Richard Petty was a virtual certainly for inclusion in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's inaugural class.
All-time wins leader, 200.
Co-all-time championships leader, seven.
But Petty seemed almost reticent in being named to that exclusive five-man group on Wednesday, especially when it came at the expense of the sport's pioneers not named France and his friend and foil, David Pearson.
"As far a I was concerned, when I saw the list of the deal I sat down and made a list of my own and Pearson would have been my number one pick," Petty said. "Look at all he accomplished. He came up in the early 60s as I did. We drove a bunch of cars that probably weren't near as safe or wasn’t near as good as what some of the later guys came up in.
"Anyone who 105 races and didn’t make the cut, somebody ain’t adding right."
Pearson, a three-time champion, was among the three top vote-getters not among the inductees, according to NASCAR. He said he wasn't upset by the omission, abut lacked his usual swagger.
"I told them before that I always heard they wanted Junior (Johnson) in there. Of course, you know that (Dale) Earnhardt and (Richard) Petty would be in there," he said. "When I saw that the two Frances (founder, Bill Sr., and son and former CEO, Bill, Jr.) were in there, I knew I didn't have a chance."
Current NASCAR chairman Brian France said he was "surprised, but very, very proud" that his family comprised two-fifths of the first class, noting the effort his grandfather and father used to build, then transform the sport into a major league. League spokesman Jim Hunter said that while the moment would have been a proud one for both Frances, Bill Jr., likely might have preferred to defer to a driver "because he said the promoters behind the scenes are not the ones who pay the bills, it's the actors up on the stage."
Richard Petty, though admittedly pleased at his impending induction, suggested his spot should have gone to his father, Lee, a three-time series champion who is ninth on the all-time wins list with 54. That selection would have satisfied his desire to see both a driver and pioneer enshrined.
"Without Lee Petty there probably wouldn’t have been a whole lot of what NASCAR is today," he said. "And he’s not the only one. There were a bunch of guys who came along at that time. If they hadn’t went and sacrificed and done their deal, then Richard Petty would never have been able to accomplish what he accomplished because there wouldn’t have been anything there for him."
Petty credited Harold Brasington's investment in building Darlington Raceway and the hosting of NASCAR's first 500-mile event in 1950 with the emergence of superspeedways on the sport's schedule.
"You think he didn’t gamble on that?," Petty asked. "Those are the people I think maybe should have been looked at a little bit harder.
"Some of us that made it, we've been in the limelight 15-20 years. What about those guys in the limelight 50-60 years ago which really made it all happen?"
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