- What is the NASCAR Hall of Fame?: Opening May 11, 2010 in Uptown Charlotte, NC, the 150,000-square-foot NASCAR Hall of Fame is an interactive, entertainment attraction honoring the history and heritage of NASCAR. The high-tech venue, designed to educate and entertain race fans and non-fans alike, includes artifacts, interactive exhibits, 275-person state-of-the-art theater, Hall of Honor, Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, Sports Avenue retail outlet and NASCAR Media Group-operated broadcast studio. The five-acre site also includes a privately developed 19-story office tower and 102,000-square-foot expansion to the Charlotte Convention Center, highlighted by a 40,000 square-foot ballroom. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is owned by the City of Charlotte, licensed by NASCAR and operated by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. www.nascarhall.com.
NASCAR HALL of FAME 2013 Class
- Baker, Owens, Thomas, Wallace and Wood Officially Enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame: Five legends of stock car auto racing were enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., Friday night [Feb 8, 2013] ght during the Induction Ceremony held in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte Convention. Four were NASCAR pioneers, building the sport during its formative years; the other ushered it into modern times and its exploding popularity. Combined, they make the fourth class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s a group with talents that run the gamut necessary for NASCAR excellence: Unparalleled driving skills; team unifying and talent evaluating ownership prowess; a brilliant mechanical mind.
Here are the five new members, a group that pushes the total number of NASCAR Hall of Famers to 20.
Buck Baker – a two-time NASCAR premier series champion in 1956-57, the first to ever win back-to-back titles in NASCAR’s top level. Cotton Owens – a master of two crafts, that of driver and owner. Herb Thomas – the first driver to win multiple championships in NASCAR’s premier series. Rusty Wallace – the 1989 NASCAR premier series champion and a 55-time race winner. Leonard Wood – legendary engine builder, mechanic and crew chief for the Wood Brothers.
Baker, a 46-time winner, joined the ranks of NASCAR royalty after becoming the first driver to capture consecutive championships in NASCAR’s premier series. He earned his first championship driving cars for legendary owner Carl Kiekhaefer; he won his second driving his own cars. Baker passed his immense driving talent to his son Buddy, who himself won 19 times in the premier series. Buddy Baker inducted his father during tonight’s ceremony.
“Buck always made an impression on people, good or bad,” said widow Susan Baker, who accepted the induction on Baker’s behalf. Buck Baker passed away in 2002. “If you ever met him, you never forgot him. It was never boring being married to Buck, either. He could make me laugh like no one else could, and he had that same effect on others.”
Cotton Owens joins Junior Johnson as NASCAR Hall of Famers who excelled as both driver and owner. The Union, S.C., native won nine times as a driver in NASCAR’s premier series, and won more than 100 more races in NASCAR’s Modified division. The latter feat earned him the moniker of “King of the Modifieds.” He wore the crown in the NASCAR premier series as an owner in 1966, winning the championship with fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson.
“I know this is a biased opinion, but in our family’s book, there was no better racer than Cotton Owens,” said Kyle Davis, Owens’ grandson, who accepted the induction on his grandfather’s behalf. Owens passes away last year. “My grandfather was one of the most humble, most loyal and hardest working men I’ve ever met. He took great pride in the fact that he could build a race car from the ground up … engine, chassis, transmission, you name it … drive it to the race track and then drive it to Victory Lane. He was a wizard at both turning wrenches and behind the wheel.”
Herb Thomas was one of NASCAR’s first superstars thanks to his premier series championships in 1951 and 1953. Becoming the first driver to win multiple championships, Thomas laid the groundwork for a record-setting career. His 48 victories in 228 starts translates to a winning percentage of 21.05 percent, a NASCAR premier series record. Thomas’ son Joel accepted the induction on his behalf. “I truly believe this is the greatest honor a driver could receive,” Joel Thomas said. Herb Thomas passed away in 2000. “My father would have been very honored and humbled in receiving this recognition. … Thank you all for helping him reach his dreams. Thank you to all of his fans for cheering him on and keeping his memories alive.”
Ninth on the all-time premier series wins list, Rusty Wallace enjoyed one of the most successful careers in modern-day NASCAR. Wallace won the 1989 premier series championship a season after finishing second in the final points standings. For 16 consecutive seasons, from 1986-2001, Wallace scored at least one win per season. That’s tied for the third-longest streak in history. “I look out in this crowd and I see some of the biggest stars in history,” said an emotional Wallace. “I am humbled that I’m standing up here, and I just can’t thank everybody enough for selecting me to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
Leonard Wood again joins his brother Glen, this time in the NASCAR Hall of Fame (Glen was inducted last year). Leonard served as chief mechanic for the Wood Brothers his entire career, winning a total of 94 races with some of biggest names in NASCAR history including brother Glen, Marvin Panch, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough. “It’s certainly a high honor to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, especially right behind my brother, Glen, and two of our former drivers, David [Pearson] and Cale [Yarborough],” Wood said. “Glen and I always did things together, we learned together and we won together.”
Each of the five inductees had an inductor who officially welcomed them into the hall. The inductors for the five inductees: Herb Thomas was inducted by NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett; Cotton Owens was inducted by his former driver NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson; Leonard Wood was inducted by his nephew and Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood; Buck Baker was inducted by his son Buddy Baker; Rusty Wallace was inducted by his son Greg Wallace.
