Five of NASCAR’s legendary competitors – three drivers, an owner and an engine builder/crew chief – were enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight during the Induction Ceremony held in the Crown Ball Room at the Charlotte Convention Center.
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.
A 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.
“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.”
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 – 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.”
Nicknamed “The People’s Champion,” for his blue-collar attitude toward racing, Tony Stewart 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. A versatile driver, Stewart racked up 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 one of just 55 people to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Stewart said. “And, considering that NASCAR has been around for more than 70 years, that’s kind of nuts. It truly is an elite group, and it’s incredibly humbling to be a part of it.”
A dual-threat 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.”
In addition to the five inductees enshrined today, 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.
Prior to tonight’s Induction 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.”