April 14, 2012
By Rebecca Gladden
The 25 nominees for the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class were announced this week and, as always, engendered plenty of controversy.
While 20 of the 25 nominees had been nominated sometime in the prior three years, five others were first-timers for this, the fourth class since the NASCAR Hall of Fame opened in 2010.
The five ‘new’ nominees are Wendell Scott, the first African-American to become a full-time competitor and race winner in NASCAR’s premier series; Anne Bledsoe France, NASCAR’s first secretary and treasurer and wife of “Big Bill” France; Rusty Wallace, 1989 NASCAR Cup Series champion; Ray Fox, engine builder and car owner; and Ralph Seagraves, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company exec behind the Winston brand’s 30-plus-year sponsorship of NASCAR’s top competition series.
The most controversial nominee in the group, judging by fan response, is that of Mrs. France. Most fans had little-to-no knowledge of her prior to the announcement of the nominees.
But, a bigger debate will no doubt occur on Voting Day, May 23, when the current group of 25 nominees is slashed to just five inductees.
During each of the prior three years, the announcement of the five inductees has resulted in a generalized feeling of rancor among fans, rather than goodwill as the sport’s stakeholders were likely hoping for.
Choosing just five people a year from a pool of thousands of potential candidates - in a sport that has been around since the 1940s but has only had a Hall of Fame for three years - is a guaranteed formula for hard feelings, as fans and pundits alike try to do the impossible: deciding who ‘deserves’ to be inducted, and in what order.
After the first ten years of the Hall of Fame have passed, there will still be only 60 members inducted - a very small number considering that nominees include drivers, engine builders, team owners, crew members, and many others - from the pioneering times through the modern era.
A reasonable and feasible solution - at least, a partial alleviation - to this concern is to change the size of the class after this year.
Rather than inducting a fixed figure of just five people each year, the NASCAR Hall of Fame should institute a process similar to that used by other professional sports in which all candidates who receive votes on a certain percentage of ballots (typically 70-75%) are inducted that year.
Making this simple change would allow for larger classes of inductees, particularly in these early years of NASCAR’s Hall - an important consideration as older members of the sport continue to age and, sadly, pass away. In addition, it would add a much-needed layer of suspense each year, since no one would know for certain the exact number of inductees until Voting Day.
This change would also help alleviate the disheartening problem of some nominees being chosen for consideration year after year, but never actually being inducted, as the current zero-sum process allows for only the top-five vote-getters out of 25 to be inducted. Some nominees who are not well known or popular may have a difficult time ever achieving that very hard-to-reach threshold.
This simple but imperative change would bring the spark back to the voting process and would allow NASCAR to recognize and pay tribute to more of the sport’s pioneers during their lifetime.
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