One of the most engaging debates in all of NASCAR is who should be included in the next class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Each year, the debate is lively with names like Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and Dale Inman mentioned often, but at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Monday night, the 2011 inductees made their case for many of the pioneers that paved the way allowing others to make a name in NASCAR.
2011 inductee David Pearson said with those that built the sport growing older, they should be honored before it is too late.
"It would tickle me to death to see Cotton Owens to go in there because he's 86 years old and he's got cancer, his wife has cancer," he said. "I feel like you need to get him and Ray Fox, as old as he is, they need to get those two guys in there at least before it's too late. I thought they ought to have (Raymond) Parks in there the first time. But now it's too late for him (Parks died June 20, 2010)."
Some felt Pearson should have been included in last year’s inaugural class, but the ‘Silver Fox’ said the first class was the right class and reiterated the pioneers of the sport deserved to be honored sooner rather than later.
"The first class, as far as that goes, they deserve to be in there," Pearson said. "I'm being honest. I think none of us ought to be in at this time, even the first ones. I felt like Raymond Parks, people like him. I know he had some cars that started the race back when it first started. I understand he paid the purse, helped pay the purse to get it going. People like that that really got it going I feel like ought to be in it first."
For inductee Bobby Allison, it was a bit more personal.
"Donnie Allison. Maybe Red Farmer," he said with a smile talking about his brother and fellow Alabama Gang member.
Admitting he had not given much thought to the question, he suggested drivers Buck Baker and Herb Thomas.
"I worked for Karl Kiekhaefer in 1956, Buck Baker was the number one driver on the team at the time," he said. "Really liked Buck. Won a lot of races. Was a great contributor to the growth of NASCAR.
"I liked Herb Thomas. Herb Thomas was really the old school. He ran a car for a one-car team. He won a lot of races, won a couple championships. There are a lot more people that fit in that category."
Echoing the thoughts of his fellow inductees, Bud Moore endorsed Raymond Parks and Cotton Owens, adding Joe Eubanks and his former driver Joe Weatherly.
"One of them I have to bring up, real close, drove for me for three or four years, won two championships, we don't want to overlook Joe Weatherly," he said. "He was always the clown of NASCAR with all of the stunts he pulled on everybody. The biggest stunt he pulled them on was (Curtis) Turner. Anyway, he was a heck of a race driver. I really enjoyed having him, all the stuff he did do, winning the championships, all the races we won. It was great. I'm hoping he has a good shot going in on the next round."
Ned Jarrett agreed that Waltrip, Yarborough and Inman had a good shot at making the next class, while also mentioning Herb Thomas. However, Jarrett also suggested stars of NASCAR’s other divisions be considered as well.
"I think we need to start looking, too, at guys like Richie Evans and Jack Ingram who have done so much in their divisions that they raced in," Jarrett said. "It's going to be a tough assignment when we get together next month to vote for the next class. It's going to be tough. There's no doubt about that."
After honoring his father, Richard Petty, last year and this year his grandfather, Lee Petty, third-generation driver Kyle Petty made a public endorsement of completing the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s recognition of Petty Enterprises by including his uncle and team mechanic/engine builder Maurice Petty.
"Now as I stand here tonight, my grandfather is in the Hall of Fame, my father is in the Hall of Fame, and there's one man left in our family to be in the Hall of Fame, and that's Maurice Petty," he said to the crowd. "Just as many wins, just as many victories, just as many championships. We'll be back in the near future with one more."
"That would be great," Maurice said afterward. "That would be a pretty good group, I hope, with Lee and Richard and myself in it. I'm looking forward to it happening. I think it will happen. It's just a matter of time. I hope I'm still alive when it does happen."
There is no question the decision to honor five of NASCAR’s finest each year is one that causes great debate and often great controversy. Over 60 years of history has built the sport of NASCAR and hundreds of drivers, owners, mechanics, journalists and track promoters deserve to be enshrined in the great Hall of Honor. The true task is determining which five make the cut each year.