The NASCAR Hall of Fame grew by five more members on Friday night when the Hall inducted its 2013 class — including Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood — during its annual induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Charlotte. This latest induction brings Hall of Fame membership to a total of 20 individuals.
Here are some career highlights of the latest additions to the NASCAR Hall of Fame:
Buck Baker was the first driver to claim consecutive NASCAR premier series championships, doing so in 1956 and 1957. He finished in the top-two in points four-straight years between 1955 and 1958. After a career that saw him claim 46 wins, along with those two championshiips, Baker was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. After retiring from driving in the mid-1970s, Baker formed the Buck Baker Driving School, teaching future NASCAR starts, including four-time champion Jeff Gordon, some of the tricks of the trade.
“Buck always made an impression, whether it was good or bad,” Baker’s widow, Susan Baker, said. “If you met him, you’d always remember him.
Cotton Owens made his mark on the sport as both an owner and a driver. He started his NASCAR career as a driver, and after dominating the modified ranks, Owens moved to NASCAR’s top level and claimed nine additional wins as a driver. For his accomplishments behind the wheel, he, like Baker, was named among NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers when NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998.
As an owner, Owens found even more success at NASCAR’s premier level. With David Pearson behind the wheel, Owens became a championship car owner in 1966.
“He took great pride that he could build a winning race car from the ground up,” Owens’ grandson, Kyle Davis, said. Davis also mentioned his grandfather’s four principles — God, family, friends and the 426 Hemi, illustrating the late legend’s loyalty to Dodge.
Despite his death prior to the induction, Owens did know that he’d be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He died in July 2012, several weeks after the announcement of his 2013 induction into the Hall.
Herb Thomas was NASCAR’s first two-time premier-level champion, claiming titles in 1951 and 1953. He finished second during that year in-between, 1952. As a matter-of-fact, Thomas, like Baker, put together four-consecutive years of top-two points finishes, finishing out the 1952 and 1954 seasons second in the championship points standings. Even more impressive, Thomas finished first or second five times in six years, also finishing second in points in 1956. His one down year during that time resulted in a fifth-place finish in 1955.
Thomas has the highest winning percentage in NASCAR history, winning 48 times in only 228 starts. That stat played a huge part in Thomas being declared one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
“I truly believe this (Hall of Fame induction) is the greatest honor a driver could receive,” Thomas’ son, Joel Thompson, said. “My father would’ve been very honored and humbled to receive this recognition.”
Rusty Wallace embarked on a Cup level career in the early 1980s and turned in a second-place finish in his series debut. Things after that were bumpy for awhile until his career took off in the mid-1980s. He claimed a Winston Cup title in 1989 and didn’t look back.
Although Wallace didn’t win another championship, his stint with Penske Racing, beginning in 1991, is considered the most productive time of Wallace’s career. Wallace remained with the Penske organization until his retirement from driving in 2005. During that time, he posted 37 of his total 55-career wins. He won 10 races in 1993, alone.
Wallace was especially productive on the circuit’s short tracks, turning in 25 short-track victories throughout his Cup career, with nine of those coming at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway.
Since climbing out of the race car, Wallace has embarked on a television career, working as a NASCAR analyst for ESPN. He also owns a NASCAR Nationwide Series team.
Leonard Wood didn’t make his mark on the sport from behind the wheel. Instead, he showed his mastery on pit road and in the race shop. Wood is even credited with the creation of the modern pit stop. Wood realized that there were positions to be gained on pit road, and his reputation for formulating a fast stop even took him to Indianapolis to pit Jim Clark’s car in the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Wood was also a master in the shop. His engine program powered 94 race wins, including 43 of David Pearson’s 105. Other drivers who won in Wood Brothers Racing entries powered by Wood include Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney.
“It’s certainly a high honor to go in the Hall of Fame behind brother Glen and our former drivers Cale and David,” Wood said.
Wood’s brother, Glen Wood, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year.
Earlier in the day, NASCAR broadcasting legends Barney Hall and Ken Squier became the first two recipients of an award named in their honor, the Squier Hall Award for Media Excellence.
– Photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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