When Richard Petty speaks of what he thinks about the 25 most recent nominees for NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, one should listen. That does not mean I have to agree, as it was announced last week that the 20 who missed the cut last year will be joined by five more contenders for induction.
Not surprisingly, the King’s criteria included “wins, championships, Daytona 500 winners and longevity.” This is not surprising coming from the man who won 200 Cup events, seven championships, seven Daytona 500’s and who drove from 1958 until 1992. However, I do agree with him on who will probably be his first pick.
Maurice Petty, brother of one Hall of Famer and the son of another, was the engine builder for nearly forty years with the family operation that won all those titles, those Daytona 500’s, and a majority of those race wins. I would expect the Petty name to be announced one more time.
Petty does not think a winner of 30-odd races should get in this year. Compared to his untouchable standards I can see where he is coming from, but among mere mortals Dale Jarrett had one hell of a career. He won the 1999 title, and of those 32 races he won three of them in the Daytona 500, added three Southern 500’s, a pair of Brickyard trophies, and a World 600 victory. In short, Jarrett claimed the biggest prizes in the sport, and if worthy of the final recognition.
Petty does not think now is the time for another fellow, but I think NASCAR can afford to replace Rick Hendrick’s plaque if three decades of success continues into a fourth. A team owner in his 30th season, he has won more races than anyone other than Petty and company, has 13 of NASCAR’s top series titles to his credit, ten of them in the Cup series. Still being active should not be a barrier for non-drivers.
At 86, Bruton Smith does not appear to be slowing down just yet. Smith was promoting stock car racing before there was a NASCAR, and if not for a stint in the army in the early 1950’s it might be his family instead of the France clan leading the way in the sport. Best known for his ownership of the track in Charlotte, which hosts both the World 600 and the all-star race, he also owns tracks in Atlanta, Bristol, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Sonoma, and Texas. Smith’s time is now.
Four picks, but who to pick fifth? I like Joe Weatherly, who died in 1964 as the two-time defending champion. There is the legendary Fireball Roberts, a builder like “Annie B.” France, along with the pioneer who was Wendell Scott. Should someone who did not build a reputation in Cup be considered? 332 modified wins by Jerry Cook puts up a strong argument, as does the 31 Nationwide victories Jack Ingram recorded after hitting his 45th birthday.
Mind you, it would have been easier for me if one name had not been left off the list. Smokey Yunich was a mechanic, a builder, and crew chief who was so innovative that the NASCAR rule book should have been named in his honor. Maybe next year.