NASCAR Hall of Fame: Our Picks for the 2017 Class

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

As a part of Charlotte race weeks, the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting committee will gather on Wednesday, May 25 to induct five new names into the shrine of the sport’s legends. This year’s class will be the eighth in the history of the Hall of Fame and all 20 of the nominees have one reason or another that they should be inducted.

With 20 nominees, the voting panel has a tough task to condense this year’s class down to five, so like the voting panel will do on Wednesday at the Hall of Fame, the NASCAR team here at Motorsports Tribune will also take a crack at it and give you our picks for the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.

David Morgan – NASCAR Contributor

In my mind, there are five individuals among the nominees that stick out above the rest and this year, their time has come to enter the Hall of Fame as inductees. Those five are Buddy Baker, Red Byron, Alan Kulwicki, Raymond Parks, and Benny Parsons.

Buddy Baker – Baker was known for his prowess behind the wheel of his famed black and silver “Gray Ghost” and also was a fantastic voice on television and radio coverage of the sport after his retirement in 1992. Baker was the first to eclipse the 200 mph mark in a stock car when he did so in 1970, and won 19 races in his career, including a win in the Daytona 500, Southern 500, and back to back wins in the World 600 at Charlotte. Baker’s voice has been missed since his passing in August 2015, but hopefully the Hall of Fame voters will see fit to give him a rightful place in this year’s class.

Red Byron – One of NASCAR’s first stars, Byron was there when the sport was in its infancy and saw NASCAR transform before his eyes in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. Byron won two titles in his three year career, the 1948 NASCAR Modified Division championship and the 1949 NASCAR Strictly Stock title. To make Byron’s accomplishments even more impressive, the Alabama native was wounded in World War II, but was able drive with a special brace attached to the clutch pedal to help his injured leg. Though Byron only drove for three years, he was impactful in his short tenure behind the wheel.

Alan Kulwicki – It’s always a great story when the underdog prevails and that is exactly what Kulwicki did in his nine year career. The Wisconsin native burst onto the scene scoring the Rookie of the Year title in 1986 and showing that he could run just as well with his own team against the powerhouse teams of the day. At Phoenix in 1988, Kulwicki won his first race, beating the likes of Terry Labonte, Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, and Rusty Wallace. That race also saw the invention of the “Polish Victory Lap,” when Kulwicki drove around the track backwards in celebration. Four wins later, Kulwicki found himself in contention for the 1992 title, where he would overcome a 278 point deficit in the final six races of the season to win the championship by 10 points over Elliott. In 1993, as Kulwicki was set to defend his title, he perished in a plane crash near Bristol, Tennessee. Though he may be gone, Kulwicki’s legacy lives on to this day.

Raymond Parks – A pioneer of the sport, Parks was a successful Atlanta businessman and moonshine kingpin that parlayed his business success into success on the race track as well. Partnering with mechanic Red Vogt in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, the pair was able to provide dominant equipment to the likes of Red Byron, Bob Flock, Roy Hall, Lloyd Seay, and Fonty Flock. Byron drove Parks’ cars to championships in 1948 and 1949, with the team winning two races and scoring two poles, 11 top-five finishes, and 12 top-10 finishes in 18 events in the 1949, 1950, 1954, and 1955 seasons. Parks was also a significant figure in the creation of NASCAR as he was one of the three dozen people who gathered at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1949 to bring the sport under the NASCAR banner.

Benny Parsons – Another driver who excelled both on the track and in the broadcast booth was Benny Parsons, who competed from 1964 to 1988. In 526 starts, Parsons scored 21 wins, including the 1975 Daytona 500. Besides the wins, Parsons found himself in the top-10 more often than not throughout his career, with 283 top-10 finishes, finishing there in 54 percent of his starts. Parsons won his only championship in 1973 in dramatic fashion after being involved in a crash in the season finale on lap 13, but getting his car repaired to finish 25th and hold on for the title.  After retiring from driving in 1988, Parsons moved to the television booth and was a familiar voice on the broadcasts for NBC and TNT before his passing in 2007.

Toby Christie – NASCAR Editor

Rick Hendrick – Nothing says excellence like the record of Hendrick Motorsports. The race team has only been around since the 1980s, but Rick Hendrick has accrued 240 wins and an all-time record 11 Cup Series championships.

Raymond Parks – There wouldn’t be a NASCAR without Parks. Parks was in the meetings at the streamline hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida which spawned the creation of the sport. Parks was reportedly also instrumental in helping NASCAR with funding early on. As a car owner, Parks also won the first two Cup Series championships.

Ron Hornaday Jr. – Hornaday is a Hall of Famer because nobody has done more in the Truck Series, period. His four series championships are the most all-time, and his 51 wins are also the most all-time. Hornaday also went on to win races in the Xfinity Series and he raced a little bit in the Sprint Cup Series.

Benny Parsons – Parsons is a Daytona 500 champion (1975) and a Cup Series champion (1973). He also was a commentator during NASCAR’s popularity boom, and he was dynamic on the air.

Mike Stefanik – If nine NASCAR championships (I don’t care at what level or what series) isn’t enough to get you into the Hall of Fame, then there shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame altogether.

Seth Eggert – NASCAR Contributor

Ron Hornaday Jr. – Hornaday is a Hall of Famer because nobody has done more in the Truck Series, period. His four series championships are the most all-time; his 51 wins are also the most all-time, for the time being. Hornaday also went on to win races in the Xfinity Series and he raced a little bit in the Sprint Cup Series.

Ken Squier – Squier is one half of the namesake of the Squier-Hall Award, and is arguably one of the best commentators that our sport has had over the years.

Buddy Baker – Baker won all three of NASCAR’s crown jewel races, the Daytona 500, Southern 500, and World 600 in his career. Baker also was the first driver to record a lap of 200+ MPH in a closed test at Talladega.

Alan Kulwicki – Kulwicki was the last owner-driver to become a champion. Kulwicki worked on his own cars, and won the Championship after competing full-time in the Cup Series in just six years.

Harry Hyde – Hyde led Bobby Isaac to his 1970 Championship. Hyde was an innovator and was a crew chief from 1965-1991. Hyde and his time as crew chief for Tim Richmond inspired parts of the story for the movie “Days of Thunder.”

Photo by Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.