(The Hall of Fame will welcome its next class on Monday night)
There is absolutely no denying each man who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s second class on Monday night is deserving of the honor.
You can argue about timing, who should go in ahead of someone else and whether as time marches on if pioneers of the sport will be left behind in the quest to make the Hall.
But the five names on this year’s ballot are all worthy of the accolades that will be bestowed upon them on Monday.
They may not be the Mount Rushmore of NASCAR but David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Bud Moore, Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett are about as close to a history lesson in stock car racing as you can get.
Many thought Pearson should have gone in as part of the inaugural class. “The Silver Fox” has Ty Cobb-like numbers and behind NASCAR’s Babe Ruth “King Richard” Petty.
He debuted on the then Grand National racing circuit in 1960 and earned Rookie of the Year honors that same season. Pearson went on to win the NASCAR Championship in 1966, 1968 and 1969, the only three full-time seasons of his career.
Pearson ranks as one of the greatest of all NASCAR drivers and his duels with Richard Petty are legendary. Between August 8, 1963 and June 12, 1977, they finished one/two on sixty-three occasions, with Pearson coming out on top with thirty-three victories. Their most famous encounter came at the 1976 Daytona 500 when the two were running bumper-to-bumper on the final lap.
After twenty-six seasons in racing, he retired in 1986. He finished his career in second place behind Richard Petty on NASCAR's all-time win list with 105, and second in all-time pole positions.
“It’s an honor that I don’t take lightly,” said Pearson who still resides in his native Spartanburg, South Carolina. “Racing was my life and to be remembered for what I was able to do on the track is tremendous.”
Pearson would not have been able to have some of the historic battles with Richard Petty without the patriarch of the legendary family. Lee Petty started the dynasty that in many ways would define NASCAR with a stellar driving career and perhaps more importantly business sense that helped shape the sport.
Petty went on to have fifty five career wins and this places him at seventh place as drivers with the most wins. He won the Grand National Championship three times, in 1954, 1958 and 1959. He won the inaugural Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in a spectacular way, Lee, Johnny Beauchamp and Joe Weatherly were battling during the final laps of the race and all three drove side by side across the winning line in the final lap, making it a photo finish.
Beauchamp was declared the unofficial winner but Lee protested, saying "I had Beauchamp by a good two feet. In my own mind, I know I won." It took NASCAR three days to decide, using the national newsreel, who was the winner and Lee was declared officially the winner.
His awards include in addition to his HOF honor are many including the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990 and being named as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
But the powerhouse that was Petty Enterprises and continues today as Richard Petty Motorsports might be an even greater legacy for the elder Petty, who passed away in 2000.
“My father only knew about racing,” said Richard. “That was our life, still is, and he gave his all to NASCAR over the years and we’re grateful.”
Bobby Allison knows about sacrifice and giving so much of his life to NASCAR. One of the original members of the famed “Alabama Gang,” Allison made his mark on the sport as a driver who accumulated 84 wins during the course of his stellar career.
But there was also pain and suffering along the way. Allison lost two sons, Davey to a helicopter crash and Clifford to a racing accident, while barely surviving a near-fatal accident himself that cut his driving career short.
However Allison has persevered through the tragic times to remain active in the sport today and cherishes his contributions to NASCAR over the years.
"I was a little poor boy that came along and put a lot of effort, and got a lot of help from people and was able to succeed at something I really wanted to do," Allison said. "I was a racer's racer."
That same description aptly fits Ned Jarrett, who earned the name “Gentleman Ned” for a smooth driving style that helped him win a pair of series championships.
But Jarrett will be remembered for more than his prowess on the racetrack. When he retired from racing he became one of the sport’s most respected and popular broadcasters, establishing himself as a staple of the sport through his radio work with the Motor Racing Network and on television including with CBS and ESPN.
"I think all fans really want to do," Jarrett said of his broadcasting approach, "is watch the race, with just enough information to help them enjoy it."
The thoughtful explanation sums up perfectly the character of one of NASCAR’s most beloved personalities.
Bud Moore shares a similar soft-spoken personality with Jarrett but make no mistake the former crew chief-car owner was one of the most ferocious competitors the sport has ever known.
He’s also a true blue American hero, a decorated veteran of World War II who went ashore on D-Day in 1944.
The oldest living member of the Hall at age 85, Moore is contributions he gave to the sport he loves so much are being recognized with his induction into the Hall.
“After racing 50 years, the races we won, the championships and all that was great,” Moore said. “But being inducted into the hall ... is a great feeling.”
A sentiment that will be shared by the family, friends and fans of all five members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2011.
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