As this is being written, we are hours away from the announcement of who will comprise the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame. As this is just the third class for the hall, we’re still at the point where we can vigorously debate who gets in before another. It’s as hot a debate as one about who’s prettier: Jessica Alba or Jessica Biel (My pick? My wife, of course. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid).
We’re still at that point where homage must be paid to the founding fathers and historical, as well as honoring the living legends. I won’t satisfy everyone, but here are my selections…
Cale Yarborough- The original three-peat champion. Until Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson came along, Yarborough had one of the most dominating runs this side of Richard Petty back in the late 70s. Not only did he win 83 races, he was champion in 1976,’77, and ‘78. Yarborough was as fierce on the track, as he was congenial off of it. It was he whose car went flying over the guard rail in the opening montage of ABC’s Wide World Of Sports, and he was part of one of NASCAR’s seminal moments when he tangled with the Allison brothers at the 1979 Daytona 500.
Darrell Waltrip- It was Yarborough who gave this brash Kentucky native the nickname “Jaws” as NASCAR’s original smack talker. Struggling in his own equipment early in his career, D.W. came into his own in the late 70s, and dominated in the early 80s- with Cup championships in 1981, ‘82 and ‘85, plus runner up finishes in three more seasons. With 84 wins, Waltrip is tied for third on the victory list with Jeff Gordon and Hall of Famer Bobby Allison. Now a broadcaster, Waltrip’s showmanship still rubs some fans the wrong way, but he also has loyal supporters as well. Like him or not, you can’t deny his passion and his work as an ambassador for the sport.
Raymond Parks- A NASCAR pioneer, his hand prints were all over stock car racing at its inception. He rose from hardscrabble roots in rural Georgia to become a notable Atlanta businessman. He needed skilled drivers to deliver his prized product, moonshine whiskey. He hired the best drivers- Roy Hall and Lloyd Seay (the best racer few people knew)- to outrun the police and the revenue agents, and he had the best mechanic to soup up his rigs: Red Vogt, the Chad Knaus of his day. Parks was there at NASCAR’s inception with Big Bill France, Vogt and others, plus he owned cars piloted by the first champion, Red Byron, and the colorful Fonty Flock. France often turned to Parks for his advice in those early years, and it’s a shame that Parks passed from the scene last year before he could be honored as a Hall of Fame member.
Red Byron- How fitting in this All-American sport that its first champion was a war hero. Wounded as a tail gunner in World War II, Byron needed a special clutch attachment made by Red Vogt to fix his crippled leg to the peddle. Though he was a bit of a mess physically, the steady, cerebral Byron became NASCAR’s first champion. Already 33 during NASCAR’s inaugural season, health problems curtailed his career and Byron passed away in 1960 at the age of 45. He was modified champion in 1948, and took the strictly stock title in 1949.
Glen Wood- Really, the legendary Wood brothers should all go together for their work as a team, innovators of the modern pit stop, and their leadership of one of racing’s premier teams. Failing that, we’ll go with the original driver of the team and later co-owner and crew chief. Their roster of drivers included legends such as David Pearson, A.J. Foyt, and Cale Yarborough, not to mention other notables such as Dale Jarrett, Neil Bonnett, and Kyle Petty. They also enjoyed success in the Indianapolis 500, when they supplied a crew for 1965 race winner Jimmy Clark. The Wood family stills races, though on a more limited scale, and it was in the famous Wood Bros. #21 that Trevor Bayne won this year’s Daytona 500.
The ranks of the worthy include many more: Buck Baker, Richie Evans, Dale Inman, Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, Herb Thomas, Fireball Roberts, and Joe Weatherly to name a few. Someone will also have to explain to me why the man who coined NASCAR’s name- uber-mechanic Red Vogt- is not even on the list, as well as combative auto engineer Smokey Yunick.
Sooner or later, these greats will join those who have gone before. One day, the likes of Childress, Hendrick, Gordon, Wallace, Elliott, Parsons and others will join them. For this class, it is this writer’s hope the voters will acknowledge those who laid the foundation for America’s number one sport to be what it is today.
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