The list of 25 nominees for the 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame was released Wednesday, with 20 holdovers from last year's ballot interspersed with five new candidates.
The five first-time nominees include two former premiere series champions in Dale Jarrett and Rex White, acclaimed engine builder Maurice Petty, noted short track ace Larry Phillips and track mogul Bruton Smith.
This marked the first year Jarrett, the 1999 Sprint Cup Series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner, was eligible.
However, it was Smith's inclusion that was most surprising. Not because he's not deserving, but because his nomination was long overdue.
Smith is the president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which owns the Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Sonoma, and Texas tracks which combine to host 12 Cup events.
Through his tireless promotional work and a business style that can best be described as take-no-prisoners, Smith played a pivotal role in the rapid growth NASCAR experienced in the 80s, 90s and into the 21st century.
His vision of growing a once-regional sport into one that is on par with the major American sports leagues became a reality in large part because Smith built world-class facilities at Charlotte and Texas and spent countless millions upgrading the amenities of his other properties.
But due in part to his often-abrasive personality, which frequently placed him at odds with NASCAR's decision makers, Smith found himself omitted from the nomination list every year since the inaugural ballot was unveiled in 2009.
And with each passing year that his name wasn't included, it became a blemish on a process which otherwise has maintained an air of respectability.
If there is a point of contention with Wednesday's announcement, it is that neither Smokey Yunick nor Ray Evernham was among the 25 names constituting the Class of 2014 Hall of Fame ballot.
Both Yunick and Evernham were considered master mechanics and car builders as well as innovators. Cars prepared by Yunick won 27 races in NASCAR's top series, including two championships with Hall of Fame driver Herb Thomas behind the wheel.
As for Evernham, he was the longtime crew chief and guiding force for Jeff Gordon. In six-plus years together, the duo dominated, winning three Cup titles and 47 races. Evernham also became a successful car owner, starting his own team in 2001 that would go on to win 13 races, including the Brickyard 400 in 2002 with Bill Elliott.
A 54-member voting panel will select five inductees for the Class of 2014 on May 22. The complete list of nominees is as follows:
- Red Byron: First NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949.
- Richard Childress: 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series.
- Jerry Cook: Six-time NASCAR Modified champion.
- H. Clay Earles: Founder of Martinsville Speedway.
- Tim Flock: Two-time NASCAR premier series champion.
- Ray Fox: Legendary engine builder and owner of cars driven by Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and others.
- Anne Bledsoe France: Helped build the sport with husband Bill France Sr. Affectionately known as "Annie B.," she is the first woman to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
- Rick Hendrick: 13-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series.
- Jack Ingram: Two-time NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series champion and three-time Late Model Sportsman champion.
- Bobby Isaac: 1970 NASCAR premier series champion.
- Dale Jarrett: 1999 NASCAR premier Cup series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner.
- Fred Lorenzen: 26 wins and winner of the Daytona 500 and World 600.
- Raymond Parks: NASCAR's first champion car owner.
- Benny Parsons: 1973 NASCAR Cup series champion.
- Maurice Petty: Chief engine builder for Petty Enterprises.
- Larry Phillips: Only five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion.
- Les Richter: Former NASCAR executive; former president of Riverside International Raceway.
- Fireball Roberts: 33 NASCAR premier series wins, including the 1962 Daytona 500.
- T. Wayne Robertson: Helped raise NASCAR popularity as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company senior VP,
- Wendell Scott: NASCAR trailblazer who was the first African-American NASCAR premier series race winner, and first to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
- Ralph Seagraves: Formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
- Bruton Smith: Builder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and architect of Speedway Motorsports Inc.
- Curtis Turner: Early personality, called the "Babe Ruth of stock car racing."
- Joe Weatherly: Two-time NASCAR premier series champion.
- Rex White: 1960 NASCAR premier series champion.