First Hall of Fame class nominee list sparks debate among drivers
The induction of NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class in Charlotte next May has already become the source of great conjecture, fueled by the release last week of the names of the 25 nominees for five precious spots.
It's even made a proud man humble.
"I wish they would have done five, maybe done five categories, where you have five drivers, five promoters, five whatevers," Waltrip said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "They've got this great big building and they're going to have five people they induct first time in.
"That's selfish on my part. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get in on the first round. [I have] a decent shot of getting in on the second round, but that's not important. The important thing is you're in eventually."
But it's the question of who is getting in the inaugural class that has everyone guessing.
Outside of the France family,
Then it gets interesting.
Aside from his statistics, Waltrip is and one of the sport's enduring personalities, inspiring both warmth and venom from fans.
"People loved me and hated me the same time," Waltrip added. "Kind of like they did Dale."
Though disparate halls of fame are scattered throughout the country, Gordon, as a 19-year-old making his Nationwide debut in 1990, never had a major-league shrine to aspire to -- until now. The realization of one next spring coincides not only with the sport's rise to national prominence, but also Gordon's, and his eventual inclusion will likely signal the first wave of the current era.
"The sport has grown to a level of professionalism and recognition that it's up there with other great sports," he said. "If you've been successful and you are in a position to be recognized, then you want it to be something that you'd be proud to be a part of, and that's what they've created."
The selection process was not without notable exclusions, if not controversy, which is to be expected when a committee has to compress 60 years of contribution into 25 slots. Among those not yet nominated were legendary crew chief
The yearly classes will be selected by a panel of NASCAR "industry leaders," manufacturer executives, former competitors, media and fans. Drivers must have competed for 10 years and be retired at least three. Non-drivers do not need to be retired.
A 20-member industry panel selects the 25 nominees each season, which is winnowed to five by a 47-member committee of media, manufacturers, three retired drivers, three retired owners, three retired crews chiefs and a fan vote.
That's a lot of process when scores of contributors -- drivers, mechanics, owners, promoters -- from 60 years of NASCAR await the long line into the hall.
For Waltrip, eventual induction will be worth the wait. That doesn't mean he's going to be patient.
"I am probably in 20 hall of fames, but this is the one," he said. "This is the one I was always hoping we'd have, the official NASCAR hall of fame."
That doesn't mean he's going to be patient about it.