Mr. Baker enjoyed one of NASCAR's most impressive careers. He won 45 poles and 46 races in 635 starts between his first in 1949 and his last in 1976. In addition to his 1956 and 1957 titles, the father of future Hall of Fame driver Buddy Baker finished top-five in points for eight consecutive years, between 1953 and 1960. (He also was top-10 in 1961 and 1964.) Among his major wins were three in the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C. and one each at Martinsville and Watkins Glen. In addition to his Cup successes, he raced in NASCAR's popular Convertible division in the late 1950s and its Winston East stock car and Grand American "sporty car" series in the early 1970s. He died in April of 2002.
Mr. Owens was a successful driver—10 poles and nine wins in 160 starts—and a championship-winning owner with David Pearson in 1966. All told, he fielded cars for 26 drivers, among them Mr. Pearson, Junior Johnson, Mario Andretti, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker and Al Unser, and the late Ralph Earnhardt, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Isaac, Ray Hendrick and Peter Gregg. His driving career covered 1950-1964 and his ownership career extended until 1973. Among his signature wins as an owner (38 poles and 33 wins in 405 starts) were Atlanta in 1960 with Bobby Johns, Charlotte in 1968 with Charlie Glotzbach, Daytona Beach heat races (official events at the time) with Buddy Baker in 1970 and Pete Hamilton in 1971, and 15 wins in 66 starts with Mr. Pearson in 1966. Mr. Owens died in June of 2012, barely a month after learning he had been selected for this year's induction.
Mr. Thomas was NASCAR's first multiple Sprint Cup (Grand National at the time) champion. He won the 1951 and 1953 titles, was second-ranked in 1952, 1954 and 1956, and fifth in 1955. He almost certainly would have won the 1956 title but for career-shortening injuries at Shelby, N.C. late that season. It's widely felt that Speedy Thompson intentionally wrecked Mr. Thomas (point-leader at the time) so Mr. Baker, Mr. Thompson's teammate for owner Carl Kiekhaefer, could win the title. All told, Mr. Thomas won 39 poles and 48 races (including three Southern 500s) in his 228-start career from 1949-1962. He died of a heart attack in Sanford, N.C. in August of 2000.
Mr. Wallace ended his 25-year career in 2005, his 22nd full Sprint Cup season. During those years he won 36 poles and 55 races in 706 starts, mostly in Pontiacs and Fords for Raymond Beadle and Roger Penske. He finished top-10 in points for six consecutive seasons (1986-1991) and then for 10 consecutive seasons (1993-2002). He ended his career eighth in points in 2005 for Penske Racing. He won the 1989 Cup with Mr. Beadle and crew chief Barry Dodson on the strength of six wins, 13 top-fives and 20 top-10's. All told, Mr. Wallace finished seven seasons among the top five in points and 10 other seasons between sixth and 10th. Only a 13th place in 1992 kept him from finishing top-10 for 17 consecutive seasons. Among his successes: nine wins at Bristol, seven at Martinsville, six at Richmond, five each at Michigan and Rockingham, four at Pocono, two each on the road courses at Riverside, Watkins Glen and Sonoma, and two each on the ovals at Atlanta and Charlotte.
Mr. Wood joins his older brother, former driver and team founder Glen Wood, in the HOF, and is only the second crew chief selected. He was the innovative strategist and mechanical mastermind behind the legendary Wood Brothers Racing organization that has 118 poles and 98 wins with many of the sport's greatest names. Among them: Junior Johnson, A.J. Foyt, Fred Lorenzen, Dan Gurney, Cale Yarborough, Parnelli Jones, Buddy Baker, David Pearson, Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott and Dale Jarrett, and the late Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Neil Bonnett and Tiny Lund. Mr. Wood was the first crew chief to fully appreciate the value of pit stop efficiency, and trained his crew to beat rivals off pit road and thus gain track position. He remains active with the famous No. 21 Ford team that currently fields a limited-schedule Fusion for 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne.
The latest group is the fourth five-person class in the Hall of Fame.
The inaugural Class of 2010 was Richard Petty and Junior Johnson, and the late Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr. and Dale Earnhardt. The Class of 2011 was David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and the late Lee Petty. Last year's Class of 2012 was Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Glen Wood, Dale Inman and the late Richie Evans.
The 150,000-sq.-ft. hall of fame/museum opened in May of 2010. The complex features racing artifacts, interactive exhibits, a 275-person theater, the Hall of Honor exhibition area, a restaurant, retail outlet and broadcast studio. The five-acre site also includes a privately developed, 19-story office tower and 102,000-sq.-ft. expansion to the Charlotte Convention Center. The Hall of Fame is owned by the City of Charlotte and licensed to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
According to the Hall's bylaws, five men or women must be inducted annually from a list of 25 nominees. Among the criteria: drivers must have competed for at least 10 seasons and been retired for at least three years; non-drivers (owners, mechanics, track operators, media candidates and NASCAR officials) must have spent at least 10 years in the industry. (There are exceptions for special circumstances.) A 21-member committee selects 25 finalists, with the five leading vote-getters selected for the mid-winter induction.
This report appeared in Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.