On Wednesday NASCAR announced it’s nominees for it’s 2018 Hall of Fame class, and it includes some mighty big names. Many of them are from my era, names I know and love, and there are a few on that list that are before my time. Each of them has their own list of accomplishments and set of credentials, but some of them are more worthy of a hall of fame ring than others.
Buddy Baker is almost an indefinite lock to get inducted into the hall of fame with this year’s class. He’s the first driver to ever break the 200mph barrier in a stock car. He’s also the winner of the 1970 Southern 500 and the 1980 Daytona 500. He rounds out his crown jewel wins with three victories in the Charlotte Coke 600, and three wins in the Talladega Winston 500. Although he does not have any championships on his resume, he only ran three full seasons in the sport. It’s his contributions to the sport in his media career, that seals the deal for me. He was one of my favorite commentators on TNN, which covered a select few races back in the 90s. He was also the co-host of a NASCAR talk show on SiriusXM radio, where he shared all kinds of great stories and insight from his more than 50 years of being around the sport. His impact on the sport will live on long after his passing in 2015.
Joe Gibbs is a tough one for me. He’s certainly got an impressive resume, with four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championships, to go along with his two Xfinity Series Championship, two Daytona 500 wins, as well as 230 wins in the top-three major NASCAR divisions. The part that is difficult for me, is that he is currently contributing to his legacy in the sport. Much like Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress who were inducted into the hall of fame recently, they still have time to add to their impressive resume. For me, the hall of fame is about encapsulating a person’s entire career, from start to finish. So while I think he is a lock to be an inductee for the hall of fame, I kind of wish he had to wait a few more years. He’s well within the criteria, so put him down and lock it in.
Ron Hornaday Jr. was one of my favorite truck series drivers. He had that Earnhardt-like attitude and demeanor that made him a tough competitor. His Monster Energy Cup Series career was less than impressive, and his Xfinity Series career didn’t really make any waves either. It was his Camping World Truck Series resume that makes him a surefire hall of fame inductee. He’s got four Truck Series Championships and leads the Series in race victories with 51. No other driver, with the exception of maybe Kyle Busch recently, has had more success in the Camping World Truck Series than Ron Hornaday Jr.
Ken Squier is an iconic voice and is unmistakable to race fans. He was there with the play by play for the first televised Daytona 500 in 1979. He’s the co-founder of The Motor Racing Network, the organization that broadcasts more than half of the NASCAR races, and he’s the one responsible for coining the phrase “The Great American Race” for the Daytona 500. He’s been a part of the broadcast team, as a member of CBS and TBS, for a number of the sport’s greatest moments, including every Daytona 500 from 1979-1997.
Not Time Yet
My last choice is the toughest of them all. Personally, I don’t think the rest of the finalist have quite enough of a resume to be considered this early in the history of NASCAR Hall of Fame. Guys like Roger Penske and Jack Roush surely should be considered with nine championships between them, but at this rate every single car owner in the sport would be a NASCAR Hall of Famer. I don’t think that’s right. They will have their day, there’s no doubt, but lets leave them off a little longer for some exclusivity.
Ricky Rudd has neither a Daytona 500 win or a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Sure, he has a win in the Brickyard 400 and 22 other race wins to go along with it, but by those standards Denny Hamlin would be a Hall of Famer. He’s got more wins than Rudd plus a Daytona 500, but I never even considered him in the discussion.
Bobby Labonte makes a stronger case to be in the hall of fame. He at least has a Championship in both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the Xfinity Series and 21 total race wins in the Cup Series. I think he has a chance to make it in, but it might be a little early. If I had to use my 5th vote, Labonte would probably get it, but only because I’m not clear on the history of some of the older nominees. They’re a little bit before my time.
Davey Allison and Alan Kulwucki. No. No. One thousand times no. These two were promising stars who showed great success early in their careers, but their deaths in 1993 cut their stories short. Alan Kulwucki was a great underdog story of a single car owner driver overcoming the odds to beat the bigger, multi-car teams to win the Championship in 1992. It’s a great story, but it’s not Hall of Fame worthy. He only has 5 race wins to go along with that Championship and that is just not good enough. Davey Allison has a Daytona 500 win and 19 race victories. If Bobby Labonte is not in, then Davey Allison is not in. You have to induct a driver on concrete accomplishments and breakthroughs, not speculatively or based on promise or potential. Their stories need to be told and showcased in the Hall of Fame, there’s no doubt about it, but they do not have the credentials worthy to be side by side with the other legends of the sport.
Ray Evernham is person who I was very surprised to even see on the list. He is a 3-time championship winning crew chief with driver Jeff Gordon (guaranteed future Hall of Famer) and 2-time winning crew chief in the Daytona 500 and the winning crew chief in 47 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. He’s one of the better crew chiefs in the history of NASCAR, but is he the third best crew chief in the history of NASCAR? Only Dale Inman and Murice Petty are crew chiefs in the Hall of Fame. Guys like Smokey Yunick (57 wins, 2 Championships) Tim Brewer (53 wins, 2 Championships) and Kirk Shelmerdine (46 wins, 4 Championships) need to also be considered in the conversation with Ray Evernham. These are guys who had their success long before Ray Evernham even got to the NASCAR garage, and I think they need to be acknowledged first.
Who do you think should be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame?