A memorable mix of generations graced the stage at the Charlotte Convention Center on Friday night as the NASCAR Hall of Fame formally inducted its Class of 2013.
The images and achievements of Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood filled the room as the Hall honored its fourth class of inductees.
The evening began with the presentation of custom jackets emblazoned with the Hall of Fame logo for each of the five inductees. It ended with 11 living members of the shrine together on stage representing 735 Cup Series race wins and 40 championships.
Thomas was the first member of this year’s class to be formally inducted. A video presentation of his Hall of Fame career was introduced by current Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards. Two-time Cup Series champion Ned Jarrett, a member of the Hall’s Class of 2011, formally announced Thomas’ induction and presented the commemorative ring to Thomas’ son Joel.
“This is the greatest honor a driver can receive,” he said. “My father would have been honored and humbled with this recognition.”
Thomas was the first driver to win two NASCAR premier series championships, in 1951 and ’53. He won the first of those titles behind the wheel of his own racecar. He was victorious in the second running of Darlington Raceway’s famed Southern 500 in 1951 and with back-to-back victories in the Labor Day classic in 1954-55, became the race’s first three-time winner.
Thomas, a native of Olivia, N.C., claimed 48 victories in a 14-year career, which ranks him 13th all-time. He also had 39 poles. Thomas retired in 1962 and passed away in 2000 at the age of 77. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
A video summary of Baker’s Hall of Fame career was introduced by four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports.
Elzie Wylie “Buck” Baker was the first driver to win consecutive NASCAR premier series championships (now known as the Sprint Cup Series), in 1956-57. He finished second in the standings in 1955 and again in 1958 to cap off an amazing four-year run.
In a 28-year career, Baker totaled 46 victories which leave him 14th on the all-time list. He retired in 1976 and passed away in April 2002, one month after his 83rd birthday.
Buddy Baker, Buck’s son who also made a career as a Sprint Cup Series driver, announced the induction of his father – whose widow Susan accepted on his behalf.
“Buck always left an impression on you, whether good or bad,” she said. “If you ever met him, you never forgot him. He was thankful for what he had and always reminded us of how blessed we were. Everyone in our family is overjoyed by his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Thank you for honoring him.”
“He’s not here with us tonight, but he knows all about this,” Buddy Baker said. “The only thing that would make this any better is if he was here with us.”
Owens excelled in his NASCAR career as both a driver and team owner. Behind the wheel, he won nine times in NASCAR’s premier series and nearly won the 1959 championship – finishing second to future Hall of Famer Lee Petty.
A video presentation of Owens’ career was introduced Friday by current Sprint Cup Series driver Mark Martin of Michael Waltrip Racing.
As an owner, Owens was one of the greats in NASCAR’s early years. His eye for talent was unmatched. He hired David Pearson in 1962 and the combination produced a championship four years later. Twenty-seven of Pearson’s 105 career Cup Series victories were recorded in an Owens-owned ride.
The Union, S.C., native died in June of last year at the age of 88, just days after learning he would be part of this year’s Hall of Fame class. Like Thomas and Baker, Owens was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Pearson formally announced Owens’ induction and Kyle Davis accepted on behalf of his grandfather.
“One of the things I’ve learned this weekend is that the NASCAR Hall of Fame is not so much about racecars and exhibits,” Davis said. “It’s truly about people. My grandfather lived his life with four unwavering principles: love of God, family, country and the (Dodge) 426 Hemi.”
Russell William “Rusty” Wallace Jr., the 1989 Sprint Cup Series champion, followed his father Russ Wallace onto the racetrack – a path taken as well by his brothers Mike and Kenny. He began competing at NASCAR’s highest level in 1984, winning Rookie of the Year honors in a Cliff Stewart-owned Pontiac.
Wallace – a native of St. Louis, Mo. – claimed the first of his 55 career victories in 1986. That total ranks him ninth all-time. His most successful seasons were spent driving for Penske Racing from 1991 through his retirement in 2005, during which Wallace notched 37 Cup Series wins.
Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski – who now drives the No. 2 Penske Ford – introduced Wallace’s video feature. Greg Wallace formally announced his father’s induction.
“This is pretty emotional,” Rusty Wallace said, wiping away tears. “I’m humbled that I’m standing up here. To me, family is everything. My father passed away last year and we miss him really, really bad.
“I want to thank NASCAR. I love telling stories about NASCAR and helping to build this sport. This means everything in the world to me. The one thing I’ve learned about this sport is that it’s a privilege to race in NASCAR. This has been a blessing for me and I hope all the young drivers and current drivers respect the sport as much as I did.”
Now 56, Wallace is still active in the sport – as a NASCAR analyst for ESPN and a Nationwide Series car owner with his son Steven as driver.
The Wood Brothers team is renowned as the innovator of the modern pit stop and Leonard Wood - brother of Glen and Delano Wood – was front-and-center in its development.
When NASCAR began adding superspeedways to the schedule, Wood helped figure out ways to get his racecars serviced and back on the track in the least amount of time.
2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, current driver of the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, introduced a video summary of Leonard’s career during Friday’s program. Mike Joy, FOX-TV NASCAR anchor and Hall of Fame master of ceremonies, characterized Wood as the “Leonardo da Vinci of NASCAR,” a true artist whose palette was an engine manifold and his brushes a set of wrenches.
In 1965, Ford Motor Company and Colin Chapman hired the Wood Brothers to service Jim Clark’s car in the Indianapolis 500. Another one of their innovations, an internal device allowing fuel to flow more quickly from a gravity-based tank, dramatically reduced pit times and was a key to Clark’s victory.
Wood, now 78, ran the team’s engine shop that provided horsepower and longevity for Pearson, who won 43 races in the famed No. 21 Ford from 1972 through 1978. Racing legends Neil Bonnett, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney and Cale Yarborough are among the drivers who also won races in Wood Brothers-prepared cars out of the team’s Stuart, Va.-based headquarters.
Eddie Wood, Leonard’s nephew, announced Wood’s induction.
“It’s a good thing they checked my ring size and not my hat size because I wouldn’t have been able to put that on,” Leonard Wood joked, adding on a more serious note, “It’s an honor to follow my brother Glenn, and two of our drivers – David Pearson and Cale Yarborough – into the Hall of Fame.
“If it wasn’t for the Ford Motor Company and my brother Glenn, I wouldn’t be up here.”
Wood also characterized his brother Delano, an often-overlooked member of the famed organization, as “the best jack man in racing.”
Friday’s program also featured two giants of the broadcasting industry: current Motor Racing Network announcer Barney Hall and former MRN voice Ken Squier. They are the first recipients of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence that bears their names and were recognized during the evening’s festivities.
Jointly presented by NASCAR and the Hall of Fame, the Squier-Hall Award honors the media’s contributions to the success of stock car racing. It will become a permanent part of the annual Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.
With Friday’s induction ceremony, the number of NASCAR legends now enshrined in the Hall of Fame has grown to 20 including Jarrett, Pearson, Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Inman, Richie Evans, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Bud Moore, Lee and Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip and Glenn Wood.