Active drivers introduced each inductee video during tonight’s program. The list of drivers who participated: Carl Edwards for Herb Thomas; Mark Martin for Cotton Owens; Jeff Gordon for Buck Baker; Brad Keselowski for Rusty Wallace; and Trevor Bayne for Leonard Wood.
Prior to tonight’s Induction Ceremony was the presentation of the inaugural Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, awarded to namesakes Ken Squier and Barney Hall.
Squier, co-founder of Motor Racing Network, is perhaps best-known for his work during the 1979 Daytona 500, a milestone moment for the entire sport, as Squier’s voice on CBS welcomed millions to the first live flag-to-flag coverage of “The Great American Race” – a moniker he coined. Squier proceeded to call races for CBS and TBS until 1997 before shifting to the studio as host for NASCAR broadcasts until 2000. Squier continues to enlighten NASCAR fans to this day, mostly through special appearances on SPEED.
Hall began his career in the 1950s working at local radio stations in North Carolina and served as Bristol Motor Speedway’s first public address announcer when the track opened. He called his first Daytona 500 in 1960, and has missed only three broadcasts in the 54-year history of The Great American Race. He joined MRN as an original announcer at the network’s inception in 1970, first as a turn announcer and then moving to the booth in the late 1970s where he has been a fixture ever since at race tracks from coast to coast.(NASCAR)(2-9-2013)
NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for class of 2013: Induction ceremonies will take place at 7:30pm/et in the Crown Ball Room at the Charlotte Convention Center which is directly connected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The event is the first half of NASCAR Acceleration Weekend followed on Saturday, Feb. 9 by the NASCAR Preview 2013. Tickets for the ceremonies start at $45 (available at www.nascaracceleration.com) and the NASCAR Hall of Fame box office. In addition, a $20 ticket will gain fans all-day access into NASCAR Preview 2013 and the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Fame on Saturday, Feb. 9.(2-8-2013)
- 4th Hall of Fame class announced:
NASCAR announced the 2013 class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The five-person class, which will be officially inducted in a ceremony on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., consists of Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood.
Members of the 54-member NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met today in a closed session in Charlotte, N.C., to vote on the induction class of 2013. The announcement was made by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s “Great Hall.”
Next year’s class was determined by votes cast by the Voting Panel, which included representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, retired competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders and a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.COM. The accounting firm of Ernst & Young presided over the tabulation of the votes.
Voting for this year’s class was as evenly distributed as any previous NASCAR Hall of Fame induction class.
As was the case for the first three classes of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the results of this year’s voting were competitive.
Herb Thomas and Leonard Wood led with 57% percent of the vote, followed by
Rusty Wallace (52%)
Cotton Owens (50%)
Buck Baker (39%)
For the first time in Voting Day history, there was a tie for the fifth and final induction spot. Voting Panel members chose Baker over Fireball Roberts after a re-vote between the two nominees.
The next top vote getters were Roberts, Jerry Cook and Tim Flock.
Results for the NASCAR.COM Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Wendell Scott, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood.
The five inductees came from a group of 25 nominees for induction into the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class that included:
Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Jerry Cook, H. Clay Earles, Tim Flock, Ray Fox, Anne Bledsoe France, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Bobby Isaac, Fred Lorenzen, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Les Richter, Fireball Roberts, T. Wayne Robertson, Wendell Scott, Ralph Seagraves, Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Rusty Wallace, Joe Weatherly and Leonard Wood.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame opened on May 11, 2010 in Uptown Charlotte, N.C. The 150,000 square foot entertainment complex honors the history and heritage of NASCAR and the many who have contributed to the success of the sport. In its first year of operation, the NASCAR Hall of Fame entertained more than 270,000 customers, making it the second most-visited sports hall of fame in North America.
More info about the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the list of 25 who were finalists for induction at nascarhall.com.(5-24-2012)
Induction ceremonies will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET in the Crown Ball Room at the Charlotte Convention Center which is directly connected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The event is the first half of NASCAR Acceleration Weekend followed on Saturday, Feb. 9 by the NASCAR Preview 2013. Tickets for the ceremonies start at $45 (available at www.nascaracceleration.com) and the NASCAR Hall of Fame box office. In addition, a $20 ticket will gain fans all-day access into NASCAR Preview 2013 and the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Fame on Saturday, Feb. 9.(1-11-2012)
Highlighting the Class of 2013
Buck Baker – Driver, NASCAR Hall of Fame
(b. 3/4/19 – d. 4/14/02)
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
- Elzie Wylie “Buck” Baker established himself as one of NASCAR’s early greats, becoming the first driver to win consecutive NASCAR premier series championships. That repeat performance in 1956-57 was the meat of an incredible four-year span; in 1955 and ’58 Baker finished as the series championship runner-up.
The first series championship for Baker came while driving for owner Carl Kiekhaefer, who had assembled the first multi-car team in NASCAR while also blazing a trail in using his cars as promotional tools for his other business, powerboat motors. Baker’s second championship came in his own cars.
Baker drove a bus before becoming an auto racer – perhaps a partial explanation for his versatility behind the wheel, as he also won races in NASCAR’s Modified, Speedway and Grand American series. But his legend was made in NASCAR’s premier series; his career victory total of 46 ranks 14th all-time.
Baker was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Prior to his passing in 2002, Baker blazed another trail, founding a series of high-performance driving schools at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway and North Carolina Speedway.
His son Buddy followed his father’s footsteps as well, winning the Daytona 500 and also making the 50 Greatest Drivers list.
- Buck Baker’s Tough Attitude Perfect For NASCAR’s Early Years: Buck Baker personified the term “old school.” Elzie Wylie “Buck” Baker, winner of 46 NASCAR Sprint Cup races and the series’ first back-to-back champion, personified the phrase “no quarter asked and none given.” Baker, whose NASCAR career spanned portions of four decades beginning in 1949, had one goal: to win. How he got there, well, that was up to Baker. “He was the perfect example of how a (stock car) driver used to be; the typical Scotch-Irish driver of the past,” said H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, the former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway and one-time sportswriter. “If you were in a corner and (it was) someplace he wanted to go, he’d be there. Either you’d be in the wall or he would. However fast the car would go, he’d get there in a fairly spectacular fashion. He was one of the best and certainly one of the toughest.”
Baker’s son, Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., puts it this way. “He was not a bully. He wasn’t out to create problems,” said Baker, who counts the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1972-73 Coca-Cola 600s among 19 NASCAR premier series victories. “But he didn’t run from them either. If you were racing against him, you didn’t like him very much. But you had to be tough back then.”
Buck Baker, who died in 2002 at age 83, is among five being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Feb. 8. His fellow members of the class of 2013 – the hall’s fourth – are NASCAR premier series champions Herb Thomas and Rusty Wallace; championship car owner Cotton Owens and innovative engine builder, mechanic and crew chief Leonard Wood.
Born in 1919 on a farm near Chester, S.C., Baker as a child gained the nickname “Buck” because he shared the reckless abandon of a bull calf by the same name the family owned. Without job prospects after discharge from the U.S. Navy, Baker hauled alcohol effectively polishing the skills he’d need on the race track. He later drove a bus and – by his son’s estimation – won hundreds of modified stock car races including 27 weeks in a row at Charlotte’s Southern State Fairgrounds. “The same people booing him would line up (for autographs) at the bus stop on Monday,” said Buddy Baker.
Racing out of Charlotte, N.C., Baker won his first NASCAR premier series race at Columbia, S.C., a .5-mile dirt track driving a Hudson Hornet. NASCAR Hall of Fame member Lee Petty – a perennial rival – finished second. Baker won the 1953 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and posted his first of eight consecutive points finishes among the top five. He won 11 times between 1953-55 then joined the powerhouse Carl Kiekhaefer Chrysler-Dodge organization, for which Tim Flock won the 1955 championship with 18 victories in 39 starts.
Kiekhaefer, owner of Mercury Outboards, entered cars in 190 races over two seasons, winning 52 times, before exiting the sport as abruptly as he’d appeared. Baker – who’d run second to Flock driving for himself and several other owners in 1955 – hustled Kiekhaefer’s Hemi engine-powered cars to the 1956 title on the strength of 13 wins, 12 poles and 30 top-five and 38 top-10 finishes.
With Kiekhaefer gone, Baker returned to Chevrolets in 1957. He won the championship and 10 races: six in his own car and four at the wheel of a Chevy owned by Hugh Babb. Baker finished second to Petty for the 1958 championship and continued to win but at a diminished pace. His final victory came at age 44 in the 1964 Southern 500 driving a Dodge fielded by NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Ray Fox.
Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 – he also won the sanctioning body’s Speedway Division title in 1952, driving an Indianapolis-type car powered by a Cadillac engine – Baker opened a stock car driving school in retirement. According to Buddy Baker, it was his father’s way of giving back to the sport.
“He said, ‘I’m not going to race but I have a lot to offer to kids who are just starting out,'” said Baker, who was one of the school’s instructors. Jeff Gordon was among the thousands of Baker’s students. So was NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joe Nemechek, who asked for and received Baker’s permission to use the driver’s old car number – 87.
The younger Baker, who’ll induct his father into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was renowned for his mastery of Daytona and Talladega. He was the first in NASCAR to officially record a lap at an average speed of 200 mph. Yet Baker still marvels at his father’s talent. “He could do things in a race car I could only dream about,” said Baker. “Throughout the entire racing world, I don’t know of anybody who would have said he didn’t give 110% from the time they dropped the green flag until the race was over. He was the same way in life, too.”(NASCAR)(2-1-2013)
- Charlotte Observer:
NASCAR Hall to salute Buck Baker, 4 other legends by Tom Higgins
stats at racing-reference.info
Cotton Owens – Driver/Owner, NASCAR Hall of Fame
Hometown: Union, S.C.
Starts: 160 (Driver); 405 (Owner)
Wins: 9 (Driver); 38 (Owner)
Poles: 10 (Driver); 33 (Owner)
- There are successful drivers and there are successful owners. But, rarely are there both.
Cotton Owens joins NASCAR Hall of Fame member Junior Johnson as masters of the two crafts.
