KNOXVILLE, Iowa — The room was filled with people, chatting and visiting over lunch. They were lost in conversation, caught up in the natural euphoria of socializing with friends and talking about things we love.
It was good to be back.
The 31st National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Banquet took place June 5 at Iowa’s Marion County Fairgrounds, adjacent to Knoxville Raceway. The ceremony had been postponed from one year earlier due to COVID-19, leaving eight new inductees to wait another year for their shining moment.
The past year has brought a level of difficulty we’ve never experienced. The pain and loss was real, and for many individuals beyond imagination. Better days are here, however, leaving us to savor the wonderful experience of healing and renewal.
The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame has become a crucial institution, celebrating the sport in a first-class manner. More specifically, celebrating the people of sprint car racing. And people have always been what this sport is about.
It’s a great luxury, this Hall of Fame. It is more than a beautiful building, more than a first-class museum, more than a series of plaques honoring four generations of people. It is a gathering place, where lifelong friendships are cultivated and where people can gather to celebrate their love of the sport.
The inductees for this year’s class — technically the class of 2020 but inducted in 2021 — were Bill Cummings, Paul Leffler, Spencer Riggs, Tim Shaffer, Walt Dyer, Jeff Swindell, Greg Hodnett and Don Lamberti. In addition, a number of past inductees returned to Knoxville for the weekend, gathering for various forums and fan activities.
That’s the key that makes the weekend really buzz; returning inductees. Since the first induction ceremony in 1990, nearly 400 individuals have been welcomed into the Hall of Fame, a large number but still a highly elite group. When those past inductees gather to join the newest class, it brings a unique kinship that has proven to be special and enduring.
People such as Lynn Paxton and Shane Carson have led the way in recent years in terms of supporting the institution with their attendance and the end result is a colorful assortment of personalities that shines like a bright light.
But there is a somber footnote to all of this. Each year, Hall of Fame executive director Bob Baker pays tribute to past inductees who have died since the previous ceremony. Because of the span of 24 months (instead of the normal 12) this year’s list was sobering. The passing of 16 inductees was noted, a number that is startling and profoundly sad.
Life, as they say, must go on. We note those we have lost, but we should also take stock in all that we still have. As time passes there is an ever-sharpening focus that the Hall of Fame is by far the best centerpiece for the sport, a way to gather people — literally and figuratively — to celebrate our sport and each other.
There was a time when I took all of this for granted. There’s always next year, right? Well, not always. So here and now we should resolve never to take for granted warm, wonderful days with our friends.
Other forms of motorsports can look at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame with envy. After all, it began as nothing more than a pipe dream in the 1980s, a distant and hopelessly optimistic project. But lo and behold, enough key people pushed and pulled and begged and prodded and sure enough, the Hall of Fame and Museum became a reality.
When enough good people get behind a good project, good things can happen.
The Hall of Fame is proof of that. Year after — wonderful — year.