News & Media

Menzer: Once scrutinized, second Hall class proved perfect

May 24, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It seems silly now, and perhaps it should even border on embarrassing.

Back when the 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame class was announced in October of 2010, there was a bit of a public outcry in many corners. How could it not include Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough, drivers with six championships and 167 race victories between them?

Now we know how, and we understand why the second class was just fine the way it played out. The 2011 class that included not only top-notch drivers David Pearson and Bobby Allison, but also driver-car owner Lee Petty, driver-broadcaster Ned Jarrett and car owner-mechanic Bud Moore, was formally inducted into the Hall during an elaborate ceremony Monday night.

As it unfolded in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte Convention Center that is connected to the glittery new NASCAR Hall of Fame, it became increasingly crystal clear. The Hall had to back up just a little to go pick up a little of its glorious past before it could roar forward and honor the deserving likes of Waltrip, Yarborough and others.

Their time will come. Monday night belonged to the 2011 class, and rightfully so.

Here's why

Sure, fellow drivers Pearson and Allison were no-brainers to head up the second class. Many thought Pearson should not have been overlooked when the inaugural class graced the NASCAR Hall in 2010. And Lee Petty not only had 50 wins and three championships as a driver, but founded Petty Enterprises and went on to win seven more titles and 268 more races as a car owner.

But former car owner and mechanic Bud Moore? Many thought as deserving as he might be -- with 63 race victories and two championships in 37 years as an owner -- he could wait.

Same with Jarrett. Despite two championships in what is now the Sprint Cup level and 50 wins -- even a pioneering, post-driving stint in broadcasting -- it was argued by some that Jarrett could, even should, wait. It was stated that there were others who had more impressive career driving statistics, and therefore deserved to go in ahead of him.

Monday night we all learned why that train of thought was wrong all along.

All five inductees were deserving, but Moore and Jarrett proved the perfect pair to complement the rest of this class. Moore, the bona fide hero from World War II, was typical of so many early mechanics and car owners. They touched many areas of the sport during its formative years in ways that can never be accurately measured by tangible statistics.

Moore, for instance, was once responsible for grooming a young driver named Dale Earnhardt.

"Dale Earnhardt told me several times that Bud Moore helped him learn more about what racing was all about than anyone he ever talked to," said long-time race broadcaster Barney Hall, who inducted Moore on Monday night. "It would take hours to touch on everything that Bud Moore did in NASCAR and all the other [racing] divisions."

Jarrett, meanwhile, became one of the great ambassadors of the sport following his distinguished driving career, which ended early at age 34 in part because of a broken back that he said "haunts me to this day." He was honored with this class because of that as much as for his driving accomplishments.

Back to the future

There were no shortage of accolades for all five of the inductees Monday. And thankfully, there were no more cries for others to have been included in this class.

Pearson, 76, joked with reporters beforehand that the media had been "wearing him out" since he first learned he would be inducted and especially since Trevor Bayne won this year's Daytona 500 in a Wood Brothers Racing car that was a replica of the one he used to drive so brilliantly for them. But you could hear in his voice during his acceptance speech, and even in more interviews afterward, how much the honor and all the accompanying attention truly meant to him.

Many thought Pearson should have been included in the first Hall class. Even he admitted at the time he was disappointed to be left out. But Monday night, he said he would like to see the Hall fill up first with folks like the late Raymond Parks and Cotton Owens "because he's 86 years old and he's got cancer and his wife's got cancer," lamenting the fact that Parks died in June of last year before the pioneering car owner could experience being voted in.

The late Lee Petty's family, including Richard, was genuine in its appreciation that the patriarch of racing's First Family will now join the son in the Hall. Richard, in fact, insisted once again that his father should have preceded him.

"It's great to be here for my father," said Richard, winner of a record 200 races and seven championships as a driver and a member of the inaugural Hall class. "I always felt like he was the leader [of the Petty family]. He should have been here way before I was."

Allison, 73, was inducted by brother Donnie and talked candidly about how honored he was to be part of a class that included the other four gentlemen. Allison also talked openly, with admitted great difficulty, about losing his two sons, Davey and Clifford, along his journey in the sport he loves so much.

"It's never easy [to talk about]," Allison said of the grief he and his wife, Judy, still struggle to process to this day. "I don't know that it will ever ease up, or get any less painful. But it's what happened -- and it's our duty to go on."

On Wednesday, Moore will celebrate birthday No. 86. He admitted he nearly fainted and then openly wept when he first learned he was going into the Hall, and called his induction "one of the biggest honors Bud Moore has ever had and ever will have." This from a guy who earned five Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars for his stellar work in World War II.

Jarrett, 78, professed his sincere thanks simply for being around to experience Monday night in person -- and that gave everyone pause for thought.

"When it was announced several years ago that there would be a NASCAR Hall of Fame, and when my name was among the original 25 nominees, my prayer then was to live long enough to be elected," Jarrett said. "I had to work hard on my health to be able to be here and enjoy this tremendous honor. I thank God for answering those prayers."

His smile as he said this spoke volumes.

So sometimes, it's not all about the career numbers when it comes to selecting a Hall class. Perhaps it never should be.

Monday's ceremony was all about going back and picking up some valuable pieces of the past before moving forward. And it was perfect.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.