Thursday, May 24, 2012

NASCAR Hall of Fame Class announced

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
The fourth class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame was announced Wednesday, and there were some surprises including a tie during the voting process which sent the panel back in for a re-vote on the fifth and final member of the Class of 2013. 

Brian France read off the names for the Hall of Fame's newest class to be inducted on February 8, 2013. The first name called to start the historic yet brief event held at the Hall of Fame was Herb Thomas, the first driver to win two championships in 1951 and 1953. In 1952, he came in second place in points, as he did again in 1954. He won his championships in the cars he owned. In 228 starts, Thomas won 48 races and 39 poles. Thomas is named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers of all time. 

Leonard Wood (L) and his brother Glen Wood (R)
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Second inductee announced was Leonard Wood, who joins brother Glen Wood in the Hall of Fame. The Wood Brothers team is renowned as the innovator of the modern-day pit stop. Leonard was the chief mechanic, also known as the crew chief.  Wood is a mechanic, (hence the reason why he is/was a crew chief) and he once built a washing machine engine-powered go-kart from parts and pieces. It still runs and you can see it in the Wood Brothers museum.

A major accomplishment of Wood's was figuring out how to get the car serviced in faster times during pit stops; that achievement was a lightweight jack that replaced the floor jacks that weighed more then 100 pounds. His accomplishments went beyond pit road, they went on to the team's engine shop that provided horsepower and longevity. Another one of his innovations was an internal device allowing fuel to flow more quickly from a gravity-based fuel tank, dramatically reducing pit times. 

The third name called by France was the surprise of the night, Rusty Wallace.


“I'm very humbled, " Wallace said to press, "I'm very excited, very, very excited, I really am. But, I almost feel like Jesse James, I feel like I grabbed something and run off - there's so many good guys that need to be in it before me.”


"No, I did not think I was going to get in today," he continued to tell press, "I thought that Benny Parsons would get in, I thought Freddy Lorenzo would get in, I thought these super big names that I read about my whole life growing up would get in before me," Wallace said. "I told myself that if I don't get in I'm totally fine with that because I'd like to see somebody that I idolized get in before me."

In 1979, he won rookie of the year for the U.S. Auto Club and finished third in points, behind A.J. Foyt and Bay Darnell. Wallace's first career NASCAR race resulted in his first top-five finish - second place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Wallace went on to win 55 races in 706 starts, and won 36 poles. He won the 1989 championship by a 12-point margin over Dale Earnhardt. Currently, Wallace is an ESPN NASCAR analyst.

Driver number four called was Cotton Owens, a master of two crafts: driver and owner. Owens' success started when he won the 1957 Daytona Beach road course which marked Pontiac's first NASCAR victory. He almost won the 1959 Championship, but came in second to NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty. Owens stood out as one of the pioneers of NASCAR's early years. Junior Johnson ran four races for Owens. David Pearson won 27 races in Owens' cars. In 1998, Owens was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers.

The fifth name announced was Buck Baker, whose given name is Elzie Wylie Baker, an established pioneer, and the first driver to win consecutive NASCAR premiere series championships   in the 1956 and '57 seasons. He finished second in 1955, and '58 he also finished as the runner-up. In 636 starts, Baker won 46 races and 45 poles.

Barney Hall and Ken Squier
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the special award that will now be given each year,  the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, named after long-time NASCAR broadcasters Ken Squier and Barney Hall who will also be the first to receive the award. Beginning in 2014, a special panel will nominate five members of the media from whom one winner will be chosen. According to the official release, the award recipients will remain eligible for Hall of Fame nomination and conversely, Hall of Fame nominees will be eligible for the Squier-Hall Award. 
"Media have played an important role in the growth and popularity of NASCAR over the years by telling the stories of legendary drivers, championship moments and week-to-week action to millions of fans across the world," said France. 

One of NASCAR's original broadcasters, Ken Squier worked with Motor Racing Network to take NASCAR to a broader audience. His distinctive voice took listeners to the track no matter where they were. Squier first showed his face to audiences with the 1979 Daytona 500, when CBS aired the Great American Race - a name he coined - live for the first time on national television. The most memorable moment of that broadcast wasn't the race, it was the post-race fight between Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, and Donnie Allison. 

Hall's started working at local radio stations in North Carolina back in the 1950s and when Bristol Motor Speedway first opened, he was the announcer. In 1960, Hall called the Daytona 500 for the first time and since then he's only missed only three broadcasts in 54 years, one of which was this year. He joined MRN in 1970, and Hall became lead announcer. Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2007, he continues to entertain audiences and at this point, has no plans to retire. MRN President and Executive Producer David Hyatt said of Hall earlier this year, “Motor Racing Network is ‘The Voice of NASCAR’ and Barney Hall is the voice of MRN.” 

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