By JENNA FRYER
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR champion Dale Jarrett headlined the 25 nominees announced Wednesday for next year’s Hall of Fame class — a list that finally includes track magnate Bruton Smith.
Only five nominees are new to the list, with the other 20 carrying over from last year. Joining Jarrett and Smith as new nominees were engine builder Maurice Petty, five-time NASCAR weekly series national champion Larry Phillips and 1960 NASCAR champion Rex White. Five people will be selected for induction into the fifth Hall of Fame class in May 22 voting by a 54-member panel.
The panel will finally get to consider Smith, who many believed had been snubbed by not being among the nominees the last four years. He said Wednesday night from Texas Motor Speedway he never felt snubbed by not being a nominee.
“It did not bother me, but I got it from all kinds of people constantly, but I can honestly say it didn’t bother me,” Smith said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Naturally, I am honored that all of a sudden I’ve been nominated and I am a candidate, and all the people around me are telling me how wonderful it is, so it’s wonderful.”
Smith promoted his first race at 18 years old, and later ran the National Stock Car Racing Association, which was seen as an early competitor to NASCAR.
He built Charlotte Motor Speedway, the anchor property in a portfolio that now includes eight tracks hosting 12 Sprint Cup races, the All-Star race and several high-profile motorsports activities. Speedway Motorsports Inc. went public in 1995 and became the first motorsports company to be traded at the New York Stock Exchange. Smith’s Sonic Automotive includes several hundred auto dealerships across the country.
“We have a huge investment in NASCAR, in all of motorsports, it’s approaching $4 billion at least,” Smith said. “But I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do, we’ve spent a lot of money building this monster called SMI. And the one thing we talk about, the group of about six to 10 whenever we are about to do something large, ‘Is it good for the sport?’
“If we find out from some of our people that’s it’s not good for the sport, we don’t do it. We stress repeatedly to say we are fan friendly. And we work extremely hard to prove that.”
Jarrett was NASCAR’s 1999 champion and is 21st on the victory list with 32. Among those victories include three Daytona 500s, two Brickyard 400s and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Jarrett also won at least one race a year in 11 consecutive seasons from 1993 through 2003, and followed his father, Ned, into broadcasting after his 2008 retirement.
Ned and Dale Jarrett joined Hall of Famers Lee and Richard Petty as the second father-son combination to win NASCAR championships, and Jarrett will now try to join his father in the Hall of Fame. Ned Jarrett was in the second class.
Maurice Petty is trying to become the third Petty in the Hall of Fame. His brother, Richard, was a member of the inaugural class and father, Lee, was elected the next year. Dale Inman, his cousin, was also the first crew chief inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Maurice Petty will be judged on the seven championships won during his tenure as chief engine builder for Petty Enterprises. Known as “Chief,” he supplied the horsepower that propelled Richard Petty to most of his 200 NASCAR wins.
Phillips, meanwhile, was a five-time weekly champion but nobody knows for sure how many wins he collected. The Missouri native raced anywhere he could whenever he had the chance, and record keeping wasn’t always the priority.
He’s the only driver to win five NASCAR Weekly Series national championships, and did it during an 11-year span from 1989 through 1996. He won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned races during that time for a 76 percent winning percentage.
White won 28 races during his career, including the 1960 championship when he was the car owner and driver. His hallmark was consistency: He finished among the top five in nearly half of his 233 races.
He was considered a short-track specialist, with only two of his wins coming at tracks longer than a mile. White won six times during his 1960 championship season, and he had 35 top-10 finishes in 40 starts. He finished in the top 10 in the standings in six of his nine years in the series, and was runner-up in 1961.