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How Difficult is it to get into the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

This weekend, the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will commence, and Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and Donnie Alison will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. This is the 14th class to be named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and that means the standards to get into the Hall of Fame have been pretty well set. As the NASCAR Hall of Fame ages, we’re asking the question: is it tough enough to make the Hall of Fame?

  • The NASCAR Hall of Fame was introduced in 2010. After this year’s Induction Ceremony, there will be 64 individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame.
  • NASCAR recently made a change to its Hall of Fame voting procedure in 2021. Instead of voting in 5 Hall of Famers, they decreased that number to three.
  • Fans in all sports love to debate who is or is not a Hall of Famer. It’s one of the most interesting debates in sports, and plenty of fans enjoy debating who will make their historic mark on the sport.

What Does it Take to Make the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

As we mentioned, NASCAR has decreased the size of its Hall of Fame classes every year from 5 to 3, which makes sense. The Hall of Fame is meant to be a very exclusive club where only the “Best of the Best” are honored for multiple different contributions to the sport.

However, most inductees are drivers, as 43 of the 64 inductees were inducted either primarily or largely because of their driving career. Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet has a database of over 3,300 drivers who have started a NASCAR race. Therefore, 43 driver inductees out of thousands of drivers to choose from seems pretty exclusive. In terms of specific accomplishments necessary, there are a few general guidelines to follow.

Cup Series Champions

First off, a Cup Series Championship is virtually a guarantee, and it may even jump some drivers ahead of others. The only HOF-eligible Cup Series Champion to not be in the Hall of Fame is Bill Rexford, who won the Championship in 1950, and he only won one career race. Cup Series Champions like Benny Parsons, Bobby Labonte, and Terry Labonte are all in the Hall of Fame despite drivers like Jim Paschal and Ricky Rudd having more wins.

This logic makes a lot of sense. Winning a Cup Series Championship is something only 36 Cup Series drivers have ever done, and, it’s virtually impossible to turn away a driver who was, at one time, officially crowned the best car driver in the sport. That’s not to say it is impossible to make it without a Championship.

Race Wins

For now, the rough cut-off for Cup Series wins to make the Hall of Fame is 25. Only 35 drivers have currently done that in the sport’s history, and the only Hall of Fame-eligible drivers left out in this case are Jim Paschal and Carl Edwards. Edwards, in particular, will probably get in eventually.

This makes sense because such an emphasis is put on drivers who win races week in and week out. It also allows drivers who either did not always race full-time or never won a Championship to get the recognition they deserve. Mark Martin and Junior Johnson are examples of this.

Roughly about 1% of NASCAR Cup Series drivers ever have accomplished one of both of these things. We just don’t see it because we spend so much time focusing on the best, but, it shows just how rare the accomplishments of these Hall of Famers are.

What About Contributors?

However, being a great driver is not the only route to making the Hall of Fame. Some get in for other contributions made to the sport. This includes crew chiefs, broadcasters, promoters, and car owners. However, very few of these contributors make it in.

Dale Inman, Leonard Wood, Ray Evernham, Waddell Wilson, and Chad Knaus are all in as crew chiefs, and each had long and stellar careers. Car owners like Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, and Roger Penske have deep ties to the sport, and have fielded many of the greatest teams in the sport’s history. Bill France Jr, Bill France Sr., and Bruton Smith are all in as promotors because of what they did to pioneer the sport and take it to new heights.

Even drivers have cases to make as contributors in some form or another. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart both own race teams along with some broadcasting experience. Buddy Baker had a long career as a broadcaster after driving despite only 19 wins. Wendell Scott was the first African American to win a race.

Still, less than half of the current inductees fall into one of these categories completely. That makes it that much tougher to make it as a contributor in some form.

What About Other Series?

One sticking point with some NASCAR fans is drivers from lower series making the Hall of Fame. However, that is an exceptionally rare case. No drivers are in there for success in the NASCAR Xfinity or Truck Series, but, 3 drivers are in there for success in the regional touring series.

Richie Evans and Jerry Cook combined for 14 NASCAR Modified Tour Championships. Red Farmer is also a Modified Series Champion, and nascarhall.com estimates that he has won over 700 total NASCAR races across the country.

These drivers represent the weekly series. Many drivers make full careers for themselves racing in these series, so, having the very best of that division recognized in the NASCAR Hall of Fame makes sense. However, with only three such members voted in, this is a very rare instance.

Conclusion

When stepping back to look at the accomplishments it usually takes to make the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s incredibly difficult to even get close to it. Looking at how few drivers and car owners have won multiple races and Championships, it shows that the Hall of Fame is truly about the best of the best.

Those who get in as contributors are rare but deserving candidates as well. Given the emphasis on drivers during most years, it makes it that much easier to keep it exclusive.

Is it tough enough? That is up for debate, but, it is exclusively for the “Best of the Best” for right now.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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