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NASCAR HOF and the future

Last week, the NASCAR Hall of Fame announced its fifth class of five inductees. And this gets the HOF to the big question: exactly how much of an honor will it be to get in? And, by extension, how much national press exposure will the hall generate in the future?

This year’s crop of inductees includes three premier-division drivers — Tim Flock, Dale Jarrett, and Fireball Roberts. And that really is par for the course; through five years, 15 of the 25 people elected to the NASCAR HOF have won a lot (30+) of premier-division races. What has happened though is the percentage of the ballot made up of premier-division drivers has dropped over time. The original ballot of 25 names had 16 drivers that won a lot of races in what’s now the Sprint Cup; this year’s ballot by contrast only had nine. In others words, top-division drivers are being voted in faster than they are being added to the ballot by the nominating committee. Of the past four years, only five such drivers have been added to the ballot.

The six carry-over drivers with big win totals for next years ballot are Bobby Issac (1 championship, 37 wins), Fred Lorenzen (26 wins), Benny Parsons (1 championship, 21 wins), Curtis Turner (17 wins, the “Babe Ruth of stock car racing”), Joe Weatherly (2 championships, 25 wins) and Rex White (1 championship, 28 wins). If past practice is any guide, most if not all of these six will be voted in in the next two years.

The quality of the eligible drivers drops substantially after those six. There are only four retires drivers with 20+ wins not currently on the ballot: Jim Paschal (25 wins), Ricky Rudd (23), Jack Smith (21), and Speedy Thompson (20). None won the championship. There are another dozen retired drivers that won 13 to 19 races and that aren’t currently on the ballot. (By comparison, 17 active drivers have won 15 or more races.)

So where exactly does NASCAR draw the line? It’s a decision that the HOF’s nominating committee — which is a collection of track owners and NASCAR officials — has to start making next year. It could slow play driver nominations, forcing the larger group that elects people into the HOF to (eventually) pick more people besides thus that drove in the sports top division. Or it could feed the apparent desire to elect three top-division drivers a year. Or the HOF itself could recognize that it needs to change its selection process lest the honor of become not much of any honor.

Bonus observation: Those not elected stay on the ballot until they get voted in. Six of the 20 people on the carry-over ballot are on the business side of the sport (promoters, NASCAR officials). This category has gotten zero traction so far with the lager voting committee. Combined with team owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendricks still being too active to get active consideration for election to the HOF, the short list of candidates for election next year isn’t that long.

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February 2016
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