CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was foolish for Darrell Waltrip to participate in the live broadcast of last year's NASCAR Hall of Fame voting day, when he was publicly humiliated by being snubbed from the five-member second class.
Waltrip was stoic on the air, but as the color drained from his face as the inductees were announced, his exclusion clearly wounded him.
He's likely to be much more low key Tuesday. That's when the 55-member voting committee meets at the Charlotte Convention Center to elect five inductees for the third class. Waltrip isn't scheduled to be part of Speed's coverage this year.
Of course, Waltrip should have little to worry about because his statistics — along with Cale Yarborough's — should get both easily elected into the Hall.
If only it were that easy.
"Nothing is guaranteed when the voters get together," said Dustin Long, a reporter for Landmark Newspapers who has been part of the panel since the inaugural 2010 class.
"The fate of Darrell Waltrip or Cale Yarborough could rest on if voters decide honoring the sport's pioneers is more important. If so, that could take a few spots from the five-man class. Throw in a wild card that might slip into the class and the chances could be more difficult for both Waltrip and Yarborough."
That's the reality facing Waltrip and Yarborough. Both missed out on last year's class despite having nearly identical — if not better — statistics than Bobby Allison, who was elected.
Allison went in with 84 victories and one NASCAR championship. Waltrip, with 84 wins and three titles, and Yarborough, with 83 wins and three titles, were left out. Their careers so similar, it would seem that Waltrip and Yarborough are locks this time.
But back up to last month's induction ceremony, and it was clear that many on the voting panel have agendas.
After Allison, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore finished their acceptance speeches, they were asked who should be included in the next class. The plugs went to pioneering car owners like Cotton Owens and Raymond Parks, or Richie Evans and Jack Ingram, drivers who dominated lower NASCAR divisions.
The qualifying criteria seemed to be unanimous: Elect the old guard while they are still alive to enjoy it.
"They need to get those ... guys in there at least before it's too late," said Pearson, the leading vote-getter in the class inducted last month, who endorsed Owens, Parks, and Raymond Fox, who isn't among the 25 nominees. "I thought they ought to have Parks in there the first time. But now it's too late for him. I just don't want them to wait too late because they would never know it."
So where does that leave Waltrip and Yarborough?
The veterans of NASCAR strongly believe that pioneers should be elected, particularly while they are still alive. Parks, owner of the car Red Byron drove to the first NASCAR championship in 1949, died a month after the inaugural induction ceremony and many of the "old-timers" regret not getting him into the Hall before his death.
That's got Pearson and Moore, close friends of the 86-year-old Owens, optimistic the cancer-stricken former driver/owner will make it this time.
But the unspoken theory is that Waltrip and Yarborough were left off ballots last year — and might be again this year — because voters simply don't like them. It's quite possible that's what happened last October, when rumors of voting blocs spread even before the results were announced.
Even Pearson, in the minutes after he was announced as the leading vote-getter, speculated as to personal feelings being in play.
"Cale don't go anywhere he don't really have to go. He wants to get paid everywhere he does go, which there ain't nothing wrong with that," Pearson said after last year's vote. "Darrell? How do you know?"
It is fair to call both Waltrip and Yarborough polarizing figures.
Yarborough, who retired as a driver in 1988, essentially walked away from NASCAR after shutting down the team he owned in 1999. He later joined a group that tried, but failed, to launch a rival series to NASCAR.
Whether true or not, there's an accepted perception that Yarborough will do nothing without collecting an appearance fee, and that's contributed to his lack of visibility the last decade. He made a rare appearance at the 2008 awards ceremony to honor Jimmie Johnson tying his mark as the only driver to win three consecutive titles. Even though he received a standing ovation, there was snickering as to how much NASCAR had to pay to get Yarborough to New York.
Yarborough has not attended any of the Hall of Fame events to date.
Waltrip, on the other hand, is front and center at NASCAR as an analyst for Fox and Speed. He's as polarizing today as he was as a driver, and people either love or hate ol' DW, with no middle ground.
But opinions of his schtick or self-promotion shouldn't count in Hall of Fame criteria. And since contribution to the sport so obviously was considered in the elections of Allison and Jarrett, then Waltrip's weekly television work most certainly should be considered.
Only Waltrip, who earned the nickname "Jaws" during a feud with Yarborough, can't help himself sometimes. He rubbed some voters wrong last year with an outspoken desire to be elected, and though he was composed on the air after his snub last year, it obviously hurt him.
Waltrip emerged from the snub a humbler man — at least for a while. But because ego and unfiltered opinion often get in his way, he's used his platform of late to criticize current media coverage of NASCAR, a peculiar position to take considering most of his support for Hall induction comes from the journalists on the panel.
Whether he's cost himself more votes remains to be seen. But personal feelings for a candidate shouldn't count come voting time, nor should age or whether the nominee is dead or alive.
Accomplishments and statistics should be the only thing that matters, and that should be more than enough to get Waltrip and Yarborough in.