As a part of Charlotte race weeks, the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting committee will gather on Wednesday, May 24 to induct five new names into the shrine of the sport’s legends. This year’s class will be the ninth 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 team here at Motorsports Tribune will also take a crack at it and give you our picks for the 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.
David Morgan – NASCAR Editor
Davey Allison – With Allison tragically being killed in a helicopter crash in the prime of his career, we may never know the full extent of how Allison may have changed the record books, but during the nine years that he was in the sport, the Alabama native certainly left a lasting impact. Allison won 19 races over those nine seasons, including the 1992 Daytona 500 and the 1991 Coca-Cola 600, as well as back-to-back five win seasons in those two years. Though Allison never won a championship, coming closest in 1992, there is no doubt that he would have won at least one title had he lived longer.
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.
Ron Hornaday – The NASCAR Hall of Fame has inductees from various other series other than the Cup Series, but none yet for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. It’s time that changes. No one driver has done more for the Truck Series than Hornaday, who was there when the series first came into existence in 1995. With 360 starts in the series over 17 years, Hornaday walked away with 51 wins, 158 top-five finishes, 234 top-10 finishes, 27 poles, 9689 laps led, and four championships. The California native also won four races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in the early 2000’s.
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.
Frank Santoroski – Staff Writer
Roger Penske – The name Penske is immediately associated with excellence. Not only in racing circles, but in the business world as well. The Captain never takes a half-hearted attempt at anything and his NASCAR operation is now on the elite level. With more than 50 years of contributions to multiple forms of Motorsports, voting for Roger is a no-brainer.
Alan Kulwicki – He made a bold decision to decline a top ride, and control his own destiny. It paid off dividends in the form of a Winston Cup in a season finale at Atlanta that still ranks as one of the greatest title battles of all time. I can only imagine how much more he may have accomplished had fate given him that chance.
Joe Gibbs – Gibbs came into the sport with limited knowledge of auto racing. What he did know how to do was assemble a great team, and keep them highly motivated. Back then, I felt like he was nothing more that a rich guy pursuing a hobby. I was wrong. Joe Gibbs Racing now consistently sets the standard for success.
Harry Hyde – The list of folks that have worked with Harry Hyde reads like a Hall of Fame on its own. His vision, leadership, and innovation make him a fine candidate.
Red Byron – NASCAR is a vastly different enterprise today than its founders could have imagined. The sport, however, must never forget where they came from, and Red Byron was truly the first Superstar of NASCAR. A tough as nails competitor, and a war hero as well, the winner of the first NASCAR race has earned this honor.
Seth Eggert – NASCAR Contributor
Ron Hornaday, Jr. – It’s time that NASCAR inducts a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion. Hornaday won four Truck Series Championships (1996, 1998, 2007, and 2009) as well as holding a current series record of 51 wins. He has 158 top fives, 234 Top 10s, and 27 pole positions in 360 starts in the Truck Series. Hornaday also spent time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series where he won four races. He has driven for some of the more historic names in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Childress, A.J. Foyt, Rick Hendrick, and Kevin Harvick.
Ken Squier – Squier has been one of the most influential motorsports broadcasters and editors that NASCAR has had. He co-founded the Motor Racing Network in 1969, opened and operated Thunder Road International Speedbowl in 1960, and was a pit road reporter on the first raced aired live ‘flag-to-flag’ on ABC, the Greenville 200. He is most remembered for calling the first Daytona 500 aired ‘flag-to-flag’ in 1979. Squier served as a TV broadcaster until TNT left the sport in 2014. He is also one-half of the namesake of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.
Buddy Baker – Baker started his racing career in 1959 driving for his father, two-time Champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker. He earned his first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1967. Three years later, Baker became the first NASCAR driver to run a lap faster than 200mph in a test at Talladega Superspeedway. Although he never earned a Championship, Baker is considered on of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. He won the World 600 (now Coca-Cola 600) three times, the Winston 500 three times, the 1970 Southern 500, and the 1980 Daytona 500.
After a racing career that included 700 starts in NASCAR’s Premier Series, Baker turned to broadcasting on TNN from 1994 to 2000. From 2011 to 2015 he co-hosted The Late Shift with Brad Gillie and Tradin’ Paint with Jim Noble on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. He resigned from SiriusXM in July 2015 due to inoperable lung cancer. In his farewell to the fans, he commented, “Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name.” Baker was truly a favorite among the fans, wanting them to remember the good times. He passed away in August 2015. As a way to adding to the legacy of NASCAR’s ‘Gentle Giant’, it is time to induct him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Ray Evernham – Evernham started his career not as a crew chief, but as a driver in NASCAR’s Featherlite (now Whelen) Modified Tour. In 1992, Evernham was the crew chief for a young, unproven driver named Jeff Gordon in his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series (Now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) race. Seven years and 217 races later, the pair had scored three championships (1995, 1997, and 1998), 47 wins, 116 top fives, 140 Top 10s, and 30 pole positions. As a crew chief, Evernham is credited for streamlining pit stops from being over 20 seconds to under 15 seconds.
Evernham then transitioned to the role of team owner as he helped lead Dodge back into the sport. With 492 starts as a team owner in NASCAR’s premier series, his team earned 13 victories, 66 top fives, 123 Top 10s, and 23 pole positions. Evernham Motorsports also earned five victories in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Evernham’s accomplishments and being a part of NASCAR in nearly every way imaginable, warrants a spot in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
Red Byron – I believe it is time that NASCAR recognizes its’ very first Champion. Byron won the 1948 Modified Championship as well as its’ first race. He earned the 1949 Strictly-Stock (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) Championship while competing in only six races of the eight-race season. He also has the honor of winning NASCAR’s first race at Martinsville Speedway, the oldest track still on the schedule. Byron’s contributions to motorsports also include developing an American car capable of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1998, he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.