fan-vote element, will choose the first class. The five inductees will be honored next May at the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
So who's on your list?
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.