Inductees to 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame Whether for their contributions as NASCAR pioneers or their feisty, fan-captivating prowess and personality behind the wheel, each member of the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class is unique in his own right.
SPEED shines a spotlight on Hall of Fame inductees Buck Baker, Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood in a one-hour biography special premiering Feb. 2 at 9 p.m. ET in a lead-up to the network’s live coverage of the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that these guys put their lives on the line every time they got in a race car and you didn’t know if they were going to come back alive or not,” SPEED analyst Kyle Petty said. “I think that’s lost on this generation– they think these guys today just go out and become superstars overnight, but these inductees and their peers were the true, often-underrated heroes of our sport.”
Below, SPEED analysts Dave Despain, Larry McReynolds, Kyle Petty and 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip reflect on the careers of these five NASCAR giants:
NASCAR driver Buck Baker was the quintessential 1950s “tough guy,” taking honors as the first driver to win consecutive NASCAR premier series championships. One of the sport’s early standouts, Baker posted incredible stats between 1955 and 1958, notching 46 victories, two titles and a runner-up points finish.
“They didn’t come any tougher than Buck Baker,” SPEED analyst Kyle Petty explained. “The man would have wrecked everybody and anybody to win a race. He went to the track simply to win. Look at Herb Thomas, Buck and my grandfather, Lee Petty -- they raced to make money and put food on the table. It wasn’t about the glory or the Hall of Fame; it was about beating all the other guys. It was about making a living. I’m from North Carolina, where a lot of people grew tobacco or chickens. We just happened to grow race cars in my family, and that’s how guys like Buck were. Racing wasn’t about the glory or the trophies or being inducted into the Hall of Fame one day. It was your life, your lifestyle and how you fed your family. That’s what racing meant to Buck Baker.”
“Buck did it his way,” NASCAR on SPEED & FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip stated. “He was a tough-as-nails guy and a legend larger than life. He could have driven for a factory team but elected not to because he wanted to race his own cars and run his own show. Buck gave everything he had to the sport, so it’s nice to see the sport recognize those sacrifices.”
Cotton Owens distinguished himself both as a driver and owner. Behind the wheel, he graced Victory Lane nine times in NASCAR’s premier series and nearly won the 1959 championship. His biggest influence, however, was as an owner with an unparalleled eye for talent. Owens supplied the cars and engines that powered the likes of NASCAR Hall of Famers such as David Pearson and Junior Johnson, earning 38 wins as an owner.
“Buddy Baker and David Pearson always refer back to Cotton as the guy who gave them their big breaks or turned their careers around, and he had similar impacts on so many drivers,” Kyle Petty pointed out. “Cotton was so patient with his drivers, and he and his wife, Dot, practically adopted those guys. You might drive his car, but you really became part of his family, and every driver wanted to be there and in Cotton’s factory-Dodge cars. “
“Cotton Owens was a good driver who became a great car owner,” said Despain, host of Wind Tunnel on SPEED. “Graduating from the Modified ranks, where he was two-time champion, Owens won a race in NASCAR's premier division every year from 1957-61. But his greatness was in fielding cars for a host of NASCAR early stars, most notably Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and David Pearson.”
Herb Thomas etched his name in NASCAR’s history books as the first two-time champion, capturing premier series titles in 1951 and 1953, and runner-up points finishes in 1952 and 1954. One of the sport’s first superstars, Thomas and his 48 wins left behind an indelible legacy, most notably as the driver of the No. 92 Fabulous Hudson Hornet powered by the legendary Smokey Yunick's engines.
“Herb solidified himself as one of the sport’s first superstars when he became the first to win two premier NASCAR championships,” SPEED & NASCAR on FOX analyst Larry McReynolds said. “Additionally, he built, worked on and drove his own cars. The man was a one-stop shop and very deserving of this honor. I am so glad to see this voting committee reach back and vote in some of the true pioneers of our sport. When you think of pioneers, Herb Thomas’ name comes to mind quickly.”
Rusty Wallace stormed onto the NASCAR scene at a time when the sport began to boom and resonate with fans. The 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was especially proficient on short tracks, and gained notoriety for his fearless attitude, particularly with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in his sights.
“Rusty played a big role in the golden era of NASCAR when the sport really started to explode,” Petty stated. “Rusty went head-to-head with Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Harry Gant and those guys back in the day, and he wasn’t afraid of anybody or intimidated because he cut his racing teeth on the Midwest short tracks. Having to race against Darrell Waltrip or Dale Earnhardt wasn’t that big of a deal after growing up with guys like Mike Eddy and Bob Senneker back when there were no TV cameras around to catch the action outside of the cockpit. They’d get out of the car and kick your butt and not think twice about it. Rusty wasn’t afraid of anybody and that’s a good part of why he became so popular.”
Leonard Wood is renowned as much for his gentle and friendly demeanor as architect of the modern pit stop. A NASCAR pioneer whose family has fielded Sprint Cup machines since 1953, Wood racked up 96 wins and 117 pole positions as a crew chief, not to mention a list of drivers that reads like a “who’s who” of NASCAR wheelmen.
“I had the great privilege and honor of driving for the Wood Brothers and can tell you first-hand what a tremendous family they are,” Petty said. “Leonard was perhaps the greatest mechanic the sport has ever known. Bumper-to-bumper, he knew more about a race car than anyone I’ve ever seen. Leonard never tried to tell the driver what to do; rather, he’d listen to what the car was doing, and then go to work making it better. And Leonard always knew how to make it better. The opportunity to work with someone with that big of a toolbox is a tremendous help for a driver. Leonard Wood helped a lot of big-name drivers post the impressive numbers they did.”
“They don’t make them like Leonard Wood anymore,” Waltrip said. “He and Glen were the first people I got to know really well in the sport when I came in back in the ‘70s. They were the first guys I went to for help on my cars and they never hesitated to help me despite the fact David Pearson was their driver at the time. Whether it was Leonard on the carburetor or set ups or David helping me with how to drive the car or get around a certain track, they were gentlemen through and through. Leonard and Glen were the original Southern gentlemen of the sport and there’s no one sweeter, smarter or kinder than Leonard Wood. It will be an honor for me to be in the Hall of Fame with him.”