Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito – HOF and NRA

The 2014 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame were announced Wednesday in Charlotte, NC. It is the fourth year that the Hall will be inducting members, which means of the 25 names announced yesterday that there will be many left out in the cold for a second – or even fourth time. Which brings to the surface the real issue with the HOF process: Too few people being inducted at a critical juncture.

NASCAR is a unique sport in that many of our stars and who helped build the foundation of the sport are still alive. That being said, why are the pioneers of the sport being left to languish and only five people being brought in at a time? It’s pretty silly that Lee Petty had to wait two years to get in the Hall of Fame, and that Cotton Owens sadly was unable to hold on long enough to be able to make it to his induction ceremony. This year we continue to see familiar names on the list: Tim Flock, Glenn Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Red Byron, Ray Fox…seriously?

No offense to Rusty Wallace, but do we really need to be inducting guys right now that are only a few years removed from competition and in good health?

NASCAR really needed to be inducting ten people a year to help build the base for which to build the Hall around, and that would allow future inductees to compliment the existing structure. NASCAR has rich history of drivers, owners, crew chiefs, mechanics, marketing personnel, and media members – and that is just at the Cup level. The other divisions – Nationwide (i.e., Grand National, Sportsman, etc.), Modified, and one Series that could be considered an omission so far – the Truck Series. There is a fine line to balance however, as NASCAR is unique in that many of its participants don’t hang it up when they hit 40 – they’re able to compete well into their 50’s. Or in the case of Morgan Shepherd and James Hylton, their 70’s.

There will come a point when the classes are a bit thin, but right now we should be focusing on those who built the sport, and are still able to tell the stories and have their faces, voices, and presence known while they are still able to.

With that said, my class of 2014 is pretty straight forward: Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Benny Parsons, Tim Flock, and Maurice Petty.

Curtis Turner was a character and the thing of legend – a lumber baron turned driver, turned track owner. You can thank him and a 4” Smith & Wesson K-Frame for the Charlotte Motor Speedway being built. Fireball Roberts was NASCAR’s first superstar, and original super speedway master – even though his nickname had more to do with his pitching prowess than speed. It was injuries sustained in a horrific fiery crash at Charlotte in 1964 that initiated the first steps toward fire safety in NASCAR – fire retardant suits, fuel cells, and fire suppression systems archaic as they were, can be attributed to the passing of Roberts.

Benny Parsons gets in by winning a Championship (1973), a Daytona 500 (1975), and perhaps more so his work as an analyst for over 20 years with ESPN and NBC. Try to find anybody who has a negative thing to say about BP – not possible. Tim Flock was another early pioneer whose 9.5 finish average ranks second only to Herb Thomas, won two championships (1952, 1955), and also has the distinction of having raced with a monkey on-board – Jocko Flocko – and won. Flock and Turner however were long blacklisted by NASCAR; Turner for attempting to form a Driver’s Union…Flock for supporting it.

As for Maurice Petty – “Morris” as his brother Richard would say – his record speaks for itself. Chief was the mechanical mastermind behind the majority of those 200 wins, as well as some of his father’s later victories. Keep in mind that he too sat idle during the 1965 season when NASCAR outlawed Chrysler’s 426 Hemi until it was a regular production option. Another year of wrenching and competing and the stats would be even more gaudy and dominating for both he and his brother. As it stands, he was the engine builder for all seven of Richard Petty’s championships – including that one in 1979 when they switched from Mopars to Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles.

Some have countered that Ray Evernham should be nominated if Maurice Petty was, as well as Smokey Yunick. Both should be in the Hall of Fame as well – and I believe one day they will. However, Ray is still a relatively young man, and Smokey has since passed. Again, this brings into the issue with establishing the foundation first with those who built the ground for the sport that we are in some ways, in the process of rebuilding after a rough few years.

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We had quite a response to our Wednesday newsletter piece penned by Ellen Richardson. Editor’s Note: At the bottom of today’s Newsletter, there are some of the responses from readers to Wednesday’s piece by Ellen. While many wish to eschew the topic due to its political nature, I feel it’s one that deserves some frank discussion as it transcends politics, as it is woven into the fabric our nation, our daily lives, and well-being.

As I wrote a few weeks back, the NRA’s sponsorship of the event is innocuous at best. They aren’t promoting bringing weapons into the track, or setting up something outside the track where you can create your own Victory Lane celebration, cracking off rounds into the air wearing a ten gallon hat. After reading some of the comments received, I began to wonder if some people thought that The Onion really was a legitimate news source, after I referenced their article last week regarding Denny Hamlin’s “broke spine bone.”

If anything it is a bit ironic where most of the anti-gun sentiment and legislation has originated from in recent years. The NRA was originally established to ensure that after the Civil War, that those of us in northern states could actually safely handle and shoot effectively. Many were unprepared and not competent with a rifle, and despite having more material and manpower, nearly lost the republic to superior riflemen.

During World War II, the NRA offered its shooting ranges to the government, helped collect thousands of rifles to supply to the British to repel a feared Nazi invasion, as well as coordinated with US industries to establish security and safety protocols. Today the NRA works closely with law enforcement to train officers in the safe and effective use of their duty pistols. Having worked as a reserve Sheriff deputy, I can attest to the benefit of these programs, particularly for those who have never held a weapon before.

So for those that have stated they aren’t going to watch the race because the NRA is sponsoring it Saturday night, try actually taking a look at what they actually promote and endorse for yourself, as well as that of somebody who has actually worked alongside law enforcement, and can speak to the benefits of the programs that they promote.

Besides, when something does go wrong and you need help, who do you place a call to – the guys and gals without guns?

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