NASCAR's Hall of Fame 55-member voting panel, including one representing the fans, got it right Tuesday when it ventured into new territory by selecting Dale Inman and Richie Evans.
Inman will be the first crew chief and Evans the first driver who didn't race in Sprint Cup to be inducted, next January in the Class of 2012. Inman was crew chief for Richard Petty's seven championships and Terry Labonte's 1984 title for car owner Billy Hagan and has 193 Cup wins. Evans won eight straight and nine total championships in NASCAR's Modified division in a career cut short by his death in a practice crash at Martinsville in 1985.
Three-time Cup champions Darrell Waltrip (84 wins, tied for third on all-time list), Cale Yarborough (83 wins and the only driver, besides Jimmie Johnson, to win three-straight titles) and Glen Wood (one of the legendary Wood Brothers who has four Cup victories as a driver in addition to his team owner success) are the other members of the class of 2012.
Waltrip and Yarborough were the standout choices for voters this year. Some believed either one or both deserved to be selected last year, but it wasn't a snub. With 60 years of history, NASCAR was top-heavy with candidates destined to make the Hall of Fame and Waltrip and Yarborough slid into the third group. Yarborough received 85 percent of the vote, Waltrip 82. Those aren't numbers that reflect any issues that would have remained from a year ago.
Wood received 44 percent, the lowest total among the five, and may have been helped by Trevor Bayne's victory for the Wood Brothers in this year's Daytona 500. Perhaps the team should have been nominated as an entity rather than individually (brother Leonard Wood was also on the ballot), but Glen Wood enters representing the team more than himself. The Wood Brothers bridge the gap between NASCAR's past and present, having revolutionized pit-stop techniques and won 98 races with multiple drivers.
The first 15 into NASCAR's HOF is spread among two founding executives (Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr.), seven Cup drivers (Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Yarborough and Waltrip), three Cup owner-drivers (Junior Johnson, Lee Petty, Wood), one Cup team owner (Bud Moore), one Modified driver (Evans) and one crew chief (Inman).
The inclusion of Inman and Evans is an indication of the voting being less predictable and honoring those who have achieved greatness outside of Sprint Cup. It's a NASCAR Hall of Fame and that's the direction it's headed.
Who should be in the class of 2013? If I had a vote, these would be my five.
1. Ralph Seagraves. In the wake of tobacco advertising being banned on radio and television in the United States, the R.J. Reynolds executive was looking for opportunities to promote the Winston brand when he met Junior Johnson. Johnson wanted RJR to sponsor his team, but Seagraves decided the company should become the first title sponsor of NASCAR's Grand National division. In 1972, it became Winston Cup and the company poured millions of dollars into promoting the series the next 31 seasons.
At Seagraves' suggestion, NASCAR reduced its schedule from 46 races in 1971 to 31 in 1972, ushering in the modern era. The Winston All-Star race and the Winston Million, won by Bill Elliott in 1985, were also innovations in the Seagraves era, which ended with his retirement in 1985. Outside of Bill France Sr. and Bill Jr., Seagraves was the most influential executive in NASCAR history.
2. Buck Baker. He was the first driver to win back-to-back Sprint Cup championships (1956 , '57) and finished second in '55 and '58. Baker won 46 races in Cup and also won in the Modified and Sportsman (which eventually became Nationwide) divisions. An ex-moonshine runner like many early NASCAR stars, Baker made 631 Cup starts from 1949 to 1976. He's in six Halls of Fame; NASCAR's should be next.
3. Cotton Owens. He won 32 races as a car owner and nine as a driver in Cup and also was NASCAR's Modified champion in 1953 and 1954. Owens was runner-up to Lee Petty for the 1959 Cup championship. After becoming an owner in 1961 and doubling as chief mechanic, Owens won the 1966 Cup championship with David Pearson, who had 14 wins. Owens, 87, received votes in this year's voting.
4. Benny Parsons. He became far better known for his television commentary, but Parsons won the 1973 Cup championship and 1975 Daytona 500. He had 21 victories. After retiring from driving, Parsons won Emmy and ACE awards for his television commentary. He received votes in his year's HOF voting.
5. Harry Hyde. He's one of the greatest crew chiefs in Cup history in a career that spanned from the mid-1960s to early 1990s. He had 56 victories and was the crew chief for Bobby Isaac's 1970 championship. Hyde joined Rick Hendrick's new team in 1984 and was crew chief during Tim Richmond's seven-win season in 1987. The Harry Hogge character in the movie Days of Thunder was based upon Hyde.