Critics show little class in second-guessing those chosen for NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015

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It wasn’t more than a few minutes after the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 was announced Wednesday before critics started questioning the six individuals chosen for induction.

On a day that should be joyous for the inductees and the sport as a whole, honoring five men and one woman who did or meant so much for the sport, several callous and narrow-minded individuals had to go and spoil it.

Frankly, some of the tweets I read or emails I received were downright ugly – and so undeserving to those who were honored Wednesday.

Several pointed towards Wendell Scott being inducted solely based upon his race.

Others complained about Fred Lorenzen, who has put on a valiant battle with dementia for the last several years but is still with us, but supposedly didn’t have the statistics to warrant HoF induction.

Others questioned why two of the sport’s pioneers – namely 84-year-old Rex White and Joe Weatherly – were chosen.

I even saw a few tweets that Bill Elliott, who was a near-unanimous (87 percent) selection by the HoF voting panel, should have been passed by.

Come on, people, your cynicism and downright prejudice are an embarrassment to NASCAR fans everywhere. You should be ashamed of yourself. How can you call yourself a real and true NASCAR fan? At a time when the sport and its fans should be rejoicing the induction of five more-than-worthy inductees, an extremely small minority of so-called “fans” take it upon themselves to tell the 50-plus-member voting panel that they got it wrong.

That’s right, fans – and I use that word very loosely – think they know the sport and the accomplishments of those chosen Wednesday better than members of the voting panel who probably have a collective tenure of well over 1,000 years in the sport between themselves.

Every one of the five drivers, plus the late wife of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was more than deserving of selection because each marked a key point in time or accomplishment in the sport’s lengthy and colorful history.

If Wendell Scott was chosen because of his race, so what? Scott was a trailblazer, a pioneer and someone that was a hero to many people, particularly African-American fans and other minorities. No one should have had to endure some of the terrible things he had to during his career simply because of the color of his skin.

And yet the critics and those opposed to Scott’s honor have the audacity to say with a straight face that he doesn’t deserve induction simply because he was different than you or me?

And the 77-year-old Lorenzen, who I interviewed late last year (he has days of great clarity and lucidity still), was arguably one of the most brilliant minds of his era when it came to promoting and building the NASCAR brand. Not to mention that he was a winning driver.

Yet you critics can capriciously say he doesn’t deserve induction, even though he’s still alive and with us and will be able to share in one of the greatest moments of his life despite the condition he’s battled in recent years?

Again, shame on you. Obviously you don’t understand what a Hall of Fame is for and about, nor do you understand why certain individuals are chosen.

Being picked for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is not about who won the most races or who won the most championships. It’s not about who had the best overall stats, whatsoever.

Rather, it’s about unique individuals who despite oftentimes long odds managed to persevere and succeed. It’s about individuals whose contributions helped shape the sport and made it what it is today.

Rex White and Joe Weatherly easily fall into the pioneer category for the sport. If they never raced in NASCAR, the sport may never have gained some of the popularity it did while they were behind the wheel.

Ditto for Lorenzen. His nickname of “Hollywood” told the tale of a flashy driver, one of NASCAR’s first real and true stars, a guy with the good looks of a Hollywood leading man. But Fast Freddy was also someone who had a huge fan base at his zenith, only to walk away from the sport at the all-too-young age of 33 so he could devote his life to his family.

Who knows how many championships and additional wins Lorenzen would have earned in his career if he would have raced another 10 years?

But because he had his priorities – family first, faith second and racing third – he didn’t want to make his late wife an early widow or have his kids grow up without a father. That is the ultimate sacrifice any father and husband can make.

And how can someone criticize the selection of Bill Elliott? NASCAR’s most popular driver for 15 straight seasons, a former champion and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. His spirit, competitiveness, positive outlook and being one of the best that’s ever been behind the wheel more than qualify him for induction.

Hopefully, the new inductees, their families and/or survivors will take the criticism of the honor that was bestowed upon them Wednesday with a grain of salt. No one will ever make everyone happy all of the time.

So to Bill, Rex and Fred, who are still with us, as well as the survivors of Joe, Wendell and Annie B, congratulations on the well-deserved honors. NASCAR today would not be as rich in spirit, color and popularity if it wasn’t for all of your individual and collective efforts.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for all that you did to make the sport a better place for drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, crew members, the media and fans.

And as for the critics who think they know the sport better and feel they can speak better as to who does or doesn’t deserve induction into the Hall of Fame:

With your narrow-mindedness and the short-sighted way you look at things, you may say you are a fan, but in reality, you don’t deserve to call yourself that because criticizing six individuals on perhaps the greatest day of their lives – to be recognized for all the good things they did for the sport – is not what real and true fans do.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.