Monday, January 15, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Motorsports Doesn't Need Halls of Fame

Dan Gurney died. I was sick all weekend (still am) and missed the entire Dubai 24 Hour. I also missed the Chili Bowl. I caught the Formula E race taped and Felix Rosenqvist won the race after an aggressive pass on Sébastien Buemi. Nick Heidfeld has made 222 single-seater starts since his most recent single-seater victory. Dave Despain retired. Sébastien Loeb got knocked out of the Dakar Rally. Away from the racetrack, Harding Racing confirmed full-time participation with Gabby Chaves. The 24 Hours of Le Mans needs a new U.S. broadcaster. Haas F1 still thinks there isn't an American capable of racing in Formula One. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Motorsports Doesn't Need Halls of Fame
This Friday night will see five more members inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and there couldn't be a bigger waste of a Friday night.

Halls of Fame are common in North America with each sport having its own. There is baseball's shrine in Cooperstown. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio. The Basketball Hall of Fame is in the city where the game was created in Springfield, Massachusetts and, of course, the Hockey Hall of Fame is north of the border in Toronto, Ontario.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame opened in 2010 but it wasn't the first major motorsports hall of fame in the United States. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum houses the Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Bill France, Sr., opened the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 outside Talladega Superspeedway but the last induction class there was in 2013. The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America moved from Detroit, Michigan to Daytona Beach, Florida in 2017. More in line with the NASCAR Hall of Fame, there are the specific discipline halls of fame such as the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum in Knoxville, Iowa. Long Beach has a walk of fame.

There are two problems. There are too many halls of fame and entry is predictable.

Looking at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, currently the only non-active Cup champions not in the hall of fame are Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Alan Kulwicki and Bill Rexford and of the six active champions and six champions above the only one likely not to make it to the hall of fame will be Rexford. Rexford won one race during his career. He will be the outlier.

Outside of Rexford, they are all getting in. Kulwicki is the one you could argue against but people are suckers for a story and the owner-driver champion with a fraction of the budget is eventually going to be honored. The issue with the NASCAR Hall of Fame is it includes every NASCAR-sanctioned series. Not a bad thing but anyone thinking Martin Truex, Jr., won't be a hall of famer is going to be proven wrong. He has two Grand National Series champions. He is one of five drivers to win a title in the top two divisions. He is in whether you like it or not.

If all it takes is winning a Cup championship to get in then what is the point? We don't need a hall of fame to honor those drivers. They are already honored each time they are introduced as a past champion. Their names are forever in the record book. Fifty years from now when 12 years old catch the bug and want to learn more the names, Joe Weatherly, David Pearson, Benny Parsons, Rusty Wallace and Jimmie Johnson are always going to be there.

The same goes for any other form of motorsports. Do you think Alexander Rossi will need a hall of fame induction 40 years from now to cement his career? No. He won the Indianapolis 500. His face is on Borg-Warner Trophy. Will Lewis Hamilton need a 3-hour ceremony when he is 50 years old to confirm his greatness? Hell no.

I also think we are bound to put everybody in halls of fame. People are too nice and eventually we will get to a point where voters will think everyone deserves a place in the sun. Voters will be too scared to say someone isn't good enough. Jeff Burton is a nice guy but 21 Cup victories, four top-five championship finishes and eighth top-ten championship finishes in 22 seasons can't be good enough for the hall of fame. A line need to be drawn somewhere. Harry Gant is in a similar spot. Winning all four races in September 1991 at the age of 51 is a great achievement but not enough to be considered one of the best all-time. Nobody steps on toes anymore and soon everyone who won more than ten Cup races will get in. Hell, even Bill Rexford will likely be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame because he will be the one champion on the outside and voters will get soft and think every champion should be in.

Quick sidebar on the NASCAR Hall of Fame, is there a more confusing hall of fame? Think about it. This year's class is Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday, Jr., Ken Squier and Robert Yates; two car owners, the first Cup champion, a Truck series champion and a broadcaster. How are all five of these individuals on the same ballot? They all contributed to the series but broadcasters contribute to all sports and you didn't have Vin Scully on the same ballot at Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson in 1982, the year the Baseball Hall of Fame awarded Scully with the Ford C. Frick Award. Heck, winning the Ford C. Frick Award doesn't mean you are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, meaning all those great voices aren't hall of famers.

How can Byron be in the same conversation as Bobby Labonte or Davey Allison? How can you compare the contributions of Squier to Ricky Rudd and Ray Fox? How do you decide between Hornaday and Joe Gibbs?

NASCAR needs to break up the ballot a bit. There should be a pre-modern-era committee to honor drivers who raced predominantly in NASCAR prior to 1972. Then there should be an owners committee, a crew chief/pit crew committee and there should be a separate committee for broadcasters and promoters. There should also be separate committees for the Grand National Series (the Xfinity Series are you boys and girls), Truck series, modifieds and regional series.

With everyone being lumped into the same ballot there are plenty of key NASCAR figures that are either never going to get into the hall of fame or won't be honored until 20 years after they died. With the amount of clutter the likes of Smokey Yunick (who wasn't even on the ballot for this class), Humpy Wheeler, Jack Ingram, Sam Ard and Doug Coby, who has won four consecutive modified championships and five of the last six championships, may never get in.

I am all for museums and providing a place for people to go and look at a collection of historical artifacts and learn about the past whether it is NASCAR, IndyCar or motorsports in general but creating a distinct honor for those who are already seen as the best is excessive. We know who the best are and we know those who were respectable but not quite of the legendary status. A building, plaque and televised ceremony shouldn't change a thing.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Felix Rosenqvist but did you know...

Christopher Bell won the Chili Bowl for a second consecutive year.

The #2 Black Falcon Mercedes of Yelmer Buurman, Abdulaziz al Faisal, Hubert Haupt and Gabriele Piana won the Dubai 24 Hour.

Dakar Rally Update (Through Stage Eight):
Bikes: Adrien Van Beveren leads Kevin Benavides by 22 seconds.
Quads: Ignacio Casale leads Jeremias González Ferioli by one hour, 45 minutes and 20 seconds.
Cars: Carlos Sainz leads Nasser Al-Attiyah by one hour, six minutes and 37 seconds.
Trucks: Eduard Nikolaev leads Federico Villagra by 46 minutes and 25 seconds.
UTVs: Reinaldo Varela leads Juan Uribe Ramos by one hour, 34 minutes and 31 seconds.

Jason Anderson won the Supercross race at Houston.

The #7 Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota Oreca-Nissan of Jazman Jaafar, Weiron Tan and Afiq Yazid won the 4 Hours of Buriram. The #18 KCMG Ligier-Nissan of Josh Burdon, Louis Prette and Neric Wei won in LMP3. The #91 FIST-Team AAI BMW of Chaz Mostert, Jesse Krohn and Jun-San Chen won in GT.

Richard Verschoor and Marcus Armstrong were the two winners at the Toyota Racing Series season opener from Ruapuna Park with Armstrong winning the second and third races of the weekend.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg and Benoît Tréluyer split the Andros Trophy races from Isola 2000.

Coming Up This Weekend
Supercross returns to California and San Diego.
The Dakar Rally concludes in Argentina.
Second round of the Toyota Racing Series will be at Teretonga Park.