Curtis Turner, one of the best stock car racers ever....
By Mike Mulhern
FORT WORTH, Texas
Just the names, and the memories, are enough to bring tears to your eyes, if you've been around the sport long enough.
T. Wayne Robertson.
And there are more.
NASCAR executives just announced the newest 25-man list of stock car racing legends they will have a select group of voters pick five from, for induction in the sometimes controversial new Charlotte Hall of Fame.
And each name is evocative of so much history in this sport, so much history that too frequently seems to be fading into obscurity.
But then the point of a Hall of Fame, a real, genuine, honest Hall of Fame, is to keep those memories alive.
Sometimes the new Charlotte operation, as spiffy and high tech as it is, seems superfluous to the real heart of this sport. It's got all the bells and whistles, but something seems to be lacking.
Perhaps this whole Hall of Fame thing needs to be rethought. Yes, legendary people helped build this sport, but this sport wasn't built by stars alone, but by the many others who did grunt work. And so far there is no place in this Hall for the workers.
Curtis Turner (L). Just ask Glen Wood about ol' Curtis
NASCAR's motorsports journalists have been voting men and women into the Darlington-home Hall of Fame since 1965. And there are more than 80 legends enshrined.
But NASCAR executives decided a few years ago to redo the Hall of Fame concept, by building a new Hall, in the heart of Charlotte, and to essentially wipe clean the slate and start anew.
So far the new Charlotte operation has put 20 men on its walls....and all but ignoring the work that this sport's journalists did for so many years.
The newest list of 'nominees,' as selected by NASCAR people is, though, a very classy list. In fact every one of them should be inducted immediately in the Hall:
-- Les Richter, the National Football League star who ran Riverside Raceway for so many years, and who then became Bill France Jr.'s right-hand 'go-to' man for tough projects. Richter, who died in 2010, was key in getting California's Auto Club Speedway up and running.
-- Curtis Turner, one of the best pure racers the sport has ever seen, a wild man who once landed his plane in the middle of town, to pick up a bottle of hooch....a man who tried to unionize this sport, and was thus banned by Big Bill France.
-- Red Byron, the first NASCAR champion, in 1949, and Raymond Parks, his car owner.
-- Clay Earles, Martinsville's famous track owner, who would go nose-to-nose with France in a heartbeat.
-- Bobby Isaac, the taciturn racer from Hickory who died much too young.
-- Jack 'Ironman' Ingram, who was classic old-school short-track racer.
-- Fred 'Golden Boy' Lorenzen, whose classic good looks and hard-charging style made him an American icon in the 1960s, until he burned out much too soon.
-- Fireball Roberts, with the hotshot name, but whose real claim to fame was 'putting this sport in a briefcase.'
-- Joe Weatherly, the comedic 1960s racer, two-time champion, who died during one of the sport's hard runs of death.
-- Rex White, the patient racer who parlayed that style into the 1960s championship, when this sport was 'go or blow.'
-- Wendell Scott, the 1940s and 1950s Danville, Va., moonshiner whose on-road exploits prompted Earles to put him in a Martinsville race...
-- Maurice Petty, the man who build all those engines for the sport's winningest driver.
-- Tim Flock, the coolest of the three Flock brothers, a two-time champion.
-- Ray Fox, the famous engine builder who helped put Junior Johnson and Buck Baker in the headlines.
-- And Anne B. France, 'Annie B,' who kept the books and made things work, while her husband, Big Bill, handled the tough-guy stuff.
Fred Lorenzen (L), interviewed by Chris Economaki. BTW, when will Economaki get a vote into this Hall of Fame?
When it comes to NASCAR history, the corporate world has done a heck of a lot to make this sport what it is. And now NASCAR has nominated two of the best:
-- T. Wayne Robertson and Ralph Seagraves, two men who helped save NASCAR during those dark hours of the early 1970s and who pumped this sport up with splashy in-your-face marketing and promotion, as key officials with R.J. Reynolds.
It is somewhat surprising that the NASCAR men who put Robertson and Seagraves on this ballot did not include the man who really made it all work, RJR's Jerry Long. It was Long who packaged this sports for ESPN....making it a TV sport in the early 1980s.
And some of the 'newer' sportsmen on the ballot:
-- Richard Childress, who took Dale Earnhardt and made things happen.
-- Jerry Cook, the six-time Modified champ.
-- Rick Hendrick, the sport's top car owner, who is still making big things happen.
-- Dale Jarrett, one of the nice guys in this sport, now a TV star, and 1999 champion.
-- Benny Parson, the 1973 champion, in that epic last race, and a long-time media star.
-- Larry Phillips, a star short-track champion.
-- And Bruton Smith. The man who created Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960, with Curtis Turner, who lost that track and who then made a comeback, and who took this sport to Wall Street, and who engaged in an epic track building spree in the 1990s.
All of these are Hall of Famers, beyond question.
The only question now is when will NASCAR executives get this Hall of Fame in high gear.
One of the best NASCAR executives ever. Mr. Can-Do. Les Richter