The newest class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame has been enshrined. On Friday evening, five names were formally immortalised in the Hall of Fame: Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, and Tony Stewart. The names were previously announced last May.
During Friday’s ceremony, longtime NASCAR pit reporter Dick Berggren was honoured with the Squier-Hall Award. Named after famed announcers Ken Squier and Barney Hall, the award is given to noted media members for their contributions to the sport. Edsel Ford II, the great grandson of Henry Ford and executive of the Ford Motor Company, received the Landmark Award for his work in NASCAR.
“One of the great things I enjoy about NASCAR is the rivalry between the manufacturers: General Motors (Chevrolet), Toyota, and ourselves,” Ford stated. “But there’s also a special camaraderie between all of us. We all want to win, but we also know how hard it is to win in this sport, so often, we congratulate each other before the race. But when the green flag drops, Katie bar the door, we’re off racing.
“But at the end of the race, we all congratulate ourselves and I remember days when I see Jim Campbell who runs GM Racing, congratulated him, and the team from Toyota last year. We’re all friends, and that’s so unique for NASCAR.”
One of NASCAR’s most iconic engine builders, Wilson worked with the likes of Hall of Famers Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Benny Parson, and Darrell Waltrip. Wilson’s motors recorded 109 NASCAR Cup Series wins and three Daytona 500 victories, including the first engine to set a 200-mph qualifying lap in 1982 with Parsons at Talladega Superspeedway.
Wilson paid tribute to his wife Barbara in his Hall of Fame speech: “In 1960, I met the love of my life, Barbara. You are an amazing woman. You have worked hard to raise our kids and take care of things at home. Over the years, I worked and traveled week after week.
“As everyone knows, you cannot be successful without the love and support of your family. So thank you, Barbara, for always being there for me.”
In 1998, Baker was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. From 1959 to 1992, he recorded nineteen wins that included the 1980 Daytona 500 with Wilson, the 1970 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and three Coca-Cola 600 victories.
Before his passing in 2015, Baker was a beloved member of the NASCAR media, working as a colour commentator and radio host.
“It’s wonderful to see NASCAR honour its heroes past and present with these inductions into their prestigious Hall of Fame. One of those heroes is Buddy Baker,” Mario Andretti began in his message for the new Hall of Famer. “As a winning, very successful race car driver and well-respected TV and radio commentator. He contributed immensely into NASCAR’s popularity today.”
2019 was an emotional year for Gibbs and his Joe Gibbs Racing organisation. After the death of son and team co-owner J.D. before the season, the team went on a tear during the 2019 Cup season, starting with Denny Hamlin‘s victory in the Daytona 500 and ending with Kyle Busch claiming the title. JGR drivers dominated the year as they combined to win over half the Cup schedule, while three of four reached the Championship Round.
“J.D. went to be with the Lord on January 11,” Gibbs said in his Hall of Fame speech. “Denny put his name over the door on that car. NASCAR said, ‘We want to honour J.D., what lap do you want?’ We said 11. It comes down to the end of that race and can you believe Denny wins that race. I really believe God was there, and I think he had J.D. at his side. That was the greatest victory me, our family, have ever been a part of, and ever will be a part of.
“For us to finish this year with Kyle and the championship, it was a dream season for us, and I thank all 500 of our employees which we love so much. I think we all felt J.D. was there with us.”
A three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach in the National Football League, Gibbs is the first person to be inducted into both the NASCAR and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Labonte raced for Gibbs from 1995 to 2005. During that decade, he won the 2000 Cup championship and twenty-one races. He is also the first driver to win a race in each of NASCAR’s three national series (Cup, Xfinity, Truck).
To officially induct him, older brother and 2016 Hall of Famer Terry Labonte presented him with the Hall of Fame ring. In response, Bobby jokingly offered a monetary bribe:
One of the most iconic names in motorsport as a whole, Stewart enjoyed success in many disciplines of racing from IndyCar to dirt to NASCAR. The three-time Cup champion (two with Gibbs) is the first to win Cup titles as both a driver and owner (of Stewart-Haas Racing).
“Congratulations Tony for your induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” IndyCar legend and Stewart’s hero A.J. Foyt said. “You were a hell of a midget driver, sprint car driver, and NASCAR champion. I’m proud of you. But you know, Tony, as well as I do: you could never beat me.”
Stewart, a colourful character during his driving career, presented a speech filled with quips about his peers.
“I followed everything that Bobby did,” he began, referring to former team-mate Labonte, “And then there came the day that I saw Bobby on a bike training for the Tour de France or something, eating health food, talk about living a healthier lifestyle. And I took a big, giant swig of Coke, grabbed a bag of Oreos, and decided to do my own thing.
“[…] I’m not one to get overly sentimental, I leave that for Jeff Gordon, but I know to lead a blessed life. Becoming a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame is proof of that. […] Thanks to everyone from those days at the Columbus Fairgrounds to the tracks where we raced in USAC to IndyCar and NASCAR, and now back to the grassroots of sprint car racing for me.
“Thank you for being a fan and a fan of motorsports. It’s been a hell of a ride, but all the pole positions, laps led, wins, championships, trophies, awards, and prestige, they don’t matter at the end as much as the relations I made with everyone along the way. And that’s what I value the most.”