NASCAR Hall shows we're all one big (mostly) happy family

Many NASCAR fans bristle when you compare NASCAR to other sports, but here's one time where it's instructive and necessary. Football is an autocracy which you're permitted to observe as long as you behave. Basketball is a street party where the loudest get the most play. Baseball is a slow summer afternoon.

And NASCAR? Well, NASCAR is a Thanksgiving dinner where the whole family's around the table, loves and spats and gripes and all.

That theme -- NASCAR as family -- was the constant refrain of Sunday's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. All of the inductees -- Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Dale Earnhardt -- had a cross-generational influence, shaping NASCAR in ways that continue to today.

The Frances had the vision, and the drivers had the brass ones to put that vision in motion. And as speaker after speaker demonstrated on Sunday, all of NASCAR -- owners, tracks, drivers, crew, fans -- is part of a greater whole.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the speakers' recollections of the honorees. Kyle Petty praised his father Richard as both a legend and a father: "He is a fan, first and foremost," Petty said. "Bringing that passion to this sport has made him the legend that he is. Today he goes into the Hall of Fame as Richard Petty the race car driver, but for us, he'll always be the man that we call 'Daddy' and the man that we love."

But blood doesn't always mean mercy, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in his recollections of his father. "We were in Japan racing," he said. "I was racing for the first time against the Cup competitors and my father. It was late in the race. I got some new tires—only had a few laps to make those tires work for me. I got up underneath him in Turns 3 and 4, and I just needed two inches to clear him.

"I didn't have him cleared. I slid across his nose, up to the wall. He carried me all the way down the front straightaway with my back tires in the air all the way into (Turn) 1. That was the day I met the Intimidator."

But even with Earnhardt gone nearly a decade, there were tears. "Some call him legend," his wife Teresa said. "Some call him hero. Some simply call him dad. Or son. Or to me, he was the love of my life."

Bottom line, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is off to an outstanding start. "It made me proud to be a driver," said Darrell Waltrip, a guy who might just be inducted as early as next year. "It makes me even prouder just to be a part of the community – the NASCAR community. We have come so far and done so much, and this Hall is just indicative of the growth of this sport and how it has changed through the years."

So, yes, we're all part of one big family. Just make sure you never show up to dinner -- or the track -- emptyhanded.