The inaugural class in the new NASCAR Hall of Fame was inducted May 23.
For fun, it got me to thinking who would make the cut if we had a Kentucky Speedway Hall of Fame in which inclusion would depend solely on one's achievements at the 11-year-old Sparta racetrack.
So on the week in which the Nationwide Series returns to the commonwealth for our state's marquee motorsports event, here in alphabetical order are the five members of my first class of Kentucky Speedway Hall of Famers.
Greg Biffle. The current Sprint Cup star was working his way up the ranks on June 17, 2000, when he won the inaugural "big event" at Kentucky Speedway by capturing the first truck series race ever held in Sparta.
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Two years later, in the series now known as Nationwide, Biffle finished second in, arguably, the best finish ever at Kentucky. The Biff literally crossed the finish line sideways and came out on the short end of a paint-trading, Days of Thunder-style finish with Todd Bodine.
Though he has never won a race in the Nationwide Series at Kentucky Speedway, no driver has finished in the top 10 of such races more often than Biffle (five times).
Jerry Carroll. The former Kentucky Speedway mogul's plan for bringing a Cup date to the commonwealth — build a first-rate facility; promote the heck out of it; and "earn" a big-league stock-car race — proved flawed.
Still, in a state where no one ever seems able to make anything big happen when it comes to attracting big-time pro sports (see the city of Louisville and the NBA), Carroll stands out. He got a first-rate motorsports venue built and he did it with $152 million of private capital.
The large crowds that typically attended races at Kentucky under Carroll's ownership — 70,000 or more for every Nationwide race but one; 40,000 or more for every truck race but two; 60,000 or more for four out of nine IRL events — are a tribute to the former Turfway Park owner's skill at promotion.
Sarah Fisher. For a driver with only two top 10s to show for eight IRL races in Sparta, this might seem a reach. However, one of the things that has made Kentucky Speedway unique is that, for whatever reason, the track has been unusually kind to female racers.
The driver who got that started was Fisher. In 2000, Fisher finished third at Kentucky after leading the race. It marked the first podium appearance ever by a female driver in the IRL.
Two years later, Fisher captured the pole position at Kentucky Speedway, becoming the first woman ever to start an Indy Car Series race from the first spot.
David Gilliland. On June 17, 2006, in the series now known as Nationwide, the little-known Gilliland supplied Kentucky Speedway's signature moment.
Racing against a star-packed field that included Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch, Gilliland drove an unsponsored car owned by a part-time team to one of the most stunning victories in NASCAR history.
After his upset, Gilliland — a former high school golf teammate of Tiger Woods — went from unknown to the subject of a bidding war among Cup Series teams.
Sam Hornish Jr. Back in his IRL days, the Defiance, Ohio, product seemed to have a special affinity for Kentucky Speedway.
In the very first Indy Car Series event in Sparta, a 21-year-old Hornish showed flashes of the exceptional driver he would become by hooking Jaques Lazier in a scintillating, wheel-to-wheel duel that lasted for seven laps and saw the pair exchange the race lead three times.
As he matured into the top racer (three series championships and the 2006 Indy 500 title) on the IRL circuit, Hornish Jr. won at Kentucky in 2003 and 2006.
Before his switch to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Hornish Jr. had four top-three finishes to show for eight IRL starts at Sparta.
The controversial omissions: Among those considered for my Kentucky Speedway Hall of Fame inaugural class who didn't make the final cut:
Buddy Lazier (won first two IRL races at track), Ron Hornaday Jr. (won two truck races), Joey Logano (reigning two-time Nationwide Series race winner), Carl Edwards (only driver with both a truck series and Nationwide win at Kentucky), Frank Kimmel (four ARCA wins), and Erin Crocker (three ARCA Series poles; two ARCA second-place finishes).
Future Inductee: When and if Bruton Smith brings Cup Series racing to Sparta, he becomes a class of one in my Kentucky Speedway Hall of Fame.