On Tuesday Morning, NASCAR takes another step towards the mainstream by joining the NFL, Major League Baseball, and other major sports by opening its Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte. Five men will be inducted on May 23rd, all in the pantheon of the sport’s greats, but it’s only the beginning. Ten years from now, I’m sure a lot more of the sport’s stars will be in, and more of its history will be on display. Hopefully, visitors will get a greater insight into the sport’s past. Here are some hopes for what we’ll see there during a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020.
Isn’t it incredible how moonshining, an illegal vocation, was largely the genesis of all of this: for a lot of the early guys, racing was a hobby and hauling white lightening was their job. How absurd does that seem now? Easy going outlaws hauling liquor to Greensboro, Charlotte, Atlanta, and all points in between amusing themselves competing on tracks cut out of fields owned by enterprising farmers? That turned into this? We all know about Junior Johnson, but there were a lot of those guys who learned to drive with a sleeve of liquor in the trunk. By 2020, hopefully NASCAR does a better job of embracing its early roots. The more closely NASCAR associates itself with its humble past, the more amazing NASCAR’s present becomes. Look at a picture of the old Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, and then look at a picture of Atlanta Motor Speedway, and you’ll see it. Just think of how far it’s come.
Speaking of the moonshiners, hopefully by 2020 we’ll see why teams are set up the way they are. There should be a picture of Raymond Parks next to Rick Hendrick: past and present multi-car owners. Parks fielded the best cars in the business, and his drivers were second to none. Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall were in his spectacular stable, as were Bob Flock and NASCAR’s first champion, Red Byron. Next to the pictures of Parks and Hendrick, there should be a picture of Chad Knaus and Red Vogt. Everyone knows Knaus, but what people may not know is that Vogt was his contemporary. Vogt wrenched on the cars that won for Raymond Parks, and helped build the special clutch for World War II veteran Byron to use with his wounded leg on the way to that first title in 1949.
The list of drivers who will be in the Hall of Fame by 2020 is long, and somewhat uncertain. Hopefully Byron will be in, along with Spartanburg, SC native David Pearson. When Pearson goes in and you read about him, hopefully fans will realize what a huge role Spartanburg played in the sport. David Pearson hailed from Sparkle City, as did Cotton Owens and Bud Moore. Buck Baker used to live on the east side of town and put his trophies in the window for people to see as they rode by, and the fairgrounds in Spartanburg used to host races. Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Herb Thomas, and Tim Flock all managed to win there. It’s gone now, but hopefully by 2020 the past will be a nice place to visit.
Once drivers are inducted in greater numbers, maybe more visitors to Daytona will know the guys who are on the names of the grandstands there. Everyone knows Dale Earnhardt, but hopefully when people sit in the Roberts stands they’ll remember Fireball- he was one of the sport’s first real superstars. Sports Illustrated called him the Babe Ruth of NASCAR in the 1960’s. Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner could have their exhibits side by side, as they usually were on the circuit together in the 60’s. Weatherly was a two time champion, and Turner may have been the most fearless driver ever to sit behind the wheel of a stock car, barreling the car nearly sideways on the red clay tracks that were common in his day.
When Tiny Lund goes in, hopefully people can learn how heroism can selflessness can offer its reward. After rescuing Marvin Panch from his burning car in 1963 at Daytona, he took over his ride and won the 1963 Daytona 500, along with the Carnegie Medallion for Heroism. Racing ultimately took his life, but his larger than life persona and presence (he was 6’6” and weighed 300 lbs.!) will always be memorable.
Kids will be able to visit the souvenir shop and get a stuffed Jocko Flocko monkey. Most people don’t know who Jocko is, but they will when Tim Flock is inducted. Jocko was a rhesus monkey who rode along with Flock for eight races in 1953. Tim Flock went on to win forty races and two championships, and is second only to Herb Thomas in wins per start. Flock won about once every five times he put on his helmet.
Someday, NASCAR needs to also pay homage to the people who worked in the sport and kept competitors in line. Ray Fox built winning race cars for years, including Junior Johnson’s 1960 Daytona 500 winner before going on to take up a career tearing cars apart as a NASCAR inspector. Elmo Langley drove the pace car from 1987 to 1996 for the Sprint Cup series before he passed away in Japan. Why was he there? He was set to pace NASCAR’s exhibition road race at Suzuka City. Selfishly, I’d also like to see my great uncle Joe Epton in the Hall someday. He was one of the original NASCAR officials from the day the sport was formed. He scored races all over the country from NASCAR’s birth until 1985. Along the way, he also helped maintain Daytona International Speedway, where my Aunt Juanita “Lightnin’” Epton works to this day. I’m proud of my family’s special tie to the sport’s beginnings and its present.
NASCAR has so many deserving future inductees and so many wonderful stories to tell. The Hall of Fame will be a tremendous sanctuary for fans to learn about the sport that has become much more of a lifestyle. In ten years time, there will be a whole new crop of deserving inductees that we may not have even thought of as the building opens in Charlotte. Hopefully, the Hall will give everyone a place to remember, laugh, sometimes cry, and most importantly learn about this sport we all love.