NASCAR Stars Shine at 2020 Hall of Fame Ceremony

photo by Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
The stars came out in Uptown Charlotte Friday night as five of the brightest in the NASCAR constellation were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The class of 2020 included Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart. Quite a few of the 51 other members were on hand for the occasion.

Engine builder and crew chief Waddell Wilson was introduced by Corey LaJoie and inducted by his daughter Lisa Hawkins and sons Gregg and Freddie Wilson.
photo by Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs

Wilson built engines that powered championship runs for Hall of Famer David Pearson in 1968 and 1969, and HoF nominee Benny Parsons in 1973, as well as 109 wins for drivers like Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Fireball Roberts, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. Wins as a crew chief included the Southern 500 with Roberts and two Daytona 500s with Yarborough. Fellow class member Buddy Baker’s victory in the legendary “Gray Ghost” still holds the record for the Great American Race with an average speed of 177.602 mph.

Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker, son of two-time Cup champion and Hall of Famer Buck Baker, passed away in August, 2015, but his presence is still felt strongly in the sport. The six feet, six inches tall Baker was known as the “Gentle Giant” because of his mild-mannered ways off the track. Ryan Newman introduced Baker’s tribute, saying, “He was kind enough to think of me as a son.” Winston Kelly and Humpy Wheeler inducted Baker, and his sister Susie Baker accepted on his behalf.

Fellow class member Wilson said of Baker, who was also known for his lead foot and desire to be at the front of the field, “You knew when you took him to Daytona and Talladega you had the best there was.”

Baker became a beloved broadcaster after he retired from driving, first for The Nashville Network and CBS, later for SiriusXM NASCAR radio. When he revealed that he had inoperable lung cancer and stepped down from the radio show, he told listeners, “Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later.”

Reigning Cup Championship owner, “Coach” Joe Gibbs already belongs to the NFL Hall of Fame with three Super Bowl wins. His entrĂ©e into the NASCAR Hall of Fame came with the help of fellow inductees Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart, who won three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Cup championships between them. Labonte won in 2000 and Stewart in 2002 and 2005. Kyle Busch won the other two titles (2015, 2019) along with one of the Coach’s Xfinity championship titles (2009). Daniel Suarez took the second Xfinity title in 2016. Gibbs also has three Daytona 500 wins (Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Denny Hamlin) and five Brickyard 400 winners (Labonte, Stewart, and Busch.)

Hamlin and Busch introduced Gibbs, and Gibbs' son Coy inducted him into the Hall of Fame.

“I just want to say to everybody here, everybody in NASCAR ... I was so nervous coming from football over to racing,” Gibbs said, “‘How are we going to be accepted?' the family and everything ... I just want to say a big thank you. Everyone stretched out their arms -- the fans, the fellow competitors. That meant so much as we took off in racing."

photo by Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
Fellow Texan and Xfinity Champion Chris Buescher introduced Bobby Labonte, the first driver to win both the Xfinity and Cup Series championships, and only the second Texan to become a NASCAR Cup Champion and Hall of Famer. “Texas” Terry Labonte, Class of 2016, inducted his younger brother into the Hall.

The 2000 Cup champion also won races as a crew member and owner during his career, and is one of only 27 drivers with victories in all three top touring divisions. His first Cup trophy came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600, and his 18 others include a Southern 500, a Brickyard 400, and six from Atlanta. Only Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough won more at Atlanta Motor Speedway than Bobby did.

As his father and former Xfinity team owner, Bob Labonte, looked on from the audience, Bobby claimed that he did two things as a kid: race quarter-midgets in South Texas and watch his brother race.

“After all these years, I stand before you, following in my brother’s footsteps,” he said. “In fact, I’m wearing the same tie he wore the night he was inducted.” He always wanted to be like his brother, and that desire took him to the highest level of the sport.

Kevin Harvick introduced his long-time friend and team owner Tony Stewart. “He’s one of the toughest people I’ve ever met, but behind that toughness is an unrelenting willingness to give back.” Gene Haas, the other half of Stewart Haas Racing, inducted his partner into Hall of Fame, saying, “Winning a race, the excitement lasts for about a week. Winning a championship lasts for a year, but being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame lasts for a lifetime."
photo by Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs

Stewart, known for being as quick witted as he is on the track, quipped that he’d wrecked his first speech in practice and had to go to a backup speech. Turned out Stewart planned to show photos involving each of the other inductees but hadn’t considered the necessary permissions. Later, Joe Gibbs claimed he was the one responsible for derailing Stewart’s plans by calling about those permissions as soon as he’d heard there was a photo involving him.

The three-time Cup champion already had an IndyCar championship along with USAC Silver Crown and Midget championships when he made the transition to NASCAR. Winning three races and Rookie of the Year in 1999, the Indiana native went on to score 49 career wins in Cup, 11 in the Xfinity Series and two in Trucks. He never stopped racing and winning on dirt.   

Stewart said that when he heard the list of inductees included him along Gibbs and Labonte, he thought, “I don’t know how it could be better than to have the three of us go into this together.”

photo by Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, was awarded the Landmark
Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. A familiar face at the racetrack, Ford served as president and CEO of Ford Motor Credit Company, was a director of International Speedway Corporation and sits on Ford’s Board of Trustees. His support of NASCAR racing in general and Ford teams in particular, significantly contributed to the growth of the sport.

Before the ceremony enshrining the five inductees into the Hall of Fame, Dr. Dick Berggren received the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. From 1981 to 2012, Berggren reported for CBS, ESPN, Fox, TBS and TNN, and was editor of both Stock Car Racing and Open Wheel magazines, as well as founding Speedway Illustrated magazine.

When asked what advice he had for today’s reporters, he shared what the late Chris Economaki told him. “Ask a good question. Too many of today’s journalists make a statement,” Berggren said. “I think that’s probably the best advice. It’s nice if you can sell the sport, but I don’t think that’s your job. I do think it’s your job to tell stories about the people who do well at it.”

NASCAR Stars Shine at 2020 Hall of Fame Ceremony NASCAR Stars Shine at 2020 Hall of Fame Ceremony Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, February 02, 2020 Rating: 5