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Candidates with the Best Chance to Be in the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured Columnist IIOctober 10, 2016

Candidates with the Best Chance to Be in the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class

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    NASCAR Hall of Fame

    Ceremonies for the newest class of inductees into NASCAR's Hall of Fame are now less than four weeks away.

    On Jan. 28, Tim Flock, Jack Ingram, Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty and Fireball Roberts will become the fifth class to be inducted into the Hall in Charlotte, N.C.

    Less than a month later—on Feb. 21 in Daytona—the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee will announce the 25 names of candidates eligible to make up the five-man class for the sixth induction class in 2015.

    The actual vote for the class is May 21.

    Early last month, NASCAR announced several changes to the eligibility process, which will likely hasten the opportunity for at least one current driver, Mark Martin, to be immediately considered for the Class of 2015.

    So while we wait to congratulate the newest members of the Hall of Fame, let's look at five potential nominees who could soon take the final step to be chosen for the Class of 2015.

     

Wendell Scott

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    Photo courtesy of Hemmings.com

    Wendell Scott never won a NASCAR championship. Nor did he win more than one race in the sport's Grand National and Winston Cup series.

    But what Scott did will forever have an impact upon the sport, being the first African-American driver to become a full-time driver, competing from 1961-73. He also was one of the main reasons NASCAR established its Drive For Diversity program nearly a decade ago, to enhance opportunities for minorities and females in the sport as drivers, crew chiefs and crew members.

    Scott's induction would be poignant and timely, as two of the graduates of the Drive For Diversity program will likely make some significant news in 2014.

    First, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace became the first African-American driver to capture a race on NASCAR's three major series since Scott won in 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., winning the Camping World Trucks Series race this past October at Martinsville Speedway.

    Second, Kyle Larson, another D4D graduate, will become the first driver of Asian-American heritage to become a full-time competitor on the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, taking over driving duties in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.

    Scott won more than 100 races in his career at short tracks throughout the south and southeast. He also made nearly 500 career starts in NASCAR's Grand National and Winston Cup series, earning 20 top-five finishes and 147 top-10 showings (more than 25 percent of the races he started).

    It's not so much what Wendell Scott did behind the wheel that makes him a worthy Hall of Fame inductee, but rather the trail he blazed for future drivers and generations.

    His induction is long overdue.

O. Bruton Smith

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    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    The chairman and executive director of Speedway Motorsports Inc., Bruton Smith has helped grow the sport in numerous ways through the eight SMI tracks that host Sprint Cup events, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

    Never short of an opinion—even if it results in controversy—Smith has at times been a thorn in NASCAR's side over the years. But at the same time, he's been a proponent for growth and changes in the sport to make it jump from primarily a Southeast-based regional series to a true nationwide racing series.

    He took SMI public in 1995, making it the first motorsports company to be traded on a major stock market, in this case, the New York Stock Exchange. He's also championed one of the sport's biggest charitable groups, Speedway Children's Charities.

Benny Parsons

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    The late Benny Parsons talking with Jeff Gordon in 2006.
    The late Benny Parsons talking with Jeff Gordon in 2006.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Benny Parsons was a driver's driver throughout his career. He not only was a fierce competitor, but in contrast he was also one of the most gentlemanly drivers on the circuit.

    Parsons won the 1973 Winston Cup championship, was the first driver to qualify a stock car more than 200 mph (Talladega in 1982), and won 21 races and earned 20 career poles. His most notable win was the 1975 Daytona 500.

    But Parsons also went on to great success and notoriety in his post-racing career as a broadcaster, becoming a beloved grandfather type who always seemed to have a smile on his face and handled interviews with aplomb and grace.

    One thing that potentially could be on the minds of members of the selection committee—and it would be quite fitting, indeed—is that NBC returns to televise NASCAR races in 2015.

    What better way to honor Parsons, who spent so many great years behind the mic for NBC, and welcome NBC back into the TV fold than to see one of its most lovable announcers ever receive the sport's highest honor.

H. Clay Earles

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    Courtesy of Martinsville Speedway

    The induction of Clay Earles (the way he preferred to be called) is also long overdue. He was one of the pioneers of NASCAR racing, building and opening Martinsville Speedway in southern Virginia in 1947, and then saw his track play host to the sport longer than any other track, from 1949 to the present day.

    Plus, Martinsville holds a rather unique distinction that separates it from other short tracks in Sprint Cup such as Bristol and Richmond, being the only short track to host a Chase for the Sprint Cup race in each of the first 10 years of the playoffs' existence.

    Martinsville Speedway harkens back to a time of old school racing, where racing was the most important thing, not money or sponsorships or the like.

    The now-deceased Earles was succeeded as Martinsville Speedway's president by grandson Clay Campbell (named appropriately enough for his grandfather), who has carried on the tradition and legacy that Earles built.

Ralph Seagraves

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    Courtesy NASCAR Hall of Fame

    Another nominee that is long overdue for selection to the NASCAR Hall of Fame is the late Ralph Seagraves.

    For had it not been for Seagraves and the pioneering title rights R.J. Reynolds' Winston Cup sponsorship of NASCAR for 33 years, it's likely the sport would never have reached the heights it has in its 65 years of operation.

    Seagraves met with legendary driver and team owner—and charter Hall of Fame inductee—Junior Johnson in 1970, and the rest is history. Johnson was seeking a company that would help fund the sport's growth, and coincidentally, Seagraves was looking for a sport that would help grow R.J. Reynolds' Winston cigarette brand.

    The marriage was consummated when the Winston Cup Series succeeded the Grand National Series in 1972, with Richard Petty becoming the first Winston Cup champion at season's end. It also laid the groundwork for hundreds of millions—if not billions—of corporate sponsorships of teams that followed and continues to today.

    R.J. Reynolds/Winston money not only brought about significantly larger race earnings, it also helped NASCAR bring about numerous upgrades to its tracks and safety to its cars and drivers.

    If it wasn't for what R.J. Reynolds and countless sponsors brought to the sport to pay for the high cost of racing, NASCAR likely would never have grown to the mighty sports titan it is today. And for that, the sanctioning body and sport owe a big debt of gratitude to Ralph Seagraves.

    Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

    Catch me on "The BackStretch" this Sunday (Noon to 3 p.m. ET) on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Channel 90. Better yet, call in at 1-866-PIT-LANE (866-748-5263).

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