NASCAR inducts its 2020 Hall of Fame Class in Charlotte
NASCAR inducted the 2020 Class into its Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina Friday night.
Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Waddell Wilson comprise the 11th Class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame – now home to 55 inductees.
Standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall, Buddy Baker was known as “The Gentle Giant.” During a test at Talladega in 1970, he became the first driver to eclipse 200 MPH on a closed course. Baker won the 1980 Daytona 500 with an average race speed of 177.602 MPH – a track record that still stands. He won 19 NASCAR Cup Series races, including the 1970 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway where he lapped the entire field. He also won consecutive World 600s at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1972-73.
Baker passed away in 2015. He was inducted Friday night by Ryan Newman who considers Baker one of his greatest mentors.
“The only thing faster than his wit was his speed in a race car,” Newman said. “…Once he got out front, no one was getting by him.”
As an engine builder and crew chief, Waddell Wilson provided the power to some of the greatest drivers to ever live, including NASCAR Hall of Famers Baker, David Pearson, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip. As an engine builder he won three Cup championships (David Pearson, 1968 and 1969; Benny Parson, 1993), 109 races and 123 poles. As a crew chief, Wilson guided his drivers to 22 wins, including three DATONA 500 victories (Buddy Baker, 1980; Cale Yarborough, 1983 and 1984).
“I love racing and I appreciate the fans and all their support throughout these years,” Wilson said. “It’s an unbelievable honor to go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s a humbling night for me and my family.”
An NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame Coach with three Super Bowls rings, Joe Gibbs boasts five NASCAR Cup Series owner championships. His 176 Cup Series owner wins – including three Daytona 500 victories – rank third all-time. Three drivers have earned Cup Series titles for Gibbs: Labonte (200), Stewart (2002, 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015, 2019). Busch’s 2015 title the first in the Cup Series for Toyota. Gibbs claims two NASCAR Xfinity Series championships (2009, 2016) and is the winningest in owner in series history.
Joe Gibbs Racing won the 2019 Cup series title and started out the year with a Daytona 500 win by Denny Hamlin. But the year started off on a painful note as Gibb’s son J.D., who was instrumental in the team’s success passed away on Jan. 11.
J.D.’s brother, Coy Gibbs, performed the induction honors, after an introduction by JGR drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin—and a video appearance by former President George W. Busch.
“Whatever he puts his mind to, he achieves it, whether it’s winning the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, NASCAR Championship or just being a great family member,” Hamlin said of the man known simply as “Coach.” “I’m proud to have raced my entire career for a man I’ve looked up to my entire life.”
“The NASCAR family is just unreal,” Joe Gibbs said, describing his original concerns about being accepted in NASCAR when he left the NFL and joined the sport in 1992. “Everyone stretched out their arms. The fans, the fellow competitors … that meant so much as we took off in racing.”
“We had 17 people our first year,” Gibbs recalled of his initial—and successful—plea for sponsorship to Norm Miller of Interstate Batteries. “At that point, JGR was born. I was so nervous coming from football over to racing. How were we going to be accepted, the family, everybody?
“I just want to say big thanks to everybody here. The NASCAR family—just unreal. I want to say to the France family: thanks for your guidance, leadership and the way you accepted us. The fans, the fellow competitors, all you guys… that meant so much to us as we took off in racing.”
Bobby Labonte was the first of four drivers to win a NASCAR Xfinity Series (1991) and NASCAR Cup Series (200) championship. In 729 NASCAR Cup Series starts, he recorded 21 wins, 115 top fives and 203 top 10s. During his 2000 Cup championship season, Labonte exceled on the biggest stages, earning two of his four wins in the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500. He finished 255 points ahead of second-place Dale Earnhardt for the series crown. Labonte joins his brother Terry – a 2016 inductee, and the person who introduced him Friday night – in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“I must thank the France family and NASCAR, because as far back as I can remember, I wanted to race in NASCAR,” Labonte said. “I didn’t race to be in the Hall of Fame, I just wanted to race.”
Few drivers have enjoyed the popularity that Tony Stewart has. The Indiana native earned three NASCAR Cup Series championships. Two of his titles came for Joe Gibbs Racing ((2002, 2005). His third title, in 2011, came as a driver-owner with his co-owned Stewart-Haas Racing team. Stewart scored 49 Cup wins – visiting Victory Lane on every style of track. He is best known for his clutch performance in 2011, when he won five of the 10 Playoff races – including the season finale – to win his third championship via tiebreaker over Carl Edwards. Stewart added a second owner championship with Kevin Harvick in 2015.
“I’m not old ... or, at least, I don’t feel like I’m old,” said Stewart, who was inducted by Haas. “I’m still racing. In fact, I’m racing now more than I ever have in the past. And in my mind, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is there to honor the completion of one’s career...
“But in the eight months since being nominated to this year’s class, I’ve come to appreciate what an honor it is. I’m one of just 55 people to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And, considering that NASCAR has been around for more than 70 years, I think that’s pretty much nuts for me to be here. It truly is an elite group, and it’s incredibly humbling to be a part of it.”
In addition to the five inductees enshrined Friday night, Edsel Ford II was honored as the sixth recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
A member of the Ford Motor Company Board of Directors and longtime executive of the company founded by his great-grandfather Henry Ford, Edsel Ford is always at the track checking on the Ford teams. His support of NASCAR has helped increase the level of competition throughout the industry. His leadership at Ford includes time as president and chief operating officer (May 1991-1998) and a director of International Speedway Corporation (Nov. 2007-Oct. 2015). Edsel is known as “The Godfather” of Ford’s racing program. He is on the Voting Panel for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Also prior to the award ceremony, former pit reporter and magazine editor Dick Berggren was presented the eighth Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.
A college professor by trade, Berggren reported from the NASCAR garage on television from 1981 through his retirement in 2012. He started his broadcast career as a reporter for ESPN and appeared on CBS, TBS and TNN NASCAR coverage before finishing his career with a 12-year stint as FOX’s lead pit reporter. A passionate supporter of grassroots short-track racing, Berggren also served as the editor of both Stock Car Racing and Open Wheel magazines. He founded Speedway Illustrated, which coined itself as “America’s favorite monthly short-track racing magazine.”