Owens was more than successful behind the wheel, winning nine times in NASCAR’s premier series competition, including the 1957 Daytona Beach road course which marked Pontiac’s first NASCAR victory. He nearly won the 1959 championship, finishing second to NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty.
But as an owner, Owens stood out as one of the greats of NASCAR’s early eras. His eye for talent was unmatched. He hired Johnson in 1962, the same season in which he began a future championship relationship with another NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson.
Johnson spent only four races with Owens but with Pearson, well, that was another story. Twenty-seven of Pearson’s 105 NASCAR premier series victories were recorded in a Cotton Owens car. The pair teamed to win the 1966 championship after Pearson, driving an Owens Dodge, finished third in points in 1964.
In 1998 Owens was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
- Cotton Owens Was Gentleman Competitor In NASCAR’s Early Era: Through stock car racing’s rough and tumble, formative years Everett “Cotton” Owens stood out for a multitude of reasons: among them, winning driver and owner and master mechanic. But perhaps most of all, he was a gentleman.
“He was such a nice guy, one of the nicest I ever drove for,” said David Pearson, whose first of three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships was won in 1966 at the wheel of Owens’ #6 Dodge. “He was a real smart, sensible man. They (his competitors) liked him as much as he liked them. If somebody wanted to know something, he’d answer them.”
Owens, who died last June at the age of 88, will join Pearson in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 8 as one of five members of the Hall’s fourth class. His fellow 2013 inductees are NASCAR premier series champions Buck Baker, Rusty Wallace and Herb Thomas and master crew chief Leonard Wood.
Known as the “King of the Modifieds” for more than 100 victories, the Union, S.C. native was part of the post-war racing scene around Spartanburg, S.C. Among the key figures were Owens, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bud Moore and 1960 NASCAR premier series champion Rex White.
Owens’ NASCAR premier series driving career spanned 15 years – 160 races, nine victories and a second-place championship finish to NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty in 1959. His first victory, in 1957 marked the first time a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was run on Daytona’s Beach & Road Course at an average speed of more than 100 mph – 101.541 mph to be exact. The win also was the first in the series by a Pontiac.
For much of his driving career, the 5-feet, 5-inch Owens raced with double vision, the result of a racing accident in 1951. “The people I drove against, they didn’t know I couldn’t see them,” Owens said in a 1984 interview. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty recalled, “He was super on dirt … one of the better guys who raced on the dirt tracks. When he became a car owner, he really helped the cars get better. He was a good mind in doing some new things in the sport.”
Faced with diminishing depth perception coupled with the need for his cars to perform on superspeedways, Owens began his transition to owner/builder/crew chief. His cars won 38 times, the last in 1971 in a Daytona 500 qualifying race – which at the time awarded NASCAR premier series points – by Pete Hamilton.
Among those who drove cars fielded by Owens were NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Marvin Panch, Bobby Isaac, Ralph Earnhardt, Charlie Glotzbach, Mario Andretti and Al Unser.
Buddy Baker drove perhaps Owens’ most iconic entry – the orange and black #6 winged Dodge Daytona in which Baker recorded the first NASCAR-sanctioned 200 mph lap at Talladega Superspeedway on March 24, 1970. Baker subsequently dominated Talladega’s spring event, turning the first in-race lap of 200 mph, before a spin and accident sidelined the rapid Dodge just past half-distance.
Baker recorded 13 top-five finishes in 29 starts for Owens during the 1969-70 seasons winning the 1970 Southern 500. Allison also won in an Owens car as did Glotzbach. Owens won six times in his own equipment between 1960 and 1964. The match that sealed one hall of fame career and began another was the pairing of Owens and Pearson, longtime friends and dirt track competitors. Pearson recalls dropping by Owens’ garage in late 1962. Owens was thinking of running more races the following season and wondered if Pearson would like to be his driver.
“Back then I’d have driven for nothing,” said Pearson, who lived three miles from Owens in a recent interview. “I didn’t have a regular car. He asked if I’d like to run more races. It was the first factory ride I’d ever had. I knew I’d be in the best equipment.” Pearson and Owens were winless in 1963 but reached Victory Lane eight times in 61 races in 1964 and finished third in the standings. Pearson and Owens won twice in 1965, both on dirt tracks, while working on chassis set ups that proved of championship quality in 1966. They raced a Dodge Dart station wagon drag car called the “Cotton Picker” that had the engine mounted in the cargo compartment.
In 1966, Owens and Pearson won the championship with 15 victories in 42 starts – including a road race win at Bridgehampton, N.Y. They finished nearly 80% of the races in the top 10 to give Dodge its first NASCAR title. Twenty-seven of Pearson’s 105 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories came in Owens-owned and prepared cars. The relationship was truly a congenial one. “He was not like a boss; it was like working for a friend,” said Pearson. “We just had a great time working together.” Although Pearson left the team the following year to drive for Holman Moody, where he won two more titles in 1968-69, he remained close to his former car owner until Owens’ passing. “I’d pick up Cotton and his wife (Dot) after church and we’d all go to lunch,” he said of a decades-long Sunday routine.(NASCAR)(1-18-2013)
- Charlotte Observer:
Cotton Owens: NASCAR Hall royalty by Tom Higgins
- website: cottonowens.com
- driver stats at racing-reference.info and
owner stats at racing-reference.info
Herb Thomas – Driver, NASCAR Hall of Fame
(b. 4/6/23 – d. 8/9/00)
Hometown: Olivia, N.C.
