On May 20, 2015, five deserving individuals were announced as the members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016. The group included O. Bruton Smith, Terry Labonte, Curtis Turner, Jerry Cook and Bobby Isaac. They will be officially inducted into the Hall on Friday, January 22, 2016.
The new class was selected from a list of 20 worthy nominees, but now that we know who will make up the Class of 2016, it’s not too early to look at our picks for the Class of 2017. Okay, maybe it is a little early; the Nominating Committee hasn’t even selected the five new nominees who will join the 15 holdovers. Regardless, I won’t let this small inconvenience bother me; therefore, my five picks will come from among the 15 current nominees that were not selected as part of the Class of 2016. I’m not even going to try to guess who the new five nominees will be (they’ll be announced next February).
With that said, below are my predictions for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017. We’ll have to wait until May 2016 to see how accurate they are … and I hold the right to change my picks once the new nominees are announced.
Red Byron accomplished a lot of firsts in NASCAR: won NASCAR’s first race in 1948, won NASCAR’s first championship – the NASCAR Modified Division – in 1948, and won the first title in what is known today as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1949. He won two races in NASCAR’s premier series, both in his championship-winning season, when there were only eight races on the schedule. What made his accomplishments even more noteworthy was that he drove with a brace on his left leg, as a result of being wounded in WWII, which attached the leg to the clutch pedal.
Some voters may leave Rick Hendrick’s name off their ballots because he’s still an active owner, and his team continues to set records and rack up victories. But, as the founder and owner of Hendrick Motorsports, his organization owns an all-time record 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner championship titles – six with Jimmie Johnson, four with Jeff Gordon and one with Terry Labonte. His first race win in NASCAR’s premier series came in April 1984 with Geoff Bodine. Since then, his drivers have notched 235 wins.
Benny Parsons is one of those rare talents who remained popular long after his driving days were over, having made a successful transition from the race car to the TV booth. In just 526 starts in NASCAR’s premier series, Parsons visited Victory Lane 21 times, including the 1975 Daytona 500. What’s even more impressive than the number of victories is his top-10 finishes – 283 of them, which is an amazing 54 percent. Fans of speed will always remember him as the first race car driver to qualify a stock car at more than 200 mph (200.179), which he did in 1982 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Mike Stefanik is no stranger to Victory Lane or championships. He made 52 starts between the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series; however, Stefanik made a name for himself in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He’s tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans as the only two drivers in NASCAR history to have won nine national titles. Two of those are in the K&N Pro Series, while the rest are in the Whelen Modifieds, where he also holds all-time series records in wins, poles, top fives and top 10s.
Just like Benny Parsons, Robert Yates was known for more than one thing – building first-rate engines and team ownership. He worked for legendary car owners John Holman, Ralph Moody (both of Holman-Moody Racing fame) and Junior Johnson, as well as built engines for NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough. It was one of Yates’ engines that powered Allison to the NASCAR premier series championship in 1983. Yates started his own team in 1989, and for the next 19 years his drivers were frequent visitors to Victory Lane, winning 57 times, including the 1999 NASCAR premier series title and three Daytona 500 wins.
By John F., writer for Lionel Racing