Editorial: Among fast company
Passions inevitably run high at election time, especially when racy issues are involved. So it comes as no surprise that the voting for the first five inductees into the new NASCAR Hall of Fame inflamed debate across the motorsports blogosphere.
No sooner were the inductees named ó NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bill France Jr. and Junior Johnson ó than the backfiring began.
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One oft-voiced complaint: How could David Pearson, the sport’s second-winningest driver behind Petty, not make the cut? (“It’s a disgrace that David Pearson didn’t get selected in the first HOF class,” one commenter noted, conveying a sentiment sharply voiced by many others.)
Didn’t the inclusion of both France Sr. and his son tilt the initial class of inductees too far toward the administrative side ó and suggest that voters were unduly swayed by NASCAR’s clout? (“This was a JOKE putting in both Frances in at once,” raved another commenter.)
One observer even found a moral failing in the induction process, sniffing that “only in American sports can a felon go back to work and be elected in a Hall of Fame! What an absolute SHAME!!!!” This, apparently, in reference to the time Junior Johnson spent behind bars after being caught running moonshine through the hills of Wilkes County. Sorry, but if rumrunners were barred from the hall, it would severely restrict its membership.
Of course, for many people in these parts, the debate isn’t abstract; it’s downright personal. Petty, Earnhardt and Johnson are all North Carolina boys, with Earnhardt a Kannapolis native and Petty hailing from just down the road in Randleman. In that regard, the Tar Heel state is admirably represented in this freshman class of inductees, as the cradle of stock-car racing should be.
Just as baseball fans endlessly sift and churn the choices for Cooperstown, racing fans will argue present and future Hall of Fame honorees. But it’s more intense the first time around because of the symbolic value of being among the inaugural inductees. In fact, you could make a case that this initial class should have been larger. That would have made things easier for the panel of 50 judges, which included NASCAR executives, track owners, media members, former car owners, drivers and crew chiefs. While vote tallies haven’t been released, the pre-vote discussions apparently were intense, and opinions far from unanimous. “I think everybody wanted to do the right thing, and I think NASCAR was really nervous about the two Frances getting in,” said speedway mogul Humpy Wheeler, a member of the selection panel and future hall-of-famer himself.
By limiting selection to an elite few each year, however, NASCAR assures that the selection process will continue to be closely watched ó and hotly debated. As the sport seeks to whip up interest in the Hall of Fame while expanding its fan base and TV viewership, a little election controversy isn’t a bad thing.