- Herb Thomas was truly one of NASCAR’s first superstars. He was the first to win two NASCAR premier series championships (1951, ’53). He finished second in the points standings in 1952 and 1954 giving the North Carolina veteran top-two championship finishes in four consecutive seasons. He finished outside the top two in the championship only once (fifth in 1955) between 1951 and 1956. Thomas won the 1951 championship driving self-owned cars.
Thomas won the second running of Darlington Raceway’s famed Southern 500 in 1951 and with back-to-back victories in 1954-55 was the race’s first three-time winner.
Thomas won 48 times in series competition, a number that continues to rank 13th all-time. His 48 victories in 228 starts equates to a series-record winning percentage of 21.05. Thomas won races in seven consecutive seasons from 1950 through 1956.
After retiring from competition following the 1962 seasons, Thomas went on to start a trucking company and sawmill. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
- Winning Races Only Thing That Mattered To Herb Thomas: Take it from the King. Herb Thomas stood tall in an era when the stock in stock car truly defined what NASCAR’s pioneers raced. “He was as good as they come,” said Richard Petty. “There have been very few guys who had more confidence in what he could do than Herb. He was so strong-minded that he ‘willed’ his wins and what he was doing on the track. He was going to beat the guys on the track no matter what was going on. That was his mind set.”
High praise indeed from a driver whose father, Lee, battled door to door with Thomas and traded NASCAR championships with him. Both Pettys, father and son, are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Thomas is due to be inducted into the hall on Friday, Feb. 8, along with fellow NASCAR premier series champions Buck Baker and Rusty Wallace; championship owner Cotton Owens and innovative crew chief, mechanic and engine builder Leonard Wood.
Thomas, born into a farming family in Olivia, N.C. not far from where North Carolina Motor Speedway would be built, was NASCAR’s first two-time champion. He captured premier series titles in 1951 and 1953 and finished second in two other seasons including 1954, Lee Petty’s first of three championship years. Thomas, who died in 2000 at the age of 77, won 48 races between 1951 and 1956 – establishing a record winning percentage of 21.05 percent over a 228-race career. He ranks 13th among all-time NASCAR premier series winners. Thomas won three of the first six Southern 500s at Darlington Raceway.
“It’s win or bust,” Thomas once said. “Second place is never good enough.” Thomas caught the racing bug in 1947 when he attended a modified race in Greensboro, N.C., with a group of friends. He bought one shortly thereafter but never had much success with the car. Thomas’ son, Victor Herbert Thomas, guessed that his father honed his driving skills behind the wheel of a dump truck hauling dirt over winding back roads to Ft. Bragg, N.C., during World War II. “Daddy came from farming; he never was associated with the moonshine bunch,” he said of his father, who cut timber and operated a saw mill.
Although he won in a variety of cars, Thomas forever will be remembered as the driver of the #92 Fabulous Hudson Hornet powered by engines built by Smokey Yunick, owner of the self-proclaimed “Best Damn Garage” in Daytona Beach, Fla. Thomas, who had won races earlier in the season driving a Plymouth and an Oldsmobile, switched to a factory-supported Hudson Motor Car Co. effort in mid-1951. The Hornet featured a high-torque inline six cylinder engine and – according to Thomas – a low center of gravity which gave the car a performance edge. The biggest edge, however, appeared to be the driver himself. “The tracks were rough, dusty and weren’t hard-packed (clay). You had to learn to drive around the holes,” said Hershel McGriff, who competed against Thomas in 1954 and won five races driving an Oldsmobile for Frank Christian. “He was real competitive.”
Baker frequently was quoted as saying: “The one guy you have to beat is Herb Thomas.” Thomas won seven times in 1951 – five of the victories in his Hudson – and won the championship by a comfortable margin over Fonty Flock and became NASCAR’s first driver/owner titleholder. He posted eight wins a year later but finished second to Tim Flock, who also drove a Hudson. Thomas won 12 times in both 1953 and 1954 as he and Lee Petty swapped championships. By 1955 Hudson’s factory presence was gone and Thomas switched to Chevrolets and Buicks. He crashed in May’s race at Charlotte Speedway, a 0.750-mile dirt track suffering injuries that sidelined Thomas through most of the summer. Yet Thomas returned to win the Southern 500 for the third time and finished fifth in points despite missing 19 races.
