NASCAR Hall of Fame Welcomes Class of 2013
Joining them in the Hall were legendary crew chief Leonard Wood, driver and championship-winning car owner Cotton Owens and 1989 NASCAR Champion and broadcaster Rusty Wallace.
Between them, they’ve garnered nearly 300 NASCAR victories and six championships, and along the way mentored, tutored and provided winning race cars for dozens of future generations of NASCAR stars.
Herb Thomas was best known among his fellow racers as a man who would do anything to win. “It’s win or bust,” Thomas once said. “Second place is never good enough.”
In his short career consisting of just 228 races, Thomas earned 48 victories – a winning percentage of 21.05% that is second all-time among all drivers.
Thomas, who made his living operating a saw mill when he wasn’t racing, competed in the first race for what would become the NASCAR Cup Series in 1949 and captured his first championship in 1951. Thomas would later go on to win the 1953 title, becoming NASCAR’s first two-time champion.
Thomas drove the iconic “Fabulous Hudson Hornet” for crew chief Smokey Yunick during his first championship-winning season in 1951, and continued running Hudson’s until they pulled out of the sport in 1955. After clinching the runner-up spot in the 1956 championship standings, Thomas was severely injured in a racing crash which effective ended his racing career. He last raced in 1962, and passed away in 2000 at the age of 77.
Thomas’ son Joel was on hand to accept his father’s induction.
“I'm honored to be here on my father's behalf to accept his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2013. I truly believe this is the greatest honor a driver could receive,” said Thomas. “I wish he were here right here so we could see the expression on his face.
“Although you're not here with us tonight, I know you're watching the festivities. Dad, this is for you. You made it to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Thank you for honoring my father, Herb Thomas, by inducting him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Everett “Cotton” Owens started his racing career competing in modifieds where he won over 100 feature races, earning him the title “King of the Modifieds”. He began racing in NASCAR’s Grand National Series in 1950 and would go onto win nine races over a 15-year career before stepping out from behind the wheel to become a full-time car owner.
Owens would go on to field cars for some of the sports greatest drivers, including NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Marvin Panch, Bobby Isaac, Ralph Earnhardt, Charlie Glotzbach, Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Buddy Baker.
But it was with NASCAR Hall of Fame driver David Pearson that Owens found the greatest success: collecting 27 victories and a championship in 1966.
Owens, who passed away last June at the age of 88 – shortly after learning he was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame - was represented at the ceremony by his grandson, Kyle Davis.
“I'm honored to be here tonight on behalf of my grandfather and my hero, Cotton Owens, said Davis. “My grandfather was one of the most humble, most loyal, hardest workingmen I've ever met. I think my brother Brandon said it best at my grandfather's funeral: That Pop lived his life by four unwavering principles that he helped savor, and that was God, family, country and the 426 Hemi.
“My cousin Ryan used a quote from Erma Bombeck to describe my grandfather. I think it's very appropriate. And what it says: ‘when I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have one single bit of talent left, and I can say that I used everything you gave me.’ Pop, you certainly used every bit of talent God gave you.”
The Wood Brothers began competing in 1950 with Glen Wood as their first driver and Leonard serving as crew chief. It was as a crew chief that Leonard proved to be a true innovator – building motors, setting up chassis and fabricating the cars.
It was Leonard, along with his brother, who developed the streamlined the pitstop process into what it is today. Their innovative techniques to servicing their race cars quickly earned them the chance to provide pit stops for driver Jim Clark during his victorious run in the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
“It's a good thing I did the ring size and not the hat size. Wouldn't have been able to get it on,” said Wood. “It's certainly a high honor to go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, especially behind brother Glen and two of our former drivers David (Pearson)and Cale (Yarborough). Glen and I always did things together. We learned together and we won together.”
Elzie Wylie “Buck” Baker, Sr. began racing out of Charlotte, N.C. in 1939, making his first NASCAR start in the first ever NASCAR stock car race in 1949. Driving a Hemi-powered Dodge for car owner Carl Kiekhaefer, Baker won the 1956 championship and then followed that up with winning the 1957 title, becoming NASCAR’s first back-to-back champion.
After two championships and 46 wins, Baker retired in 1976, and opened the Buck Baker Racing School, where he began teaching future generations of drivers the skills needed to compete in NASCAR - among them four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Baker passed away on April 14, 2002 at the age of 83
Hi son, Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker, Jr., who followed his father in NASCAR and won 19 races himself, was on hand along his mother Susan Baker to accept Baker’s induction.
“Buck always made an impression on people, whether it was good or bad,” said Susan Baker. “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 had that same effect on others.
“He faced life head on. He was so grateful for everything that was given to him, and he would always remind me of how blessed we were. There has never been anyone quite like Buck. He was an amazing man and the love of my life. And everyone in our family is overjoyed by his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
Described by fellow driver and commentator Dale Jarrett as a “fair but hard-nosed racer”, Wallace was a fearless competitor on the racetrack, and won praise from his crew chiefs and competitors alike for his ability to handle a race car.
Wallace went to Victory Lane 55 times in his 25-year career, dueling with such notable drivers as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Tim Richmond and Darrell Waltrip.
After retiring in 2005, Wallace joined ESPN as a commentator. Wallace started his own race team – Rusty Wallace Inc. – fielding cars for his son Steven and brother Kenny, as well as Brendan Gaughan, Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann and Michael Annett.
I'll tell you, this is pretty emotional. I watched all these videos and it just blows me away. I'll tell you one thing, I look out in this crowd and I see some of the biggest stars in history,” said Wallace. “I am humbled that I've made it here, I'm humbled that I'm standing up here
“I love telling stories about NASCAR as you can tell, I love helping build this sport, I love educating people that don't know about NASCAR.
“There's one thing I learned about the sport. It's that -- the thing I learned, and I said it earlier and I said it at a driver's meeting in 2005 I day I retired and walked out, I said, this is a privilege, this is a privilege to race in NASCAR. You don't have to do it. We're not making you do it. It's a privilege to race in NASCAR, and this has been a blessing for me to be able to be in this sport and do what I've done, and I really, really appreciate it.”
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