Commentary

So, who gets left out next year?

Updated: October 15, 2009, 9:48 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

Who's next?

That is a more profound and complex question for NASCAR's Hall of Fame than for other such institutions.

What we have here is gridlock: 60 years' worth of towering figures lined up in a bottleneck, getting into this Hall just five folk heroes at a time.

And so, as surely as there were travesties of omission from the first induction class, announced Wednesday, there will be more next year.

Who will be next? I'd rather put the question this way: Who won't be left out again?

David Pearson won't be -- can't be -- left out next year. He shouldn't have been left out Wednesday. That was the greatest travesty of NASCAR's landmark day.

Who's next?

•  Pearson, simply the best driver ever in NASCAR, got the sixth-most votes Wednesday. On championships, he batted 1.000 -- three full seasons run, three titles won. What's so great about a guy who ran partial schedules? Take 1973, when he entered 18 races and won 11. And of course there's the matter of his 105 wins, second only to Petty's 200.

•  Bobby Allison, another near miss Wednesday and the leading vote-getter among fans, understandably because he has given not only his life and health but much of his family to racing -- sons Clifford and Davey are dead, Clifford in a NASCAR crash and Davey of a helicopter crash at Talladega. Not to mention Allison's being tied for third on the all-time wins list with 84.

•  Cale Yarborough, Wednesday's other near miss, the little bulldog, the most tenacious of them all, the first three-peat champion, who never let up, even when two, three, four laps down, and often made them up to win on his way to 83 career victories.

But beyond those three, another bottleneck looms for 2010.

[+] EnlargeRaymond Parks
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRaymond Parks -- a founding father of NASCAR -- will get into the Hall of Fame, but will he be passed over again in 2010?

Raymond Parks shouldn't be, but probably will be, left out again next year. It is as safe to say there would be no NASCAR without Parks as it is to say it of Bill France Sr., the putative solo founder, the first inductee named to the first class.

The idea of a classy operation, of racing clean, brightly painted cars in good repair, was Parks' before it was France's. He showed France how it ought to be done. Parks was the first first-class team owner. France had the dream, but Parks had the money and the spirit to follow through.

It wasn't France who came up with the name National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and the acronym NASCAR; it was Parks' chief mechanic, Red Vogt. And it was Parks' cars that, driven by Red Byron, won the first championship, in 1949, of what would become the Sprint Cup division.

Figure Parks is passed over again, make Pearson, Allison and Yarborough locks, and you still have at least eight entirely worthy candidates for the remaining two spots of next year's round.

•  Buck Baker, the salty pioneer who in 1956-57 became the first driver to win consecutive championships.

•  Byron, the wound-crippled World War II veteran who came home to win NASCAR's very first race, at Daytona in 1948, and the first "strictly stock" championship in '49.

•  Ned Jarrett, more as a milestone broadcaster who was the face and voice of the boom era than as a two-time champion driver.

•  Lee Petty, patriarch of NASCAR's first lineage of drivers, the first man to treat a racing team as a for-profit business, a three-time champion, a 54-race winner.

[+] EnlargeFireball Roberts
RacingOne/Getty ImagesFireball Roberts was a star in NASCAR before two of the three drivers elected into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday had even made their names in the sport.

•  Fireball Roberts, NASCAR's first national household name and charismatic figure -- when his death made the "Today" show in 1964, America had only barely heard of the budding Richard Petty.

•  Curtis Turner, the wild man, the former bootlegger, the lumber magnate, renegade pilot and racer, who once, after a demolition duel with fledgling Bobby Allison, walked up to the youngster, put his arm around him and said, "C'mon, Pops! Let's go have a drink!" Turner called everybody "Pops" and therefore was himself called "Pops," and always invited everybody -- anybody -- for a drink.

•  Darrell Waltrip, the one-man revolution who brought a sweeping new swagger, polish, wit and braggadocio to NASCAR, backed up his mouth with 84 wins and three championships, and remains an institution as a broadcaster.

•  Joe Weatherly, "Little Joe," the pudgy, fearless class clown of his time, who after his championships of '62 and '63 hurtled toward what would have been NASCAR's first three-peat -- but then was killed in the very first race of the '64 season, at Riverside, Calif.

So there you have it for next year: at least a dozen worthy contenders for five spots. And that doesn't even include some of the 25 on NASCAR's initial list of nominees this year.

Speed Channel's Mike Joy, during Wednesday's ceremony, defended NASCAR's bottleneck system by pointing out that the Baseball Hall of Fame, the gold standard of such American institutions, inducted only five in its first class.

But let's take a more thorough look at that.

The first group actually enshrined at Cooperstown was a whopping 26, from balloting over a four-year period, from 1936 to 1939. So by the time the Hall actually opened in '39, baseball had covered a lot of ground in a relative hurry.

The '36 vote did yield only five, but they were all players: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson.

No businessmen, no lords of the sport. The likes of Charles Comiskey and A.G. Spalding -- the baseball equivalents of the Frances -- had to wait behind the men who played and made the game.

Further, baseball elected eight in '37, only three in '38, a whopping 10 in '39, and after that, none at all 'til '42.

So don't be so rigid, NASCAR. What's done is done this time: There were too few. But put in 10 next year, to give honor where it's sorely due. Then be as selective as you want in years to come.

Some worry that NASCAR will run out of bona fide worthies in a few years. I don't. I figure that at this rate, it would take at least a decade before they even get around to the likes of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

If it is baseball's standard that NASCAR would follow, be advised that baseball, by the opening of its Hall of Fame, had pretty well acknowledged the titans of its history to that point.

NASCAR, at the opening of its Hall, in May 2010, will not have scratched the surface of its cornerstones.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.

ALSO SEE