Friday, October 15, 2010

COMMENTARY: The Sad Sniping Continues

It’s now been almost 48 hours since the 2011 Class of the NASCAR Hall Of Fame was announced, and the sniping continues unabated. Rather than celebrate the five honorable men chosen for induction to the Hall next May, many are now busying themselves by second-guessing the process and criticizing the chosen and the choosers.

There’s a distasteful new game in town called “My Guy Is Better Than Your Guy,” and’s Tom Bowles dug the hole a bit deeper today in an article entitled, “HOF Voters Should Put Personal Feelings Aside In Choosing Inductees.” In that article, he wrote, “Shockingly, for a second straight year, they missed the mark with this year's class, politics trumping professionalism on a list that perplexes even the casual observer. No one's going to argue with David Pearson, …(and) Lee Petty… also deserved to make the cut. But the other three selections, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and Bobby Allison, raise some interesting questions on just how these selections should be made.”

Bowles implied that Jarrett, Moore and Allison were somehow not deserving of inclusion in the 2011 Class, saying the reason for their selection was “personal attachment.”

“Half the voting room (was) close friends with Jarrett, a man who doesn't have a mean bone in his body,” wrote Bowles. “Whoever said `nice guys finish last’ obviously didn't sit in a Hall of Fame discussion where the `personality’ quotient shouldn't be quantified, but inevitably becomes the `X’ factor."

Bowles wrote that Moore had “one advantage in the voting room we can't ignore: half those men owe their NASCAR careers to a man who handpicked them for future stardom. It's an admirable quality, yet just because someone's your mentor doesn't automatically make him one of the 10 most influential NASCAR personnel of all-time.”

Bowles clearly would prefer a analytical, statistics-based selection process; eliminating any consideration of off-track accomplishment, charisma or personality in favor of a strict course in mathematics. In his world, the man with 50 career wins gets in before the man with 49, no matter what other contributions they may have made to the sport. In his world, the only difference between Barry Bonds and Henry Aaron is seven home runs, with no mention of how they got there.

In today’s column, Bowles called a brief ceasefire in his attack on the voting panel to cite Allison’s “lifetime of tragedy you wouldn't wish on anyone” as a reason for voting him into the Hall. Apparently, sentiment is allowed into the process, after all. But only if it suits your personal needs.

Bowles accused the voting panel of putting personal feelings and petty grudges ahead of the best interest of the sport, saying they penalized Waltrip “for simply opening his mouth and speaking his mind one too many times.” He also accused voters of ignoring Yarborough because of his support of the ill-fated TRAC series decades ago. Conveniently, however, he declines to identify any of the voters he believes to be guilty of such skullduggery.

For the record, this year’s 52-member voting panel was an extremely eclectic group. It was comprised of 14 media members, 11 current or former track owners, eight NASCAR representatives, three manufacturer representatives, 10 retired drivers, car owners and/or crewchiefs, four industry reps and two executives from the Hall of Fame. The 53rd ballot was cast according to a fan vote. That panel sequestered itself for more than two hours Wednesday debating their final selection, and according to many who were there, there were numerous turns of sentiment throughout the day. That doesn’t sound like a group that walked in with its collective mind made up due to a decades-old vendetta, does it? And yet, that’s what Bowles (and others in the NASCAR community) would have you believe.

“Voting with your heart is a dangerous game,” wrote Bowles, “an ugly habit setting precedent for years down the road when the choices won't be quite so much of a slam dunk.” Thankfully, just the opposite is true.

Richard Petty was a slam-dunk selection to the NASCAR Hall Of Fame. But even his spot in the Hall is owning to equal measures of statistics and sentiment. There’s what he did in the sport – 200 career wins and seven championships – and there’s what he did for the sport, signing thousands of post-race autographs each weekend in dusty pit areas across the south in an effort to say “thank you” to the fans.

Men like Petty, Bud Moore and Ned Jarrett are not defined by a spreadsheet of their wins and losses. NASCAR is the same way. Like Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and the others on this week’s 25-man list of nominees, NASCAR is more than mere numbers on a page. It is people; people with hearts, souls and feelings that must surely be hurt by the childish and petty bickering of men who should know better.

NASCAR is nothing without its heart. Someday, the naysayers and conspiracy theorists of this world may finally come to understand that fact.

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