When I heard that the late Richie Evans had been inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s third class, I couldn’t help but think back to the batting cage scene early in “Bull Durham.”
Baseball maven Annie Savoy was the only person in town (or anywhere else, for that matter) who seemed to know that Crash Davis was only 20 homers away from setting the minor league home run mark and was so excited she wanted to call “The Sporting News.”
Crash was less enthusiastic, noting that “247 home runs in the minors would be a dubious honor, if ya think about it.”
Now, there’s nothing dubious about Evans’ estimated 475 wins in modified action or nine championships (eight consecutive from 1978-85, before his death at Martinsville). He definitely should be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame someday.
Just not now.
We’re populating a Hall of Fame 60 years after the formation of the sport. There’s a lot of catching up to do. How in the world, with all the folks we have to shoehorn in here, do we have room to induct a career minor leaguer in the third class?
To refer to him as a minor leaguer is not to disparage him or modified racing. But the bare facts are that A) he did not win at the highest level of NASCAR at the time that he raced, like a Fireball Roberts or Benny Parsons, and B) his success in modified racing did not lead to the sport growing appreciably (as opposed to contributors like Raymond Parks and T. Wayne Robertson, whose work can be directly linked to NASCAR’s success). If we were racing modified cars instead of trucks on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons because his presence had helped modified racing leapfrog into a third national series, then there’d be an argument. But that didn’t happen.
I’d be interested in knowing how much lobbying for Evans came from the executives in the room. NASCAR is always trying to grow while sustaining its grassroots image. For the suits Evans’ induction is at least a short-term marketing win, so it’s fair to ask if his push was completely motivated by merit.
In a few years, after the Hall of Fame is established, NASCAR can create a separate category to induct the likes of Evans or sportsman ace Jack Ingram.
But right now, with only one route to induction, it can only be about the best of the best.
And NASCAR’s Hall of Fame voters inducted its Crash Davis. It’s a feel-good story, for sure.
It’s just not right.