NASCAR has always been about the drivers, an ethos on full display when Bill Elliott, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly, Rex White and Fred Lorenzen all were elected Wednesday into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The first time a class was comprised solely of drivers.
- Elliott, the 1988 Cup Series champion, won 44 races including victories in the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400. He also won a record 16 Most Popular Driver awards.
- Facing incredible adversity in what was then a south-centric sport, Scott broke NASCAR's color barrier. To this day he is the only African-American to win a race at NASCAR's highest level.
- Weatherly was the two-time reigning Cup champion when he was killed in a 1964 crash at Riverside International Raceway. The driver nicknamed the "Crown Prince of Stock Car Racing" for his charismatic personality won 25 premiere series races.
- As an owner-driver, White won the 1960 championship along with 28 premiere series victories overall.
- During a brief career -- just 158 Cup starts -- Lorenzen won 26 races with victories at Atlanta, Charlotte, Darlington and Daytona. He is regarded as one of the best drivers never to have to won a championship.
It's a deserving class to say the least. Undoubtedly the drivers are the stars of the sport, its backbone, and merit recognition.
However, while neither Rick Hendrick nor Bruton Smith were drivers (Hendrick did run a pair of Cup races in the 80s with middling success) by any considerable measure both should have heard their names called Wednesday and be included in the Class of 2015.
To look at Hendrick's resumé and see he's not already a Hall of Famer is inconceivable when in 30 years of fielding Cup teams he's won 11 championships and 220 races. Incredulously, the man who's won more races and titles than anyone else in the history of NASCAR still doesn't have a plaque in the Hall of Fame.
Hendrick is to NASCAR what the New York Yankees are to baseball, the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA, the New England Patriots to the NFL -- the gold standard.
His exclusion is unjustifiable, as is the continued snubbing of Smith.
While it may be hearsay to some, Smith played a momentous role in transforming NASCAR from a regional sport to one with a national following with his gusto, marketing acumen and willingness to spend money.
A track magnate, Smith revolutionized how a race track should look and operate, building world-class facilities at Charlotte, Bristol and Texas in addition to making sweeping improvements elsewhere.
Before Smith, NASCAR tracks were mostly dirty, dingy venues not comparable to what one would find in the stick-and-ball sports. The boisterous owner of eight NASCAR tracks hosting 12 combined Sprint Cup races, ushered NASCAR into a modern era with suites and first-class fan amenities, spurring much needed and long overdue modernization throughout the industry.
The credentials of Smith and Hendrick are beyond reproach. Each owning a legacy that will forever be held on a pedestal. But the Class of 2015 is driver exclusive, and without a wheel in their hands Smith and Hendrick's deserved inclusion will simply have to wait another year. Again.