After six years of voting for USA TODAY Sports, Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative. Ryan is one of 59 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans). His ballot for the seventh class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding six years):
1. Curtis Turner: Often called the “Babe Ruth of NASCAR,” he is one of the sport’s most colorful characters and hard-charging drivers. Turner drove in the first race in NASCAR’s premier series in 1949 and earned his first victory three starts later. He is the only driver in Sprint Cup history to score two consecutive victories by leading every lap from the pole. The Floyd, Va., native’s career suffered after being banned by Bill France for four years for trying to organize a union. He died at 46 in a 1970 plane crash.
2. O. Bruton Smith: Perhaps the most influential and pioneering track owner and promoter in stock-car history, Smith, 88, built Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959, and the Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman and CEO remains highly involved in NASCAR almost a half-century later. In 1995, SMI was the first motorsports company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and it owns eight tracks that play host to 12 Sprint Cup races – Charlotte, Texas Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.
3. Rick Hendrick: The most successful team owner in NASCAR history has a record 11 Sprint Cup championships, most recently with Jimmie Johnson last season. Hendrick, 65, has compiled 219 victories over 30 years with a diverse driver lineup that includes Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Tim Richmond, Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. Hendrick Motorsports’ sprawling 12-building campus sits on 140 acres in Charlotte, N.C., and is the industry standard.
4. Ray Evernham: Voted the greatest crew chief of all time in a 2006 media poll, the impact of Evernham, 57, transcends his sterling statistics. He won three championships with Jeff Gordon during a virtually unbeatable stretch of 1995-98 while introducing innovations in car building, pit crews and strategies that still are used today. His legacy remains visible through the many careers he shaped as a team leader and car owner: The past two championships have been won by crew chiefs (Chad Knaus and Rodney Childers) who spent time in Evernham’s tutelage.
5. Bobby Isaac: The tenacious native of Catawba, N.C., scored 37 victories in NASCAR’s premier series – more than any other Hall of Fame candidate this year than Mark Martin – including 11 wins during his 1970 championship season. Named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998, he holds the single-season record for pole positions (19 in 1969) and also took on the commendable task of teaching himself to read while driving in the big leagues. He died at 45 in 1977.
Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:
2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.
2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty
2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner
2013: Fireball Roberts, Tuner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock
2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly
2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick