1. Richie Evans. This nine-time Modified Series champion and fellow nominee Jerry Cook battled for the tour title during the 1970s and 1980s from their cross-town shops in Rome, NY. This was the Petty/Pearson rivalry of the region. Each team would drive up and down the East Coast trying to race in a championship event without their rival. Trucks towing racecars would head out of town in one direction only to turn around and head to another speedway. Evans claimed his final eight championships consecutively. The last one was awarded following his death in a practice crash during the 1985 Martinsville finale. Evans was popular with the fans and left behind a partying and fun loving legacy that matches his trophy collection. He was one of the best drivers that made the decision to remain in Modifieds instead of moving up the motorsports ladder. Cup opportunities were available but he acknowledged the Modifieds were home to him. He is without a doubt, one of the best racing drivers I have witnessed in my life.
2. Dale Inman. Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty have seven Cup championships. Inman has eight. He had a long tenure at Petty Enterprises as Richard’s crew chief. And guided that team and driver combination to seven crowns. During the 1981 season Inman resigned from the iconic race team and moved on. Three years later he added an eighth title in 1984 with Terry Labonte in a team owned by Billy Hagan.
3. Raymond Parks. At the time of his passing, he was the last surviving member of the group that formed NASCAR in the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. Parks also owned the first racecar to ever win a NASCAR championship. Red Byron drove a Parks prepared machine to the first Modified title in 1948 and the Strictly Stock crown in 1949. Strictly Stock eventually evolved to what is now know as the Cup Series. He did get to see his title winning car and likeness enshrined into the Hall of Fame when the exhibit finally opened. Parks’ induction into the Hall tips NASCAR’s hat to a man that had so much to do with the organization ever getting off the ground.
4. Red Byron. As mentioned with Parks, these two racers go hand in hand. Byron drove to NASCAR’s first championship of any kind. Including the first Modified and Strictly Stock championships. I felt the first Hall class should have included the first NASCAR champion in Byron. The sport is always looking for fresh, new, young talent, which is good. But too often the search for the future is done at the expense of proper respect for the past, which is bad. Byron would make an excellent choice to be inducted sooner rather than later.
5. Buck Baker. The 1956 and 1957 Cup Champion has 46 career wins which ranks him 14th on the all-time list. He is the father of Buddy Baker, a future Hall of Fame inductee in his own right. The pair of title trophies makes Baker the first man to claim consecutive crowns.
Parks, Byron, and Baker were early trailblazers in the sport that should be recognized in the Hall’s early classes. Evans and Inman contributed much to NASCAR. I favor them over the obvious and popular choices of Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, who will certainly and deservedly get their day. These are my five choices that should be the celebrated names in 2012.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)