I like the idea of voting a younger candidate into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But because they are relatively young, and relatively energetic, there are risks. Rusty Wallace’s 2013 induction speech, for example, just ended. Another risk is that old-timers are penalized.
By any standard, however, Bill Elliott, 58, is worthy. Elliott won the 1988 Winston Cup championship, he won 44 races and he 16 times was voted the sport’s most popular driver. If fans like you more than every other driver in 16 different years, you’re worthy.
Elliott also won the Winston Million. A driver with victories in three of the big four races – Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Darlington – collected a $1 million bonus. The first year of the program was 1985, and Elliott won Daytona, Talladega and Darlington. Nobody won the Winston Million again until Jeff Gordon in 1987.
Elliott became Million Dollar Bill that year. At 4 p.m. Wednesday he almost certainly will become a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
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Here are four others I’d like to see join Elliott.
Scott won only one race in NASCAR’s major series. He has more detractors than victories, and the detractors have a case. How do you vote for a driver who won only one major race? What did Scott, an African-American, go through to win that race? What’s it like to be perpetually on the outside? He was never voted the sport’s most popular driver. Scott raced 13 years. While some would love to have run him out of the sport, he ran 495 races. He had 20 top five finishes and 147 top 10s.
Weatherly won two championships and one most popular driver award. He’d still be popular with fans. Sponsors might be more challenging. Weatherly once ran practice laps dressed like Peter Pan. In 1962 he entered 52 races and finished in the top five 39 times and in the top 10 45 times. Before that he starred in NASCAR’s modified division, winning 101 races, and in the convertile division, winning 12.
Turner was one of the sport’s best, smoothest and most dazzling drivers, and some still consider him the best of all time. Older race fans talk about Turner the way older boxing fans talk about Joe Louis. Turner won 17 races, was the first driver to climb Pike’s Peak in fewer than 15 minutes and tried to organize a driver’s union. NASCAR didn’t like that, and banned him for life. He was out four years. He was a force behind the conception and construction of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Lorenzen came from a Chicago suburb to NASCAR in the 1950s. Southerners liked him anyway. Lorenzen had looks, personality and a nickname, Fearless Freddie. He was the first driver to win more than $100,000 in a season. And he essentially was part time, never running more than 29 races in a season. In 1964 he entered 16 races and won eight.