Politics pertinent to NASCAR HOF snubs

The second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame was announced yesterday in Charlotte as David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty, Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore were named recipients of the honor.

Like all hall of fames, the spotlight was also focused on who wasn’t included in the class, namely two three-time NASCAR Cup series champion -- Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. And, like all halls of fame, the discussion after the announcement also centered on things like “criteria” and “politics.”

I will say that all members of both classes of the NASCAR Hall of Fame thus far are “hall-worthy.” There can be no argument against the inclusion of any individual that has been selected. The only debate can be about, “why this person went in instead of that person,” or, “why wasn’t that person nominated.” And to some degree, that’s what NASCAR wanted when it announced plans for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But the debate should never be about criteria and politics.

The debate in the room among the voters centered on criteria, or a lack of it, according to several people on the voting committee. There are no guidelines about what should or shouldn’t be considered. How can that be?

And then, secondly, the role of politics is being bandied about today, both behind the scenes and by some who were selected for inclusion.

When David Pearson, the second-winngest driver in NASCAR Cup Series history, was not included in the first class, reporters asked him if politics played a role.

“Scared to say,” said Pearson. He paused, then added, “It’s quite a bit. Politics are in everything nowadays.”

Scared to say? This is one of the toughest, most grizzled stock car drivers of all time. Nothing scared him. But apparently saying something that would run him afoul of the Hall of Fame voters caused him to actually use the word “scared.” Was he “scared” that he wouldn’t be voted into the hall?

Then there was the case of Yarborough, the only driver to win three consecutive NASCAR Cup Series titles until Jimmie Johnson accomplished that feat some 30 years later. Not even Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt, both seven-time champions and members of the first NASCAR Hall of Fame class, accomplished that feat. Broadcast and published reports made reference to the fact that Yarborough did not do enough for the sport after his retirement, even demanding to be paid for appearances, including the NASCAR season-ending awards banquet after Johnson tied his record for consecutive championships in 2008.

“Cale didn’t go anywhere he didn’t get paid for,” Pearson confirmed to reporters yesterday.

And then there was the case of Waltrip, a three-time champion and tied with Allison for third on the all-time NASCAR win list. He often ran afoul of NASCAR during his career for bold things he said, something NASCAR now enjoys in most cases in Waltrip’s role as an analyst on FOX Sports. Going into the selection of the second class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, many considered Waltrip a lock and many of the 52-member voting panel told him so.

“I haven’t met anybody who didn’t vote for me,” Waltrip said yesterday. “Somebody need to do the math, because everybody I’ve seen so far says, ‘Well, I voted for you. You’re in.’”

Obviously, at least some of the voters didn’t tell Waltrip the truth.

So here’s a suggestion. Transparency is important for the integrity of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. As reporters today are suggesting there is no such thing as a lock or suggesting it’s useless to make a prediction, and with so much of the discussion focused on politics among the voters, why not make the vote public? List the ballot of every hall of fame voter.

That’s been suggested for the coach’s poll in NCAA football and for other sport’s hall of fames. Why not the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

Again, every person named thus far to the NASCAR Hall of Fame absolutely is deserving of the honor. But, arguably, inclusion in certain classes thus far have raised questions and eyebrows. To ensure the honor is truly an honor, make the vote on both the nominations and the five selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame public. Its one sure way to take the politics out of the vote or at least make the voters stand up and defend their selections.

Congratulations to Pearson, Allison, Petty, Jarrett and Moore. What great history and accomplishment.

And to Darrell, Cale and the others -- hang in there. You will receive the honor you so richly deserve.