The 1956 season was Thomas’ last as a full-time competitor. He won five times including three consecutive victories in Portland, Ore., Eureka, Calif. and Merced, Calif. at the wheel of Carl Kiekhafer’s #300B Chrysler 300. His crew chief was current NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Ray Fox. Thomas raced three more times in 1957 and 1962 before retiring for good. “I used to pass everyone in the turns. Now they pass me in the turns. It’s time to hang it up,” he said. “There’s no use running if you can’t be first.” Thomas’ son, Victor, recalls his father as being quiet and never one to brag about his accomplishments. “He always respected others and wasn’t a talker but if he said something, it would be the truth,” he said. “He never thought of himself as being a NASCAR champion. He was just a regular guy; a humble man.”(NASCAR)(1-29-2013)
- Charlotte Observer:
Herb Thomas: Humble man, hard racer by Tom Higgins
- Driver stats at racing-reference.info
Rusty Wallace – Driver, NASCAR Hall of Fame
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Russell William Wallace Jr., the 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, followed his father Russ Wallace onto the race track – a path taken as well by brothers Mike and Kenny. Rusty Wallace competed at weekly tracks in Missouri before moving to Midwest-based touring series in which he was identified as a racing star of the future.
He was the U.S. Auto Club’s 1979 rookie of the year finishing third in points to champion A.J. Foyt. In 1983, he won the American Speed Association title competing against NASCAR Sprint Cup champion-to-be Alan Kulwicki and Mark Martin.
Wallace’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup race resulted in his first top-five finish: second at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1980 driving for Roger Penske. He came to the series full-time in 1984 and won rookie of the year honors driving Cliff Stewart’s Pontiacs. Moving to drag racer Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max Racing in 1986, Wallace won his first of 55 races, capturing the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway. His 55 victories rank tied for eighth all time. He was especially adept on the circuit’s short tracks winning 25 times at Bristol, Martinsville, North Wilkesboro and Richmond.
Wallace remained with Beadle through the 1990 season, winning the 1989 championship by a 12-point margin over Dale Earnhardt. Wallace won 18 times with Blue Max Racing, including road races at Infineon, Riverside and Watkins Glen.
Although failing to win another championship, Wallace’s most successful seasons were spent behind the wheel of Penske Racing Fords, Pontiacs and Dodges from 1991 through his retirement in 2005. He won 37 times in Roger Penske’s cars finishing second in the points in 1993, the best of 11 top-10 championship rankings with the organization. Wallace currently is an ESPN NASCAR analyst.
- Rusty Wallace Won With ‘Hands-On’ Approach To Racing: Rusty Wallace’s ability as a driver is unquestioned. He won 55 times – ninth most in NASCAR premier series history – during two decades against rivals named Bodine, Earnhardt, Elliott, Gordon, Jarrett, Labonte, Martin, Richmond and Waltrip. But Russell William Wallace Jr., the 1989 series champion, did more than just drive the 900 horsepower stock car. His mechanical intuition was equally responsible for career achievements that will be capped Feb. 8 with Wallace’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with champions Buck Baker and Herb Thomas; championship car owner Cotton Owens and innovative crew chief, mechanic and engine builder Leonard Wood.
“It was like having on-board telemetry,” said Barry Dodson, Wallace’s championship crew chief at Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max Racing, of his driver’s phenomenal ability to judge – and correct – a vehicle’s handling. Dodson labeled Wallace a high-strung thoroughbred. “You had to keep the bridle on,” he said. “I knew I always had (all) 100% in that seat. “You didn’t have to be a cheer leader for Rusty. I never have seen a more determined guy.”
Robin Pemberton, crew chief for 15 of Wallace’s 37 victories at Penske Racing, likens Wallace to NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, another hands-on driver/mechanic. “He was looking for feel; what he needed. He just knew what he had to have,” said Pemberton, now NASCAR vice president of competition. “He trained a lot of us how to think.”
Fellow NASCAR premier series champion Dale Jarrett concurs with both crew chiefs. “He was probably if not the best, certainly one of the best of all time knowing his car, being totally involved in it from the chassis all the way to the aerodynamics of it,” said Jarrett, a fellow ESPN analyst. “He was probably as much of a hands-on driver in making changes to his car as anyone else that I can remember. He was a fair but hard-nosed racer.”
Wallace, 58, grew up in St. Louis, the eldest of three racing sons of short track champion Russ Wallace. He made his competitive debut at age 16 in 1972 at Lake Hill Speedway near Valley Park, Mo. After winning several area racing championships, Wallace moved to United States Auto Club stock cars where he was the 1979 rookie of the year and third in points to champion A.J. Foyt. He won the 1983 American Speed Association title.
Wallace made his NASCAR premier series debut in the 1980 Atlanta 500 driving a Chevrolet owned by Roger Penske to a second-place finish. His first full season, in Cliff Stewart’s Pontiac, saw Wallace claim rookie of the year honors. Victory No. 1 came in the April 6, 1986 Valleydale 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway with Wallace in the seat of Beadle’s Pontiac.
With the Blue Max organization from 1986 through 1990, Wallace won 18 times. He lost the 1988 championship to Bill Elliott by 24 points despite a late-season charge in which Wallace won five of the final six races. Motivated by the near miss, Wallace out-dueled Dale Earnhardt to capture the 1989 title. Wallace won six races; Earnhardt five.
Wallace joined Penske Racing in 1991, and remained with the organization for the remainder of his career. He finished second in points in 1993, won 37 times and extended to 16 the number of consecutive seasons with a victory. From 1986 through 2002 Wallace finished outside the top 10 in points just once. “Rusty had so many memorable races with our team and he was a big part of our development with Penske Racing and how we were able to grow our NASCAR program,” said Roger Penske, the 2012 championship team owner. “Not only was Rusty a great driver but he has continued to excel after his racing career with his work as a team owner, an announcer and in his development of Iowa Speedway. He has meant so much to this sport and we are very proud of all he has accomplished.”
