LAS VEGAS -- Until Thursday morning, Bill Elliott, Mark Martin and Terry Labonte, among others, thought they would have to wait three years past retirement to be considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
That changed when Brett Jewkes, NASCAR vice president and chief communications officer, announced significant changes to the eligibility criteria and selection process for new NASCAR Hall of Fame members.
Henceforth, a driver who has competed in NASCAR racing for 10 years or more and has reached age 55 by Dec. 31 of the prior year is eligible for consideration. So are drivers who have competed in NASCAR racing for 30 or more years.
The new criteria open the door for drivers who are still active or have been active within the last three years, including Elliott, Martin, Labonte, Geoff Bodine, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Schrader, Morgan Shepherd and Mike Skinner, among others.
"Our sport is different," Jewkes explained. "We have guys that compete for 20, 30, 35 years. It just makes sense. If they have a Hall of Fame résumé, the voters will determine that.
"To put more emphasis on the drivers, our sport has always been about the driver, and anything we can do to get more drivers in that discussion is where we wanted to go."
Jewkes also announced the creation of a Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR, beginning in 2015. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel will select the recipient from a group of five candidates chosen by the NHOF Nominating Committee.
Potential recipients could include competitors or those working in the sport as a member of a racing organization, track facility, race team, sponsor or media partner. The list also could include those who are seen as ambassadors for the sport, either in a professional or non-professional role.
Other substantive changes to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Selection process include:
The selection of five fewer nominees per year, reducing the number to 20.
An in-person meeting of the NHOF Nominating Committee on Feb. 21 to select the 20 nominees. Previously, the committee submitted names to an accounting firm by mail.
Any NHOF nominee from the previous or current year will be recused from voting.
A media member, Mike Joy of FOX Sports, has been added to the NHOF Nominating Committee.
The reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will serve on the NHOF Voting Panel, as previously announced.
Collaboration pays dividends
The three automakers worked closely with NASCAR and with each other to speed the development of the Gen-6 race car introduced into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season.
"I don't know whether or not you could get three insurance companies to come together and work together, but the fact of the matter is we're not afraid of one another," said Ed Laukes, vice president for marketing communications and motorsports for Toyota.
"We compete on the race track, we compete in the showroom, we compete in auto shows, we compete everywhere all year round. I don't know whether that could happen in any other industry. It's really special for the automotive industry."
Chevrolet Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports Jim Campbell suggested a fourth recipient of the Shuman award might have been appropriate.
"I really felt like, in addition to the three manufacturers, they should have had somebody from NASCAR up there -- Robin Pemberton (vice president of competition and racing development) and his team," Campbell said. "Without that work, it would have never happened."
Tim Duerr, motorsports marketing manager at Ford, said the advent of the Gen-6 car and its heightened brand identity was helping Ford achieve its primary goal of selling cars.
"Fusion sales are at a record pace," Duerr said. "We're very proud of what the new Fusion has done from an appearance, quality and performance standpoint. To put that car out on the track every weekend in front of the 75 million NASCAR fans is just a great benefit to Ford Motor Company."