The NASCAR Hall of Fame announced four new nominees this past week, with Matt Kenseth and Tim Brewer added to the Modern Era ballot, while drivers Sam Ard and A.J. Foyt were added to the Pioneer ballot.
Foyt’s name being on the nominated list surprised some people. There’s no doubt he is one of the most legendary racers of all time and is the person many feel is the greatest racecar driver to ever live. Yet, his NASCAR career featured only seven career victories over the course of 128 cup starts.
That led us to ponder: Should A.J. Foyt be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame? Bryan Davis Keith and Stephen Stumpf debate.
Not in NASCAR
A.J. Foyt is one of the greatest and most versatile race car drivers of all time. His numerous accomplishments range from success in sprint cars, open wheel cars, sports cars, midget cars and stock cars. He has the most United States Auto Club (USAC) and NTT IndyCar Series wins of any driver, along with four Indianapolis 500s, a Daytona 500 and a 24 Hours of Le Mans triumph.
But this is the NASCAR Hall of Fame — not the motorsports hall of fame.
Yes, Foyt did win the 1972 Daytona 500. Yes, Foyt won seven NASCAR Cup Series races in 128 career starts. But if the name “A.J. Foyt” is removed from the equation, it would not be a career on the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s radar.
Case in point, of the 201 drivers to win a Cup Series race, only 63 of them have won at least 10 races. Of the remaining 138 drivers to win less than 10, only four of them are enshrined in the Hall of Fame:
Cotton Owens, a nine-time winner who also won 32 races and the 1966 championship as a car-owner.
Alan Kulwicki, a five-time winner who won the 1992 championship as an owner-driver before passing away in a helicopter crash in 1993.
Glen Wood, a four-time winner who was the co-owner of the Wood Brothers Racing that has since gone on to win 99 Cup races.
Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver to win a Cup Series race.
All four drivers inducted either had historical significance or success in other aspects of NASCAR. Foyt was briefly a NASCAR owner in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the team did not have enough success to move the needle.
And while the Daytona 500 victory helps Foyt’s chances, Tiny Lund, Ward Burton, Jamie McMurray and Sterling Marlin all won between five to 10 Cup races in their careers with at least one Daytona 500 victory. These four drivers will have a long wait to make the Hall of Fame, if they ever make it at all.
Another argument used for Foyt’s selection is that he was named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998. That selection is justified, however, because there is no doubt that Foyt is one of the 50 greatest drivers to step foot in a stock car, even if it wasn’t his primary form of racing.
But the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a much greater honor than a greatest drivers list, and Foyt doesn’t have enough accolades in the sanctioning body itself for his selection. Therefore, Foyt’s case primarily rests on his accomplishments outside of NASCAR.
There are numerous individuals that have had a greater impact within NASCAR itself, and they should be put into the Hall before Foyt gets any consideration. –Stephen Stumpf
Yes, A.J. Foyt’s NASCAR resume is not what one would usually associate with Hall of Fame status, even if included in his seven wins is the 1972 Daytona 500. But NASCAR would be foolhardy not to include one of the undisputed greatest wheelmen of all time in any discipline within its Charlotte hall.
For one, NASCAR has long embraced and celebrated Foyt, even if his career stat sheet only includes seven wins in 128 career starts, the equivalent of less than four Cup seasons total. Foyt was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers when the sanctioning body was celebrating its 50th anniversary back in 1998. Since the NASCAR Hall of Fame opened, 70% of the drivers on that 1998 list have been inducted.
Of the 15 remaining, no driver is more accomplished than Foyt.
In terms of winning percentage, Foyt even at seven for 128 is well within the ballpark for Hall-worthy drivers. Bobby Labonte’s career win percentage was half that, yet he already made the Hall. Jeff Burton is in the running this year with a win percentage barely half that of Foyt’s, despite also having no NASCAR titles to his name, or the Harley J. Earl trophy that Foyt boasts.
The argument as to whether the inclusion of drivers such as the younger Labonte, Burton or even Dale Earnhardt Jr. has watered down the Hall I’d argue is valid. But it’s also academic at this point.
What’s more, NASCAR’s Hall voters have had no qualms about inducting drivers based on “potential” and “impact” just as much as anything done on the track. Case in point, consider the recent debate sparked by fellow Frontstretcher Daniel McFadin on the induction of the late great Davey Allison.
I can definitely see light at the end of this tunnel.
If Davey never passes, he likely earns his way in, but that being said… can't always put someone in for what they "could" have done. https://t.co/efZpLN2mC1
— Opinions on NASCAR (William Richard) (@nascar_opinion) April 6, 2022
On that line of thought, throw the statistics out the window. A.J. Foyt is in the debate for the greatest racecar driver ever. Not NASCAR driver, not stock car driver, not Indy car driver. Tell anyone from a member of racing media to the guy watching the race on the barstool next to you that A.J. Foyt is the greatest racecar driver to ever live. You may get disagreement, but no one in their right mind will dismiss that claim outright.
What’s more, Foyt is and continues to be a dramatic influence on NASCAR’s modern era of Cup racing. Perhaps the most accomplished Cup driver of the 21st century not named Jimmie Johnson is three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart. From Stewart’s exploits on dirt to his temper to his picking the No. 14 for his self-owned racecar, the influence that Foyt had on Stewart and everything he did in and for the sport is undeniable.
And while defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson is not a disciple of Foyt in the same way Stewart was, there’s very valid reasons for comparing Larson, and especially his historic 2021 campaign, to Foyt in his prime. There have been very few drivers in the modern era capable of emulating what Foyt made a career doing; namely, hopping into seemingly any racecar with four wheels and contending for wins doing it.
If nothing else, including Foyt in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a tangible means of ensuring that the historical context needed to understand the greatest talent NASCAR racing currently has in its ranks can be fully appreciated when his inevitable induction occurs. Besides, NASCAR loves its past! Well, any element of it that Steve Phelps and Bubba Wallace can’t make a buck distancing the sport from.
Yes, Foyt was far more accomplished as a stock car racer under the banner of the United States Auto Club, not NASCAR. But whether something is actually NASCAR’s to own or not has never stopped the sanctioning body from appropriating it.
There’s a reason NASCAR stubbornly kept racing on IndyCar’s sacred grounds, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for decades despite woeful competitions that culminated with a 2008 debacle that was the worst stock car race ever run that didn’t result in a driver fatality.
There’s a reason NASCAR is putting its lumbering cars and trucks on the full 3.4-mile COTA circuit and calling a Cup race a “Grand Prix.”
There’s no reason Foyt’s predominantly USAC record should keep him out of Charlotte.
Attending Washington Redskins games at RFK with my dad as a kid, I always was blown away that Vince Lombardi was included in our franchise’s Ring of Fame. Even later in life, when I came to understand that Lombardi coached us for only one season and posted a pedestrian 7-5-2 record doing it, I can still appreciate why he’s featured.
In sports, there are a rare few figures out there big enough to be recognized wherever they landed, regardless of for how long. Vince Lombardi is that big a figure in football.
A.J. Foyt is a figure that big in motorsports. NASCAR can sleep well giving him his due. – Bryan Davis Keith
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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