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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Richard Petty tried his hand at politics in 1996, losing the general election for North Carolina secretary of state as the Republican nominee.
Maybe he was on the wrong side of the process.
Maybe he's more suited for campaign manager.
NASCAR's all-time wins leader certainly proved to be capable in his latest political endeavor, successfully lobbying to get brother Maurice Petty into the fifth class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame that was announced on Wednesday.
|Famed engine builder and master mechanic Maurice Petty, right, is congratulated by fellow Hall of Famer and brother Richard Petty.|
It was another reminder that the Petty family is and always will be the First Family of NASCAR.
Say what you want about the 2014 class that also included Tim Flock, Dale Jarrett, Jack Ingram and Fireball Roberts, there is no disputing that Maurice belongs with the other three family members -- brother, Richard; father, Lee; and cousin Dale Inman -- who made the Hall before him.
One could make a case he is the most deserving.
He certainly is the most complete.
Richard and Lee stole all the headlines, winning a combined 254 races and 10 championships. Inman, who won seven titles as Richard's crew chief and another with Terry Labonte, got the credit when they didn't.
Maurice was, as Richard said, the silent Petty.
But Maurice did it all. He built the best engines of his era, including those with which Richard won his seven titles and seven Daytona 500s. He also built winning engines for his father, Buddy Baker, Jim Paschal and Pete Hamilton.
When he wasn't doing that he drove the truck and worked on the pit crew as a tire changer. During one stretch he even drove in 25 races.
"He was the complete package," Richard said.
All Richard did, Maurice joked as he sat on a scooter inside the shrine's main hall, was "show up on Sunday and drive."
On Wednesday, Richard drove home the point that Maurice deserved to be in the Hall.
But "The King" wasn't the only person politicking for Maurice. Kyle Petty and former crew chief Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, also worked behind the scenes to make sure the man chairman Brian France described as the best person to ever turn a wrench in NASCAR got in.
Pemberton was so nervous beforehand that he didn't want to mention Maurice for fear of jinxing him.
Kyle, who jokingly says he'll have a lot of sleepless nights as the "only" member of the Petty family who'll never get into the Hall, argues that statistically Maurice's numbers are better than anybody's in the family.
|Dale Jarrett, the 1999 Sprint Cup champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner, joins his father, Ned Jarrett, in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.|
"He could do anything anytime he wanted to," Kyle said.
In truth, Maurice's selection reinforced just how much of a family effort Petty Enterprises was.
"It shows that none of them probably could have accomplished any of this without the other," Kyle said. "The four of them epitomizes what a team sport this really is."
It epitomized what a family sport NASCAR is.
So did the selection of Jarrett, whose father, Ned, was selected into the Hall in May 2011. They become the third father-son combination to make it, joining Lee and Richard and founding father Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr.
But Dale Jarrett, an ESPN NASCAR analyst now, didn't expect to be selected into this class any more than his dad did two years ago. He arrived at the selection show dressed in white pants, a plaid shirt and white tennis shoes because this was supposed to be a quick stop on the way to his son's high school graduation pool party.
The honor was deserved, though. With three Daytona 500 wins, two Brickyard 400 wins, victories at Darlington and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte -- not to mention a championship in 1999 and 32 career wins -- he didn't need a campaign strategist to become a first-ballot selection.
Again, it was about family.
"That's the way this sport was built for a lot of years," Dale said.
It's hard to argue with any of those in the latest class. It was good to see Roberts, considered by many the sport's first superstar, make it even though he never won a title. Ingram's stats as a legend in what is now the Nationwide Series made him a logical choice for a Hall that strives to be diversified. Flock maybe should have been in a class or two ago with two titles and 39 career victories.
No need for politics with any of those.
Speaking of politics, Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith wasn't voted in and it had nothing to do with his threat earlier in the week to move a date from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Las Vegas.
At least let's hope not.
If anything, Smith's threat is why you could have made a case for him to be in this class. NASCAR wouldn't be where it is today without innovative thinkers willing to stand up for what they believe in, willing to stand up against the establishment to keep things in check.
Nobody has done that more than Smith -- just ask the France family how often it has knocked heads with him.
But when you look at the big picture of what Smith has accomplished compared to the five who made the class, there is no doubt he deserved to be on the list.
The five who made it also deserve to be on it.
As Richard Petty reminded, all 25 who were nominated eventually will be selected.
And if they're looking for good campaign managers, he'd be a good place to start.