Five new members, five well-deserved choices
No, as a matter of fact I haven’t always seen eye to eye with the voting panel for the relatively new NASCAR Hall of Fame, but this year, they didn’t give me much to complain about.
I’m not sold on the recent rule change that eliminated the requirement for a driver to have been actively retired for a few years, which is how we got Bill Elliott named to the class of 2015. But let’s face it – he belongs in the HOF, and whether he goes in now or next year, doesn’t really matter. And since he was on the highest percentage of the voters' ballots -- 87 percent -- I'm probably in the minority.
That rule change had some of us concerned that this class would be populated by very recent NASCAR personalities like Elliot and Terry Labonte, but the other four new members are certified legends from NASCAR's past.
--Joe Weatherly was a racer’s racer, a genuine showman and while he took racing seriously, he never took himself seriously – he once dressed like Peter Pan for NASCAR practice. He would race anything on four wheels, or two wheels, for that matter, as he was a motorcycle champion. He was the current Cup champion in 1964 when he was killed at Riverside International Raceway, a road course, when his head struck a retaining wall – he didn’t have a full harness or a window net. He remains the only NASCAR Cup driver killed in a race while he was the champion.
--Rex White (in photo) was a model of consistency, finishing in the top 10 an incredible 163 times in just 233 races. Small in stature but a giant behind the wheel, White, now 84, won the NASCAR championship in 1960 by simply wearing his competition down. White’s last race was in 1964, and he is one of those drivers that could easily be overlooked because not a lot of people are still around who remember him. The HOF panel did, and he deserves his place.
--Yes, Wendell Scott won only one NASCAR Cup race in his 13-year career, but in my opinion, he may be the most deserving of all the new HOF members. He was the first black full-time driver, consistently underfunded and subject to discrimination most of us can only imagine during a profoundly turbulent time in America’s history of race relations. But that isn’t the only reason I’m glad Scott made it – there are literally hundreds of other drivers that you’ve never heard of who have supported NASCAR over the years, often to great personal sacrifice just to be able to compete. I see Scott as the HOF representative of all these “little guys,” regardless of race, without whom we wouldn’t have NASCAR at all, much less its superstars.
--And finally, this one is personal: Earlier this year I made a trip to Chicago to visit Fred Lorenzen, now 79, who lives in an assisted living home due to dementia, believed to be the same type suffered by many NFL players and boxers who took repeated blows to the head. He has good days and bad days, but there is no question his time is limited, and making him a HOF member while he is still able to appreciate it is, well, just great. He was an amazingly good driver, one of the first to treat NASCAR like a business, and he was the consummate business professional. Even now he admits he retired too early, but his family disagrees, because his retirement allowed him to spend plenty of time with his loved ones when other drivers were still on the road.
Well done, HOF voters. This year, at least…