NASCAR hall of fame: Commentary

Commentary: Time to induct NASCAR ‘pioneers’

The Charlotte ObserverApril 11, 2013 

CHARLOTTE

WHEN YOU START your hall of fame with a 60-year backlog, the line that forms to get in is as long as the one at Dale Earnhardt’s “Intimidator” rollercoaster at Carowinds each Saturday.

This week the NASCAR Hall of Fame released its list of 25 nominees for the Class of 2014 — this will be its fifth class overall. Most of them will eventually make it, but the ironclad “only five per year” rule means that the line remains long.

Last year I pitched the idea that it should be the “Year of the Pioneer” — theorizing that what NASCAR’s hall is most obviously missing is drivers from the 1950s and 1960s. Those men literally risked their lives every weekend in what was then a far more dangerous sport.

Let’s just say my campaign didn’t go very well. Of the five pioneer drivers I wanted to get in, one made it: Herb Thomas.

I’m campaigning for my four drivers who didn’t make the hall last year — Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner and Wendell Scott — as well as Joe Weatherly.

Tim Flock

A two-time series champion in the 1950s, Flock won 37 times at NASCAR’s top level. He was the most successful of the racing Flock brothers. He was also well-known for racing with a pet rhesus monkey named “Jocko Flocko” for part of the 1953 season.

Fireball Roberts

I feel good about Roberts making it this time, as he came in sixth place in the voting last year, just behind the inducted five. The charismatic Roberts never won a series championship, but he was an early breakout star and had 33 wins at the top level. Roberts got his nickname because of his fastball. But he had a tragic and ironic death in 1964 following an accident at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, when he was engulfed in a fireball following a wreck.

Wendell Scott

He won one top-level race, in 1963. But Scott broke NASCAR’s color barrier. And despite inferior equipment, little money and prejudicial treatment, he was a strong competitor for much of his career. Scott deserves inclusion.

Curtis Turner

Known as the “Babe Ruth of stock-car racing,” Turner was, like Roberts, known for his personality as much as his driving. A former moonshine runner, Turner was also the first NASCAR driver to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Joe Weatherly

A two-time champion in NASCAR’s top series in 1962 and ’63, Weatherly was defending his title when he was killed racing in 1964. Weatherly could drive anything — winning races in other divisions, including motorcycles. In an era of big NASCAR personalities, Weatherly’s sense of humor earned him the nickname of the “Clown Prince of Stock Car Racing.”

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