At the end of this month (Jan. 30), the NASCAR Hall of Fame will induct its latest class of five members — Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White.
All the aforementioned drivers blazed their paths to Hall of Fame induction, primarily, for their accomplishments at NASCAR’s top level, in its premier series, if you will. But that hasn’t been the case for all of the already-inducted members. The soon-to-be-inducted class is the sixth into the NASCAR Hall of Fame that opened in 2010. Let’s take a brief look back at some inductees, primarily drivers, who were recognized with NHOF induction for accomplishments on other rungs of the NASCAR ladder.
The 2014 class included Jack Ingram. Ingram was one of the early stars of the NASCAR Busch Series-turned-Nationwide-turned Xfinity. Then, go back a couple of years to the 2012 class. That class included, among others, Richie Evans, NASCAR Modified legend.
When Ingram and Evans were up for nomination and then eventually inducted, it was easy to see their accomplishments at their respective levels of NASCAR. That may have had something to do with the fact that neither made serious moves to NASCAR’s Winston Cup-turned-Nextel-turned Sprint Cup Series.
But what about drivers who produced Hall of Fame-worthy stats and performances at a given NASCAR level, moved to perceived higher levels and then turned in lackluster or, at best, unimpressive results at said perceived higher level(s).
Should those drivers still be considered for NASCAR Hall of Fame induction for their beyond impressive, shall I say stellar, results at another level of NASCAR, even if Sprint Cup or other series results were somewhat less than stellar?
Doesn’t seem fair to induct individuals for accomplishments at one level but not others who produced impressive results, because the latter group of drivers weren’t so successful on higher rungs of the NASCAR ladder while those inducted didn’t bother moving up. They shouldn’t be penalized for trying to move up while other drivers didn’t, should they?
That being said, it’s hard to block out the stumbles at the higher level(s) and focus of the partial body of work from the divisions in which there was dominance, or at the least, stellar results.
To make things easier, I’ll limit this discussion to NASCAR’s three national series — Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck. The first name that comes to my mind is Ron Hornaday. Hornaday currently holds the honor of being the Truck Series’ all-time winningest driver with 51 trips to victory lane. He also has more championships in NASCAR’s youngest national series with four.
Hornaday took a break from truck racing in the early 2000s and went Busch (now-Xfinity) Series racing. His stats there weren’t too bad; he posted four wins in that series between 2000 and 2004, but I would call that Hall of Fame-worthy. Then, there was a failed attempt at Cup racing. He ran an almost-full-time season at the Winston (now-Sprint) Cup level in 2001. That season resulted in one lone top-10 finish. In 45-career Cup races, the last coming in 2003, that one top-10 in 2001 stands alone as Hornaday’s only career-top-10 at the Cup level.
But what about his Camping World Truck Series stats? Winningest driver in the series and more championships than anyone in the trucks? Sounds like a NASCAR Hall of Fame-worthy career to me. But will the failed Cup attempt and the good but not great Busch showing hinder Hornaday in terms of NASCAR Hall of Fame consideration? I hope not.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, not the NASCAR Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup Hall of Fame. Bodies of work by trailblazers and dominators in other series should definitely be considered. Here’s hoping the nominating and then the voting committee can put the ambitious but unsuccessful climbs up the ladder out of their minds when considering drivers like Hornaday.
Check out photos from each of Ron Hornaday’s four NASCAR Truck Series championships (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)