Wallace should win contributions award; Hamlin should be enshrined
We’ll get to Denny Hamlin’s latest victory and his arc toward the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but first let’s look at another honor and who deserves it.
The honor is the Myers Brothers Award, established in 1958 and conferred every year during the ceremonies surrounding NASCAR’s season-ending awards banquet.
Voted on by members of the National Motorsports Press Association, the award recognizes an individual, group or organization that has made “outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing.”
The 2020 winner should be Darrell “Bubba” Wallace.
The only African American driver competing in NASCAR’s elite Cup Series, Wallace has been at the center of this year’s swirl of events regarding racism and justice.
He has provided a muchneeded voice, anchored in his own experience, for fans and participants of color. And he has been bold and gracious.
Understanding the urgency of the awakening much of America is experiencing, Wallace stepped forward and called on his sport to change. It was Wallace who underscored the obvious when he said NASCAR should ban from its events the Confederate flag, an unmistakable “you’re not welcome” sign to so many.
NASCAR responded with an announcement that flag is no longer allowed at its events and properties,
signaling that the sport is serious about moving forward.
Five years ago, NASCAR requested that fans no longer fly the divisive symbol, even offering an exchange of an American flag for those who would turn in their Confederate flag. The request and the offer were ignored by many.
By stepping into the breach and making clear what the symbol meant to him, Wallace helped NASCAR take the assertive step it needed to declare itself a sport for all.
Before all that, before the killing of George Floyd and the protests that erupted in the aftermath, NASCAR was in the news for another controversial moment grounded in racist behavior. Kyle Larson, an enormously talented young driver, used the nword during an iRacing event.
In short order, Larson lost his major sponsors, was fired by his Cup Series team and barred from participation by NASCAR. He could return, NASCAR said, only if he underwent sensitivity training.
In this instance, Wallace showed compassion. Though hearing the word was painful, he said, he accepted an apology from Larson as sincere, and he offered to help his fellow driver make his way back to NASCAR racing.
In a way no one else in the sport could, Wallace has swung the door open for Larson’s eventual return.
Forthright when NASCAR needed a strong voice to ring out, gracious when a competitor’s NASCAR career hung in the balance, Wallace has admirably fulfilled the Myers Brothers Award criterion of “outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing.”
The Myers honor was established to honor the memory of racing brothers Bobby and Billy. Bobby was killed in a crash in the 1957 Southern 500. Billy died of a heart attack suffered during a race at North Carolina’s Bowman Gray Stadium in 1958.
Bobby Myers’ son, Danny “Chocolate” Myers, was a longtime crew member for car owner Richard Childress’ team that won multiple Cup Series championships with Dale Earnhardt driving.
The Virginia-based winners of the award are:
♦ Team-owning brothers Glen and Leonard Wood in 1968 and again in 1973;
♦ Martinsville Speedway owner H. Clay Earles in 1974;
♦ Richmond International Raceway in 1988 — the year Paul Sawyer oversaw the track’s change from a half-mile to the modern ¾-mile configuration, now known as Richmond Raceway;
♦ Longtime team owner Junie Donlavey in 1999.
Now, as promised: About Denny Hamlin, who won his third Cup Series race of the season Sunday in resounding fashion at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Now and then, I am asked if I think Hamlin, whose career began on Virginia’s short tracks, will make the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I was asked again this week. I can hardly believe it remains a serious question. Of course, he’s going to make it. He’s been a lock for years.
With 40 wins now, he’s tied for 19th on the alltime list. Every retired driver ahead of him (and several behind him) on the list is in the Hall. The three who are still active — Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick — are also locks.
Hamlin has won on every kind of track the series runs. He’s won the Daytona 500 three times, the Southern 500 twice. Now in his 15th full season, he has driven for the same team owner and kept the same major sponsor the entire time.
He has yet to win a season championship. Doesn’t matter. Hamlin will make the Hall.
Bubba Wallace, shown standing for the national anthem before Sunday’s Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, has made a case for winning the Myers Brother Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to stock car racing.
Manchester High graduate Denny Hamlin is tied for 19th in victories on the Cup Series career list with 40. He’s won the Daytona 500 three times.