France Sr. and Jr., Petty and Earnhardt shoo-ins for first Hall class

12/18/2007 - NASCAR
There wouldn't be a NASCAR if not for "Big Bill" France Sr., whose vision came to life in 1947. AP Photo/Pete Wright

The shiny, new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., still is more than two years away from what promises to be a glorious grand opening in 2010.

But fans already are speculating on the first induction class, wondering which names will be included for the inaugural ceremony. That depends on what selection process is used and how many people are named to the first class.

The inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame had five inductees in 1936. NASCAR probably will name at least that many, and maybe more.

All five original members for baseball were players -- Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

But the inaugural members for NASCAR won't all be drivers. It's a virtual certainty that Bill France Sr.
and Bill Jr. will make the opening list.

There wouldn't be a NASCAR without "Big Bill" Sr., and NASCAR wouldn't have grown to national prominence without Bill Jr. Count both of them in for 2010.

Five inductees probably is the minimum for the first group, but it could be as many as 10 names for the inaugural class.

If it's five inductees, who are the other three? Two seem obvious -- Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
They are the only drivers to win seven Cup championships.

Petty also has the most victories in NASCAR history with 200. And Earnhardt fans would riot in the streets of Charlotte if "The Intimidator" isn't a first-ballot selection.

After those four names, the selection process becomes far more difficult.

Deserving drivers include David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough, the only man to win three consecutive Cup titles. You could pick all four of them and no one would complain.

It's the old-timers where things get tougher. You can't leave out Lee Petty, the first driver to win three championships and the winner of the first Daytona 500.

Other old-school candidates include former champions Red Byron, Tim Flock, Buck Baker, Herb Thomas and Joe Weatherly.

NASCAR also must consider drivers who didn't win a championship behind the wheel, but had a huge influence in the sport. Junior Johnson won 50 races as a driver and 139 (including six Cup titles) as a team owner. But bringing R.J. Reynolds and Winston to the sport at the title sponsor probably was his biggest contribution.

Team owners also need a place in the first class. Glen and Leonard Wood deserve serious consideration for a Wood Brothers Racing team that has employed 18 drivers who made NASCAR's list of the 50 Greatest Drivers.

And don't leave out Rick Hendrick, who has seven Cup titles and counting.

We've listed 17 names already, leaving out plenty of Hall-worthy candidates. So naming the first class is no easy task.

Obviously, some of these people will not make the inaugural group, which will cause a few hard feelings and some angry fans. All of them will get in eventually, but the names on the first list always will stand out.

The easy answer is to pick the obvious foursome, France Sr. and Jr., Petty and Earnhardt. Absolutely no argument on that quartet, but the debate will rage for
other names selected for the first class.

Schumacher the taxi driver
Can you imagine what would have happened had seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher tried to take over the driving duties of a Manhattan taxi?

Schumacher, possibly the greatest race car driver who ever lived, was in a big hurry last week when he politely asked a German cabbie to let him take over behind the wheel.

The cab driver, Tuncer Yilmaz, was more than happy to oblige for the racing legend. He switched to the passenger seat while the 38-year-old Schumi put the pedal to the metal.

The Telegraph, a London newspaper, reported that Schumacher's wife (Corinna), their two kids, and the new family puppy (Ed the Australian Shepherd) were in the back seat.

Schumacher's high-speed driving skills enabled the family to reach the airport on time for the flight home to Switzerland. He gave the cabbie 100 euros (about $150 dollars) for a 60 euros fare.

Nice story, but back to the original question. Imagine Schumi trying this in Manhattan for a trip to JFK?

First, they wouldn't have a clue who he was. Second, the cabbie would cuss him out; screaming for the Schumacher's to get out of his cab or he would call the cops.

And third, not even the great Schumi could drive faster and with more bravado than any New York cabbie.

Indy gets some F1 love
Let me get this straight.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone criticized for not doing enough to market the U.S. Grand Prix, and the place Ecclestone determined wasn't needed on the F1 schedule next year, won the 2007 FIA Formula One Promotional Trophy last week.

In other words, here's a little token of our appreciation for all your hard work. See ya. And if you guys want to cough up $30 million a year, we might come back.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.