Dave Moody, Area Auto Racing News
The Microwave Hall Of Fame
Last Wednesday provided a shining example of everything that is good about NASCAR. The sport chose five of its favorite sons: three-time Cup Series champion David Pearson, inaugural Daytona 500 winner and three-time champ Lee Petty, legendary car owner Bud Moore, two-time champion and award-winning broadcaster Ned Jarrett and former champion and 84-time race winner Bobby Allison for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The day was filled with emotion, tears and high drama, as NASCAR embraced five larger-than-life personalities and thanked them for their considerable roles in building the sport.
Less than 24 hours later, that feeling was gone, replaced by the petty bickering of a select few observers who seem incapable of letting anything good go unspoiled. While acknowledging the accomplishments and credentials of Wednesday’s honorees, they could not resist chastising NASCAR for not including their favorite driver, turning what should be a feel-good moment for the sport into just another competition to see who can get to the finish line first, and at whose expense.
One of the most respected writers in the business, veteran ESPN.com scribe Ed Hinton wrote of Wednesday’s announcement, “Messing with men's lives, especially in their twilight, just so NASCAR can hold an annual publicity stunt, just isn't right. But that's what is happening with the Hall of Fame and its cruelly small groups of inductees.” SI.com’s Tom Bowles dug the hole even deeper in an article entitled, “HOF Voters Should Put Personal Feelings Aside In Choosing Inductees,” alleging that members of the voting panel harbored decades-old grudges that kept Waltrip and Yarborough out of the Hall. “No one's going to argue with David Pearson (and) Lee Petty,” he wrote. “But the other three selections, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and Bobby Allison, raise some interesting questions on just how these selections should be made.
“Half the voting room (was) close friends with Jarrett, a man who doesn't have a mean bone in his body,” wrote Bowles. “Whoever said ‘nice guys finish last’ obviously didn't sit in a Hall of Fame discussion where the ‘personality’ quotient shouldn't be quantified, but inevitably becomes the ‘X’ factor. Moore, said Bowles “had one advantage in the voting room we can't ignore: half those men owe their NASCAR careers to a man who handpicked them for future stardom. It's an admirable quality, yet just because someone's your mentor doesn't automatically make him one of the 10 most influential NASCAR personnel of all time.”
Bowles accused the voting panel of penalizing Waltrip “for simply opening his mouth and speaking his mind one too many times,” and accused voters of ignoring Yarborough because of his support of the ill-fated TRAC series decades ago. He conveniently avoided naming names, and later admitted not questioning individual panel members about their alleged bias, since “nobody would admit to it, anyway.”
For the record, this year’s 52-member voting panel was an extremely eclectic group. It was comprised of 14 media members, 11 current or former track owners, eight NASCAR representatives, three manufacturer representatives, 10 retired drivers, car owners and/or crew chiefs, four industry reps and two executives from the Hall of Fame. The 53rd ballot was cast according to a fan vote. That panel sequestered itself for more than two hours Wednesday debating their final selection, and according to many who were there, endured numerous turns of sentiment throughout the day. That doesn’t sound like a group that walked in with its collective mind made up due to a decades-old vendetta, does it? And yet, that’s what Bowles (and others in the NASCAR community) would have you believe.
“Voting with your heart is a dangerous game,” he wrote, “an ugly habit setting precedent for years down the road when the choices won't be quite so much of a slam dunk.” On that count, he could not be more wrong. NASCAR is nothing without its heart.
Bobby Allison, Bud Moore and Ned Jarrett are not defined by a spreadsheet of wins and losses. Like Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and the others on the 25-man list of nominees, they are more than mere numbers on a page. They are living, breathing human beings; people with hearts, souls and feelings that must surely be hurt by the childish, petty bickering of men who should know better.
Like its athletes, NASCAR is more than mere numbers, more than the sum of its parts. This sport is nothing without its heart, no matter what men like Hinton and Bowles would have you believe.
Induction into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame is not a race; not a final battle to determine who is better than whom. I walked through the Hall Of Honor just hours before Wednesday’s ceremony, and the five men enshrined there were not ranked, in any way. There was no “Best Of All Time,” just a listing of each driver’s accomplishments, both on and off the race track. Pitting driver against driver as Hinton and Bowles attempt to do serves no purpose, other than to cheapen the process. It robs the five honorees of their much-deserved moment in the sun. It impugns the integrity of a voting panel that poured heart and soul into its selections. And worst of all, it depicts the 20 men not selected for the 2011 Class as losers, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The process of paring 25 nominees to five inductees is akin to taking an exam where there are no wrong answers. There were no “winners and losers” last week. All 25 nominees were then – and continue to be now – worthy of inclusion in the Hall. Pearson, Petty, Moore, Jarrett and Allison were not better or more qualified than the other 20 nominees. They were simply next in a decades-long line of equals, waiting patiently to take their place among the legends of the sport.
Hinton wrote that Cale Yarborough, Glen Wood, Dale Inman and Darrell Waltrip were “denied” spots in the Hall Of Fame. That’s not true. They were, at worst, deferred. And while they were most certainly disappointed, that feeling will pass.
Just moments after last year’s announcement, David Pearson walked sullenly from the Hall Of Fame, deeply hurt – perhaps even angry – not to be named to the inaugural class. One year later, everything changed. One of the sport’s toughest, most stoic personalities fought back tears as he spoke of being included in the Hall’s second group of inductees. There was no bitterness, no “I should have been here last year;” just humility and honor to be included among the sport’s all-time greats.
Some wish the NASCAR Hall Of Fame could be filled instantly with a tidal wave of 40-50 honorees. That, I suppose, is understandable. Modern society has traded its attention span for a life of instant gratification. We eat our food over the sink, straight from the microwave because cooking and setting the table take too much time. We prefer Monday morning highlight packages to watching the actual race, because three hours is too long to sit still in an ADHD world. We spend our money on $300 sneakers and let the 401K go begging, because there’s no time to worry about next week, much less old age.
We’ve forgotten that good things take time. One win – or even one championship – does not make a Hall Of Fame career. It takes decades of sweat, sacrifice and determination, and there are no short-cuts on the road to greatness.
If we’re willing to accept that Hall Of Famers are not made overnight, why can’t we accept that a Hall Of Fame cannot be filled in that same amount of time?