May 21, 2014, 6:29 PM EDT
It wasn’t more than a few minutes after the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 was announced Wednesday before critics started questioning the six individuals chosen for induction.
On a day that should be joyous for the inductees and the sport as a whole, honoring five men and one woman who did or meant so much for the sport, several callous and narrow-minded individuals had to go and spoil it.
Frankly, some of the tweets I read or emails I received were downright ugly – and so undeserving to those who were honored Wednesday.
Several pointed towards Wendell Scott being inducted solely based upon his race.
Others complained about Fred Lorenzen, who has put on a valiant battle with dementia for the last several years but is still with us, but supposedly didn’t have the statistics to warrant HoF induction.
Others questioned why two of the sport’s pioneers – namely 84-year-old Rex White and Joe Weatherly – were chosen.
I even saw a few tweets that Bill Elliott, who was a near-unanimous (87 percent) selection by the HoF voting panel, should have been passed by.
Come on, people, your cynicism and downright prejudice are an embarrassment to NASCAR fans everywhere. You should be ashamed of yourself. How can you call yourself a real and true NASCAR fan? At a time when the sport and its fans should be rejoicing the induction of five more-than-worthy inductees, an extremely small minority of so-called “fans” take it upon themselves to tell the 50-plus-member voting panel that they got it wrong.
That’s right, fans – and I use that word very loosely – think they know the sport and the accomplishments of those chosen Wednesday better than members of the voting panel who probably have a collective tenure of well over 1,000 years in the sport between themselves.
Every one of the five drivers, plus the late wife of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was more than deserving of selection because each marked a key point in time or accomplishment in the sport’s lengthy and colorful history.
If Wendell Scott was chosen because of his race, so what? Scott was a trailblazer, a pioneer and someone that was a hero to many people, particularly African-American fans and other minorities. No one should have had to endure some of the terrible things he had to during his career simply because of the color of his skin.
And yet the critics and those opposed to Scott’s honor have the audacity to say with a straight face that he doesn’t deserve induction simply because he was different than you or me?
And the 77-year-old Lorenzen, who I interviewed late last year (he has days of great clarity and lucidity still), was arguably one of the most brilliant minds of his era when it came to promoting and building the NASCAR brand. Not to mention that he was a winning driver.
Yet you critics can capriciously say he doesn’t deserve induction, even though he’s still alive and with us and will be able to share in one of the greatest moments of his life despite the condition he’s battled in recent years?
Again, shame on you. Obviously you don’t understand what a Hall of Fame is for and about, nor do you understand why certain individuals are chosen.
Being picked for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is not about who won the most races or who won the most championships. It’s not about who had the best overall stats, whatsoever.
Rather, it’s about unique individuals who despite oftentimes long odds managed to persevere and succeed. It’s about individuals whose contributions helped shape the sport and made it what it is today.
Rex White and Joe Weatherly easily fall into the pioneer category for the sport. If they never raced in NASCAR, the sport may never have gained some of the popularity it did while they were behind the wheel.
Ditto for Lorenzen. His nickname of “Hollywood” told the tale of a flashy driver, one of NASCAR’s first real and true stars, a guy with the good looks of a Hollywood leading man. But Fast Freddy was also someone who had a huge fan base at his zenith, only to walk away from the sport at the all-too-young age of 33 so he could devote his life to his family.
Who knows how many championships and additional wins Lorenzen would have earned in his career if he would have raced another 10 years?
But because he had his priorities – family first, faith second and racing third – he didn’t want to make his late wife an early widow or have his kids grow up without a father. That is the ultimate sacrifice any father and husband can make.
And how can someone criticize the selection of Bill Elliott? NASCAR’s most popular driver for 15 straight seasons, a former champion and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. His spirit, competitiveness, positive outlook and being one of the best that’s ever been behind the wheel more than qualify him for induction.
Hopefully, the new inductees, their families and/or survivors will take the criticism of the honor that was bestowed upon them Wednesday with a grain of salt. No one will ever make everyone happy all of the time.
So to Bill, Rex and Fred, who are still with us, as well as the survivors of Joe, Wendell and Annie B, congratulations on the well-deserved honors. NASCAR today would not be as rich in spirit, color and popularity if it wasn’t for all of your individual and collective efforts.
Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for all that you did to make the sport a better place for drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, crew members, the media and fans.
And as for the critics who think they know the sport better and feel they can speak better as to who does or doesn’t deserve induction into the Hall of Fame:
With your narrow-mindedness and the short-sighted way you look at things, you may say you are a fan, but in reality, you don’t deserve to call yourself that because criticizing six individuals on perhaps the greatest day of their lives – to be recognized for all the good things they did for the sport – is not what real and true fans do.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
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