Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series in which our experts offer their opinion on NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class.
The difficult task in selecting an inaugural hall of fame class in the 62nd year of a sport's existence is paying adequate tribute to the true immortals while at the same time not ignoring the greats.
NASCAR's Hall of Fame, which is expected to open its doors in Charlotte, N.C., in May of 2010, will ultimately include the likes of Darrell Waltrip, Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts. But do they deserve to be enshrined with the likes of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt?
NASCAR is still in discussion as to how the selection process will play out and who will ultimately make those selections, but that doesn't mean there aren't opinions abound regarding who should be in that first class.
Should it be a large class, incorporating any number of NASCAR greats? Should the class be a small one? Or should the inductees be enshrined chronologically, starting with Red Byron, NASCAR's first-ever champion?
Yahoo! Sports asked its experts for their opinions on how NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class should be chosen and who should be included. We also asked who should be inducted in the second class, and who of today's drivers will get in.
Over the next four days, you'll read each of our expert's opinions. We begin with Jay Hart:
It's been more than 70 years since baseball enshrined its first Hall of Fame class, yet still today the first things people see when they walk into the hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., are the plaques of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson – giants among giants who've become mythical figures in the time since.
NASCAR has its own giants among giants, figures who in their day stood out in a crowd no matter the company. If they rose above the rest in their own time, then they should be allowed to do so forever, which is why I believe the first class should be reserved for those who were the VIPs in a room full of VIPs.
For my money, there are only four who qualify for the VVIP room. Here are my picks:
THE FIRST CLASS
Bill France Sr.: There are dreamers and there are doers. "Big" Bill was a dreamer and a doer, a rare combination when considering the scale with which he did both. Just look at Daytona International Speedway. He had no business building a 2.5-mile, high-banked oval, but he saw the future, and instead of waiting for it to come to him, he went after it.
If it weren't for his sheer will, NASCAR most certainly would not have been set up for his son, Bill France Jr., to take it from a regional curiosity to a national phenomenon.
Bill France Jr.: When Bill Jr. took the reigns from his father in 1972, Bobby Allison was No. 1 on the money list with $349,939 in prize winnings. When Bill Jr. ceded control in 2000, Stacey Compton took home $1.069 million after finishing 38th in the points standings.
Money isn't everything, but it has a funny way of making people pay attention, and Bill Jr. got an entire nation to start paying attention to NASCAR.
Richard Petty: How do you know when you've reached icon status? You're recognizable by a simple silhouette. There's Michael Jordan flying through the air; Jerry West dribbling a basketball on the NBA logo; and the profile of Richard Petty donning his signature cowboy hat. Oh, and you're called "The King."
Dale Earnhardt: Legends have a way of being born out of tragedy, and that's certainly the case with Earnhardt, who's grown larger in death than he was in life, which, in this case, is saying something. Possessing a perfect blend of talent, grit, cockiness and likeability, Earnhardt was so cool diehard stick and ball fans had to take notice of NASCAR. And they did.
THE SECOND CLASS
Bobby Allison: 84 wins, including three Daytona 500s
Rick Hendrick: Seven championships, 167 wins as an owner
Junior Johnson: 50 wins as driver, 139 wins and six championships as an owner
David Pearson: 105 wins, 3-time champion
Lee Petty: 54 wins, 3-time champion, patriarch of Petty empire
Darrell Waltrip: 84 wins, 3-time champion
Cale Yarborough: Only driver to win three titles in a row.
TODAY'S DRIVERS WHO WILL GET IN
Jeff Gordon: No brainer.
Jimmie Johnson: Just getting warmed up.
Mark Martin: Second-best without a championship, behind Junior Johnson.
Tony Stewart: Resume is good enough already.
And… Kyle Busch: He's got a long way to go, but he'll get there.
There you have it, Certainly there are a lot of names not listed here. But I'm sure you'll remind me in your e-mails.
- Junior Johnson
- Dale Earnhardt