Wallace won 25 short track races and on all three road course – Riverside, Sonoma and Watkins Glen – contested during his career. He scored victories with six different crew chiefs: Dodson, Pemberton, Larry Carter, Eddie Dickerson, Buddy Parrott and Jimmy Makar. His last victory came at Martinsville Speedway on April 14, 2004.
Wallace retired after the 2005 season to pursue a multi-faceted post-racing career as broadcaster, track designer and promoter, motivational speaker and businessman. Both brothers, Mike and Kenny, remain active NASCAR competitors as does his son, Steve.(NASCAR)(2-6-2013)
- “Midnight” to accompany Rusty Wallace into NASCAR Hall of Fame: Every good hero has his trusty steed. The Lone Ranger had Silver, Roy Rogers had Trigger and 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace had Midnight. Thus, it is fitting that Midnight–one of the most famous cars in NASCAR history–will be featured in Wallace’s exhibit at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, beginning Saturday, February 9th.
Midnight (PSC-009), the ninth stock car assembled by Penske Racing South, made its debut in the September 12, 1992 Miller Genuine Draft 400 at Richmond, with Wallace at its helm. The Missouri native started the event from the third position and dominated the night, leading 231 laps on his way to victory. Throughout his storied career, Wallace had a tradition of naming each of his cars that had won a race. Thus, when the Missouri native drove into Richmond’s victory lane around the midnight hour, his veteran PR representative, Tom Roberts, suggested naming the car “Midnight.” It was then that a legend was born.
Midnight became the workhorse of Wallace’s Penske fleet during 1993 and 1994–seasons that produced 10 and eight wins, respectively. During that time, the mere mention of its name often struck fear in the hearts of competitors. Stated Wallace, “Back then, it was Dale Earnhardt and I racing for the win all the time. I remember every week when we got to the track, he’d come up and ask me, “What car you got? It’s not that darn Midnight is it?” If it was, he knew he had his work cut out for him.”
Starting with its 1992 debut, Midnight amassed a staggering record of 13 wins, 30 top-fives and 31 top-tens in 38 starts. The car led over 5000 laps during that period–as both a Pontiac Grand Prix and a Ford Thunderbird–accounting for nearly one-third of all possible laps in those events. To this day, the car’s 13 wins still comprise nearly 20 percent of Penske Racing South’s Cup Series win total.
Midnight’s restoration began in mid-2012 and was performed by former Penske Racing fabricator, Chuck Gafrarar, along with other former members of Wallace’s Penske team. The car has been fully restored to race-ready condition, as a 1994 Ford Thunderbird featuring the famous black and gold Miller Genuine Draft livery. As part of a complete team effort, Penske Corporation, MillerCoors and Ford Motor Company all participated in the project.
Said Wallace, “I’m really excited to have Midnight in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. That car was such a huge part of my career. Every time I sat in it, it just felt right; it fit like a glove. I’ll tell you what, if we had Midnight at the racetrack, everyone else there knew that they had a long day ahead of them; Midnight was just that good. The black and gold MGD paint scheme was the coolest one we ever had too; it just looked mean and the fans really loved it. My son Greg and daughter Katie have done a great job handling a lot of the Hall of Fame stuff for me. Greg’s the one that made everything happen with Midnight. He and the guys are keeping the car a secret from me; they won’t even let me see it. When the Hall of Fame exhibits are unveiled on February 9th, I’m going to be seeing Midnight again for the first time, just like everyone else. It’s going to bring back a lot of memories for sure.”(RWI)(2-5-2013)
- Charlotte Observer:
Rusty Wallace: A popular, charging champion by Tom Higgins
- Stats at racing-reference.info
- Website rustywallace.com
Leonard Wood – Crew Chief/Engine Builder, NASCAR Hall of Fame
Hometown: Stuart, Va.
- The Wood Brothers team is renowned as the innovator of the modern pit stop. Leonard Wood, brother of Glen and Delano Wood, was front and center in its development as chief mechanic – that’s what they called crew chiefs in the early days – for the Stuart, Va.-based team.
Wood was what you might call a tinkerer. He built a washing machine engine-powered go-kart from parts and pieces he found when he was 13. It still runs and can be seen in the Woods’ museum.
When NASCAR began adding superspeedways – and pit stops – Wood figured out ways to get the race car serviced in the least amount of time.
One major achievement in the team’s pit stop arsenal was the light-weight jack that replaced floor jacks weighing more than 100 pounds found in the repair shops of the day. With Wood’s choreography the team excelled like no other. Wood continued to go over the wall to change tires well into his 50s.
In 1965, Ford and Colin Chapman hired the Woods to service Jim Clark’s car in the Indianapolis 500. Another Wood innovation, an internal device allowing fuel to flow more quickly from a gravity-based fuel tank, dramatically reduced pit times and was key in Clark’s victory.
Wood’s accomplishments were not confined to pit road. He ran the team’s engine shop that provided horsepower and longevity on a par with rivals Holman-Moody and Petty Enterprises. That was instrumental to the success NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee David Pearson enjoyed as Pearson won 43 races between 1972 and 1978. Racing legends Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney are among drivers winning in Wood Brothers-prepared and crewed cars.
