Legends denied again by Hall of Fame

10/14/2010 - NASCAR

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Messing with men's lives, especially in their twilight, just so NASCAR can hold an annual publicity stunt, just isn't right.

But that's what is happening with the Hall of Fame and its cruelly small groups of inductees.

How much does election mean to these ol' boys? Listen: Ned Jarrett's focus the past couple of years has been "to live long enough to be able to be enshrined," he said Wednesday upon learning on the day after he turned 78 that he had gotten in. "I've worked very hard on my health the last year. I've worked hard on it for the last 10 years, but particularly the last year, so I could get to this day."

Jarrett was one of five Wednesday, far too few, just like last year. David Pearson, who should have gone in last year, made it at age 75; Bobby Allison at 73; Bud Moore at 85; Lee Petty deceased.

There isn't a one whose qualifications I would question. The travesty is about all those who were denied.

The only good news is that there's always plenty of greatness to name your next class from. Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Raymond Parks, Dale Inman and Glen Wood are my picks.

All are living except Parks, who did as much to birth NASCAR as Bill France Sr. did but who died this year at 96.

I can also give you my fourth class right now: Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Red Byron and Buck Baker -- all legends, all deceased. But, that class also being too small, I'd hate it that Herb Thomas was left out.

I could give you a fifth and sixth, but I'll stop to say that all of the above -- and more -- should be in by now.

"There are so many guys that are so good," Allison said, "they're going to have a tough time, really for the next few years, worrying about who might get left out that ought to be in there."

"I certainly feel for those that did not get in," Jarrett said, "and I felt all along that the first couple of classes should be larger than five."

In deciding on class size before the Hall opened, "NASCAR sent a group of people out to talk to a lot of people in the industry, and they came and talked to Dale [Jarrett's son, the 1999 Cup champion] and I together. And we both thought that there should be maybe 15 the first time and the second time, and then go to five."

"I had thought along those lines too," Allison said, then smiled that sheepish smile of his youth. "But I do have to admit that with it being really tight, it makes it even more special to be in."

When NASCAR announced last year that its induction classes would be limited to five people annually, I objected vehemently. It wasn't right, wasn't fair, wasn't decent, to mess with the lives of the living and the families of the dead.

There were far too many pioneers out there from those 60 years of growing up out of the dirt, all of them fully deserving, many aging. There was a backlog of shoo-in candidates.

They should be inducted quickly, in groups of 10 or 15 per year for the first few years.

Although the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted only five in its first year, 1936, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted 17 in its inaugural class, 1963, basketball 15 in its first year, 1959, and hockey 15 in '59.

I was told by a high NASCAR official that the idea of the small classes was to create buzz, drama, news, controversy every year.

Pardon me, I said. I thought this was about achievement, honor and recognition -- not publicity stunts.

The other argument was that the officials worried they would run out of big names in the first few years. That hasn't happened by a long shot.

The whole thing is so tight, so stingy, that "I really didn't know whether I was going to make it or not," said Pearson, for whom the greatest outcry arose last year after he was left out of the first group. I mean, he merely had 105 victories, second to Richard Petty's 200, and is considered the greatest driver ever by myriad experts, led by Petty himself.

So Pearson, the best NASCAR driver there's ever been and likely ever will be, had his doubts this time?

"I shore did," he said. "I shore did. You never know."

When you deny men such as Yarborough (age 71, 83 wins and three championships), Glen Wood (age 85, patriarch of the storied Wood Brothers team) and Inman (age 74, Richard Petty's longtime crew chief), you're messing with men's lives. You're even messing with Waltrip's (age 63, 84 wins, three championships), penalizing him for his relative youth.

The backlog is now so blatant that "there was some discussion" of expanding the classes in the committees Wednesday, NASCAR senior vice president Paul Brooks acknowledged.

Expanding now would be too late for men such as Raymond Parks. But better late than continuing to mess with men's lives in twilight, risking that they'll be gone before they're honored justly for what they did.

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