Hey race fans; this is Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark. I’ve been involved in racing for a long time, and it’s a sport that can be very humbling at times. For me, one of those moments comes every May when I have the honor of being part of the group that votes in each year’s class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It is a high honor to be chosen as one of those getting to select which five nominees are voted in each year. If there’s one thing not to like about being part of the process, it’s that we can only vote five people in per year. It’s tough to narrow it down, that’s for sure!
As for the process itself, well each nominee will have information on them displayed on a large screen and everyone in the room discusses their merits. We usually have a pretty lively debate, but no one gets personal. Obviously some people have favorites they try to promote; I do the same thing.
This year’s Hall of Fame class is one that everyone involved in racing, either recently or years ago can be proud of. You have the pioneer era of the sport represented with Cotton Owens, Buck Baker and Herb Thomas, one of the great car owners/mechanics in Leonard Wood and one of the more recent champions of our sport in Rusty Wallace.
Of those voted in, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood were on my ballot as well as Fireball Roberts, who was tied for fifth with Buck Baker before there was a tiebreaker vote.
I know what you are probably wondering – why Rusty? The fact is he’s got 55 wins and ranks seventh on the all-time victories list. How do you deny that? And there’s an Atlanta tie-in with Rusty, as well. His first race on the Cup level came here in 1980, coming in second behind some guy named Earnhardt who won his first race at Atlanta that day.
To me, Fireball was really the first superstar of our sport. It’s hard to keep a guy like that out of the Hall of Fame in my opinion. With him coming so close to being voted in this year, I’d say he stands a good chance to being in next year’s Hall of Fame class.
I’d love to see Fred Lorenzen get in as well. Sometimes I think it’s a little too much about stats and numbers than what the person meant to the sport.
Lorenzen was also a guy who really spent considerable time with the fans and signing countless autographs.
Are there pioneers that warrant being heavily considered? Sure. The interesting thing is that from the start, Richard Petty has maintained that we need to put the pioneers into the Hall of Fame first. But as a voting member, how are you going to not vote ‘The King” into the Hall of Fame early on?
The biggest challenge, though, is comparing drivers who competed in different periods of time. It’s not uncommon throughout the voting process to have a lot of drivers with two championships come up for discussion.
Guys who raced in the 1970s and 1980s have resumes with more wins and championships when compared to drivers in the 1950s era. But it’s tough to distinguish between those guys.
It’s easy to penalize guys like Fireball and Fred Lorenzen because they didn’t win a championship. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to run for a championship, their car manufacturers said, ‘you’re only going to run the big events.’
Lorenzen, for example won 16 percent of the races he entered in NASCAR’s top division. Compare that to someone like Rusty Wallace, who won 7.8 percent of the races he entered on NASCAR’s top level.
The reality is that a lot of us didn’t see many of those guys from the 1950s race. I think I saw Lorenzen race twice, I never saw Fireball race.
We are in a challenging time and next couple of years is going to be the same. We’ve gone past one tier of people and now we’re onto the next tier and probably all of them deserve to get in, it’s a question of when.
It’s hard to believe that this’ll be the fourth Hall of Fame class.
I don’t think we’ve put anyone in who is not deserving; you can debate whether or not a person should have gone in at that time. But that is what always makes the process of voting on each year’s class fun for everyone. You spend time in that room mulling over the accolades of some of the greatest drivers in the history of our sport and at the end of the day, you have to whittle it down to five.
It’s a challenging, enjoyable and humbling process all at the same time.
I hope to see you at the track very soon!
President & General Manager
Atlanta Motor Speedway