Five enter NASCAR Hall of Fame

McClatchy News Service

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kyle Davis, grandson of 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Cotton Owens, said he came to an important realization this week.

“The NASCAR Hall of Fame isn’t so much about race cars and exhibits it’s about people,” Davis said.

On Friday night, five more iconic contributors to NASCAR’s history and the stories that come with them officially became the fourth class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Joining Owens were Herb Thomas, Buck Baker, Leonard Wood and Rusty Wallace. Thomas and Baker were inducted posthumously. The Hall, which opened on May 11, 2010 in uptown Charlotte, now has 20 members.

In a change from previous seasons, current NASCAR stars introduced each of the Hall of Fame inductees. Carl Edwards was first and introduced Thomas, Mark Martin introduced Owens, Trevor Bayne introduced Wood, Jeff Gordon introduced Baker and Brad Keselowski introduced Wallace.

Wallace had by far the longest (more than 23 minutes) and easily the most animated acceptance speech.

The 1989 champion in what is now the Sprint Cup Series, he even offered some belated recognition for a previously unknown contributor to his title Rick Hendrick.

Wallace said his team at the time, owned by Raymond Beadle, ran low on funds as the season wore on but remained in the championship hunt. Wallace said Hendrick offered to loan the team money to make it to the end of the year.

“I think I owe him half a championship,” Wallace said.

As he has done in the past, Wallace called on NASCAR’s current drivers to treasure the opportunity they have and remember that their participation on stock car racing’s biggest stage is a privilege.

“You don’t have to do it. They’re not making you do it. It’s a privilege to race in NASCAR,” Wallace said. “This is a blessing for me to be in this sport and to be able to do what I’ve done.

“I really, really appreciate it.”

Wallace won the first of his 55 races in the Cup series in 1986 at Bristol, Tenn. He continues to serve as a TV analyst for race broadcasts on ESPN.

Everett “Cotton” Owens was honored for success as a driver and an owner.

He won nine races in his career and finished second in points in the 1959 Cup series. As an owner, he won 38 races with the likes of Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and David Pearson.

Thomas’ son, Joel, said his father “was never afraid of hard work.”

“He was a champion race car driver and it is true behind every great champion is a great team,” he said.

Herb Thomas was the first driver to win two Cup championships. He also finished second in the standings in 1952 and 1954, giving him four consecutive seasons of finishing no worse than second.

The Wood Brothers team is renowned as the innovator of the modern pit stop and Leonard Wood led the way as the crew chief. Wood had 94 wins and 117 poles in 990 races.

“You were a man ahead of your time,” said his nephew, Eddie. “Now, it’s your time.”

Elzie Wylie “Buck” Baker, who spent most of his life in Charlotte, was the first driver to win consecutive championships in the Cup series (1956-57) and his career victory total of 46 is tied for 14th all-time.

His induction into the Hall of Fame came, appropriately enough, on “Buck Baker Day,” proclaimed earlier in the week by Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.

Early in the evening, NASCAR presented broadcasters Ken Squier and Barney Hall the first Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, which has been named in their honor.

Squier, one of NASCAR’s original broadcasters, helped start the Motor Racing Network in 1970. He is perhaps best known for his work calling the 1979 Daytona 500, the first live flag-to-flag coverage of the race.

That race also included the famous post-race fight between Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison.

Hall began his career in the 1950s working radio stations in North Carolina, and he served as Bristol Motor Speedway’s first public address announcer. He called his first Daytona 500 in 1960 and missed only three broadcasts of the race in its 54-year history.