- Leonard Wood Could Do Anything With A Race Car – Architect Of Modern Pit Stop Heads To NASCAR Hall Of Fame: Back in the day, there was no such thing as a “how-to” manual for chief mechanics. Or for race car builders, engine assemblers and tuners and anyone else associated with the then-fledgling sport of NASCAR stock car racing. And one who did it among the best is Stuart, Va.’s Leonard Wood, who is among the 2013 class of five set for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 8. Wood, 78, will be enshrined in ceremonies to be held at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center Crown Ballroom which is connected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Wood joins his older brother Glen Wood, the fabled Wood Brothers #21 racing team’s original driver and owner, as a NASCAR Hall of Fame member. His fellow inductees in the Hall’s fourth class are NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Buck Baker, Herb Thomas and Rusty Wallace and car owner/builder/driver/crew chief Cotton Owens.
“He’s the most dedicated, talented all-around mechanic NASCAR has ever seen,” said Wood’s nephew, Len, co-owner of the current Wood Brothers team with his brother Eddie and sister Kim Hall. “He fit the term ‘chief mechanic.’ He could do anything with the car.”
The facts are these: Leonard Wood, in 990 races as a crew chief for the #21 Ford and Mercury cars, won 96 times. His cars also won 117 poles. After Glen stepped out of the cockpit, Leonard worked with some of the sport’s greatest drivers including NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson and Cale Yarborough; A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney and Parnelli Jones.
In a recent interview, Dale Jarrett, former Wood Brothers driver and current ESPN analyst, called Leonard Wood “one of the smartest people to come through this sport, especially early on. They had so many ideas from the pit crew to other things that people don’t even know about, under the hood so to speak, that Leonard Wood was kind of in charge of making it happen.” None of it came from a professor’s lecture, a text book or a blueprint. Wood learned by watching, thinking through the problem and then doing. And most assuredly innovating. He sat by as his father, Walter, tore down the engine from the team’s first race car. Later, when the time had come to freshen it again, Wood – then in high school – volunteered for the task, which was done to perfection.
“It kind of blows your mind that somebody that young could do that,” said Glen Wood, noting that in the early days the chief mechanic was exactly that – a jack of all trades from fabricator to shock and spring specialist to engine builder. “He just learned by himself and he did it really well – anything he did. I could always depend on him. If the car wasn’t working right, I’d go off somewhere and sit while he worked on it. When I came back, it would be in winning shape. He’s one of the best who ever came down the pike. I felt maybe he should have gone in (the NASCAR Hall of Fame) before me.”
Pit stops weren’t a big part of NASCAR’s early years during which many races were held on 1/2-mile dirt tracks at distances of 200 and 250 laps. But the advent of longer races on superspeedways – Darlington Raceway followed by Daytona, Charlotte and Atlanta – significantly broadened the sport’s boundaries. With multiple stops necessary to add fuel, change tires and make adjustments, the Woods quickly recognized that less time spent on pit road meant fewer rivals to pass on the race track.
Leonard Wood became the architect of what became the signature Wood Brothers Pit Stop, the key to which was modernizing the equipment used on pit road. In the early years, floor jacks weighing 70 to 80 pounds were used to lift the race cars. They also required a strong man to pump the handle – up to 10 pumps for tire clearance. Wood took apart the jack, inserted larger pistons and – presto – his brother Delano Wood could get the car off the asphalt by pumping two or three times. He ported and polished the mechanisms in the team’s air guns, allowing lug nuts to be removed and replaced more quickly. Finally, Wood modified the inside of the team’s dump cans so that gasoline flowed faster. Hired by the Ford Motor Co. to pit Jim Clark’s Lotus at the Indianapolis 500, the Woods stunned the racing world as Clark spent 41.9 seconds on pit road en route to Victory Lane – thanks to “tweaking” of the gravity-fed refueling rig. “We turned that thing on and it put in 58 gallons in 15 seconds,” said Wood. It just sucked the fuel out of there. We knew we were going to be under 20 seconds on the pit stops. We got the most publicity in the least amount of time we ever got in our lives. We hit a home run for sure.”
Len Wood continues to marvel at his uncle’s fabrication skills. The team is completing a replica of the Ford Galaxie in which Tiny Lund won the 1963 Daytona 500. The car will be on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame during NASCAR Acceleration Weekend, along with a 1/8-scale, gasoline-powered car fashioned from scraps of aluminum and the soles of shoes that Wood built decades ago. He tethered it to a pole, a kind of forerunner to today’s radio controlled cars. “His fabrication skills; it’s all in his head; no blueprints,” said the younger Wood, recalling that they were going to use aluminum pieces to fasten the windshield to the Galaxie. “Leonard said, ‘No, I think we used steel back then. I’ll make steel ones.’ If you can describe it, he can fix it or make it.”(NASCAR)(1-11-2013)
- Charlotte Observer:
Leonard Wood: A Hall of Fame-worthy innovator by Tom Higgins
- website: Wood Brothers Racing
- owner stats at racing-reference.info and
crew chief stats at racing-reference.info