Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte and other veteran drivers can now immediately be considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame under the new eligibility requirements announced Thursday.
The sweeping changes include allowing a driver to be eligible if they have raced 30 or more years in a NASCAR national touring series competition or have turned 55 in the calendar year prior to the nomination day. Under the old guidelines, drivers were not eligible if they were still an active participant, which eliminated Martin, Elliott and Labonte, all of whom have raced sparingly in recent years.
Further changes will see the ballot reduced from 25 candidates to 20. Additionally, any person on the voting committee up for consideration will now be recused from the nominating and voting procedure. In the previous five classes Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, and Ned Jarrett all were elected even as they served on the voting panel.
"Bottom line is our sport is very unique," chief communications officer Brett Jewkes said. "The industry is very unique, the structure of our ownership and competition and the feeder series and everything in our sport is very, very unique, and therefore our process will always be a little bit unique.
"And finally, if you do want to compare us to other halls of fame, they all evolve. A little bit of homework will tell you that the process for hall of fame selection, voters, inductees, everything, they evolve over time, and I suspect ours will, as well."
The mandate that each Hall of Fame class have five nominees was dismissed by NASCAR, as was the idea of a veterans' committee.
Another change will see NASCAR introduce the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to be awarded annually. The winner will be chosen from a list of five nominees, must receive at least 60 percent of the vote, and will not be considered a Hall of Fame inductee.
Officials have discussed not having a set number of inductees as it has for the first five years the Hall of Fame has operated. However, the current format will remain in place for at least five more years but will be revisited after NASCAR inducts its 10th class.
"We have decided that that time has not yet arrived, but we will give strong consideration to revisiting both of those propositions after the 10th class is seated," Jewkes said. "This year we'll be seating the fifth class. Long story short, those are viable things. There was a lot of debate, a lot of discussion, but we've made the decision that we won't revisit those until the 10th class is seated."