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Dustin Long, The Virginian Pilot

Kyle Petty Helps Put Glen Wood in NASCAR Hall of Fame

EDITOR'S NOTE Dustin Long was one of the 54 voters who selected the third class to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Here's what it was like inside the voting room.

            More than two hours of debate seemed to solidify the ballots for many NASCAR Hall of Fame voters who entered Tuesday's vote unclear of their final five picks.
            Then came the discussion about Glen Wood.
            Immediately, one of the 54 voters stood and asked if they could select both Glen and his brother Leonard, also nominated, together instead of separating the two. The point being they belonged together.
            Kyle Petty's arm shot up to be next to speak.
            "That just caught me," Petty said afterward about pairing the Woods as one vote. "For them to go together, I think would take away for both of them."
            Petty's impassioned speech went beyond the testimonials, funny stories and pleas others gave in a room that included NASCAR chairman Brian France, and Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore.
            "I think people forget the breadth of somebody's career sometimes when it spans as long as his," Kyle Petty said, noting how the Wood Brothers have won at least one Cup race in seven decades, including this year's Daytona 500, and how Glen won races in various divisions early in NASCAR's existence.
            "I think everybody needs to be judged on their own merit and not lumped in."
            Petty's speech moved voters.
            "Kyle's commentary, plus the fact that I had been around Glen and Leonard and I knew that Leonard would be more than happy for Glen to go in ... that perspective, I added Glen Wood," said ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch, one of the voters.
            Fox broadcaster Mike Joy said Petty's speech also impacted him.
            "I had always thought about the Wood Brothers as a unit, all five of them," said Joy, also a voter. "I thought it would be a quicker path for the Hall of Fame to nominate the Wood Brothers as opposed to singling out the accomplishments of any one or more of them. Yes, what Kyle said did carry quite a bit of weight for my final vote."
            Those votes proved critical as Glen Wood was selected as the fifth and final member of the next class, which will be inducted in January. Wood joins Cale Yarborough (selected on 85 percent of the ballots), Darrell Waltrip (82 percent), former crew chief Dale Inman (78 percent) and former modified champion Richie Evans (50 percent).
            This class represents a change for the voters. Seven of the first 10 inductees had driven.
            Change was evident during the three hours of debate.
            After an early discussion on the need to get those from the sport's early days in the Hall - notably Herb Thomas, Buck Baker and Tim Flock, all champions in the 1950s - talk turned to looking beyond Cup drivers. Inman, who missed making this year's class, was praised by voters. They noted not only his eight championships but the family tree he spawned. Many crew members who worked for Inman at Petty Enterprises went to other teams, taking their experience and knowledge and making those teams better. Some are executives with teams and even in NASCAR.
            Those points made Inman's election all but a certainty.
            Those in the room also talked about the need to make the Hall of Fame truly a NASCAR one instead of a Hall for those who had competed in the Sprint Cup Series.
            Evans' name was mentioned numerous times by voters. Considered the greatest modified driver ever before his death in a crash at Martinsville Speedway, the room swayed toward electing him.
            The session ended with the voters discussing Waltrip and Yarborough. A year ago, voters dissected the two, trying to find a way to separate the trio of Waltrip, Yarborough and Bobby Allison, who was elected, even though they had similar stats.
            This time, the discussion wasn't about what Waltrip and Yarborough had or hadn't done but how, as one voter noted, they "had" to be in this class.
            When Waltrip's name was unveiled, he ran on stage and kissed NASCAR chairman France on the cheek.
            Perhaps the most surprised inductee, though, was Glen Wood, who sat a row behind Waltrip.
            Wood's name was the last one revealed.
            "It was unbelievable," said Wood, who turns 86 next month. "I just didn't expect it. Maybe sometime in the next 25 years or something, but I did not expect it this soon."
            An hour after the announcement, as the inductees glowed, the crowd cleared the Hall of Fame and Speed's broadcast ended, Petty walked from the stage when Leonard Wood approached.
            Petty, who drove for the Wood Brothers from 1985-88, congratulated Leonard Wood on his older brother's election.
            "I would have had it no other way," Leonard told Petty as they grasped hands. "It's just wonderful. He's always been my big brother and still is."
            And then, Leonard Wood added: "I appreciate all your kind words."