NASCAR Hall of Fame: Honor the past or recognize accomplishments no matter the era?

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

When deciding who makes the NASCAR Hall of Fame, is it best to honor the sport’s pioneers or recognize someone’s accomplishments no matter the era?

With each passing year, determining who is elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame gets exceedingly more difficult.

Through the first four years, the process of selecting a five-member class included names that seemed a foregone conclusion that they would be voted in. It was a virtual lock that the inaugural class would include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Bill France Jr.

When it came time to vote for the second group of five inductees, it was a given that David Pearson would hear his name called. The same could be said for Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough when they were elected to headline the Class of 2012.

This year, however, among the 25 individuals up for consideration there are no presumptive favorites. And with the exception of a select few, a reasonable case could be made for a majority of the names on the Hall of Fame ballot.

As always with the Hall of Fame, the debate about whom to choose centers on how you feel about honoring the sport's pioneers vs. those whose contributions came after NASCAR had already established a foothold in the sports landscape.

With pioneers like Raymond Parks, Red Byron and Fireball Roberts on the ballot, there again will be a push to honor the past.

Conversely, how do you ignore the accomplishments of Dale Jarrett, who in his first year of being eligible, is up for induction?

During his career few drivers performed as well in the big races as Jarrett. In addition to being a former Cup champion, his résumé includes three Daytona 500 victories, two Brickyard 400 wins and one in the Coca-Cola 600.

But because he did this well after NASCAR had become mainstream and not three decades earlier, does this lessen Jarrett's candidacy?

What about Bruton Smith, another nominee who finds himself on the ballot for the first time?

At 86 years young, the outspoken track owner has been involved in the sport almost since its inception, having built Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960 and promoting many a race before that.

However, because Smith is still very much involved at the present -- he owns eight tracks which host a combined 12 Cup events -- are his deeds associated more with modern-day NASCAR than anything he may have done 40 years ago?

Not being a Hall of Fame voter myself, it's unfair of me to tell other voters how they should view the credentials of the 25 names under consideration.

The fairest way it would seem to judge a nominee's respective body of work would not be through the scope of whether that person is deemed a pioneer or not, but simply on merit alone in spite of the era.

But regardless of how the consensus is reached, what we do know is when the Class of 2014 is revealed Wednesday evening, there will be five deserving inductees taking their rightful place into NASCAR immortality.

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