Nice vote, but the system needs tweaking

Published 10:19 am Monday, May 30, 2016

It took, to me, a long time for Rick Hendrick to earn a spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but the legendary team owner received it Wednesday. Early next year, he’ll take his place in Charlotte alongside Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and the four others of the Class of 2017: drivers Benny Parsons and Mark Martin and owners Richard Childress and Raymond Parks.

At 23, Hendrick was the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the United States back in 1976. He grew that into the billion dollar Hendrick Automotive Group, which now has 98 franchises and 10,000 employees across 13 states, and is the sixth largest dealership in the United States.

Nine years after getting that first dealership, Hendrick joined several other Queen City entrepreneurs and helped bring the first pro sports franchise to North Carolina as part of the original ownership group of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

Though he actually began a career in stock car racing at age 14, Hendrick drove in two Cup races in 1987 and ‘88, but he had better success as an owner, where Dale Earnhardt brought him his first victory back in the 1970’s in the Late Model Sportsman series. Since then, All-Star Racing, now known as Hendrick Motorsports that began with Geoff Bodine as Hendrick’s lone driver, has grown to four drivers and winning 14 championships – a record 11 in Sprint Cup including now retired four-time champ Jeff Gordon and six-time champ Jimmie Johnson. That alone should have sufficed before, but was plenty for him to lead this Hall of Fame class.

The 66-year-old Hendrick’s full body of work was finally rewarded for greatness even as it continues to grow.

“I think the legends of the sport that have retired should go in (before me),” he said in a conference call. “I’m really humbled to be in the position I’m in. I’ve been doing it now for 33 years so I hope we’ve got some more things to accomplish. I’m very, very appreciative of the fact that I got voted in while I’m still racing.”

It was time to start recognizing legends getting more legendary each year, and hopefully this will become a trend.

Hendrick got in with 66 percent of the vote of a panel of 53 voters. Thing is, here in the eighth year of the process, some have gotten in with less than 50 percent of the vote, and in 2015 Fred Lorenzen was voted in with 40 percent, and he was a part-time Cup driver who – despite racing for 16 years – got 26 wins in 158 starts.

I’m not diminishing the accomplishments of anyone already in the Hall, but the qualifications for getting in are getting washed down every year.

Some sports’ Halls of Fame require candidates to receive a higher percentage of votes to gain entry: for baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, the number is 75 percent; for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, it’s 80 percent.

As former hall of fame voter and ex-NASCAR driver, now an NBC broadcaster, Kyle Petty told the Charlotte Observer Tuesday: “Is everybody who’s ever won a race going to get into the (NASCAR) Hall of Fame? At five men a year, at some point you’re going to run out of people. The pool is just not very big.”

Petty went on to add, “I love (the Hall) and I think we need it, but it needs to be a special place, not a place where everyone who has driven a race car is going to get in. It shouldn’t be just a ‘good ole Southern boy’ kind of place … It needs to be exclusive.”

Not everyone agrees with Petty, and I even say I think every Hall of Fame needs to add somebody every year. If no one’s voted in there’s no induction ceremony and fewer new exhibits. You can be too exclusive, and you can’t please everybody.

“Sometimes,” Petty concluded, “the legend is bigger than the deed. Sometimes we’re getting into popularity contests, into myths and legends instead of what really happened on the track.”


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.