Five individuals who each made their mark in not only NASCAR, but at historic Talladega Superspeedway, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the 2020 class this Friday (Jan. 31) evening.
The five-person group – the 11th since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010 – consists of former drivers Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte, former driver/owner Tony Stewart, team owner Joe Gibbs, and former crew chief Waddell Wilson. They will be enshrined at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC. The event will be televised LIVE on NBC Sports Network and the NBC Sports App at 7 p.m. CST, and can be heard on Motor Racing Network – The Voice of NASCAR – as well as SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Here’s a breakdown of the inductees:
At 6 feet, 6 inches tall, Baker was often called the “Gentle Giant,” but behind the wheel he had a lead foot and knew only wide open. On March 24, 1970, he became the first driver to officially eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed-course while testing at Talladega in a winged Dodge. His speed in his blue No. 88 machine was 200.447 mph, then a world record. Baker is also a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located just outside Talladega Superspeedway’s Turn 4.
After sweeping both races in 1975 while driving for Bud Moore, he came back in spring of ’76 for his third straight triumph, a consecutive record he would hold until Dale Earnhardt Jr. reeled off four in-a-row from 2001-03. His fourth and final Talladega Superspeedway (TSS) win came in the spring of 1980, driving the familiar No. 28 “Gray Ghost” to Gatorade Victory Lane after claiming the season-opening Daytona 500 earlier that year. In a 33-year career, he won 19 races in the NASCAR Cup Series. After retiring in 1992, Baker made a successful transition to the television booth as a commentator for The Nashville Network and CBS, and later as a radio co-host on Late Shift and Tradin’ Paint for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
The ultimate grinder, Labonte raced any car he could get behind the wheel of before he got his first break as a full-time Cup Series driver at 28 years old in 1993. His persistence paid off with a career highlighted by 21 trips to Victory Lane and the 2000 premier series title. His ’98 Talladega triumph was a nail biter, and one of brotherly love. With just two laps to go, Labonte slipped past leader – and his brother – Terry, then held on for the win by a mere .167 second over Jimmy Spencer. Terry fell to fourth at the finish.
A success in all three of NASCAR’s national series, Bobby was the first of four drivers to win both a Cup and Xfinity Series championship. He is also one of 27 drivers to win a race in all three national series.
Known as “The People’s Champion” for his blue-collar, hard-nosed style of competition, Stewart actually claimed two first-place finishes at Talladega, both in 2008. He started the year with a victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series event in April then came back in the fall with a controversial NASCAR Cup Series win. After Regan Smith’s pass of leader Stewart coming through the tri-oval on the final lap was below the yellow line, which was against NASCAR rules, Stewart was awarded the victory.
Stewart immediately showed that he would be a force to be reckoned with in NASCAR – earning three victories in his Rookie of the Year season in 1999. The titles soon followed. Stewart won his first Cup championship in 2002 driving for Gibbs and answered that quickly in 2005. His versatility was on display throughout his 17-year NASCAR career. He tallied 49 wins in the Cup Series – winning on every style of track. He won 16 times as a driver/owner including one of the most memorable championship pursuits in history in 2011.
Gibbs has won throughout his entire life. The three-time Super Bowl champion football coach started Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 1992 and has led the organization to five Cup Series championships and five Xfinity Series titles. Known as a master motivator, Gibbs’ 176 Cup Series owner wins rank third all-time. Four of those wins have come at Talladega’s 33-degree banked facility, and with four different drivers.
Fellow 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Labonte wheeled his No. 18 to the winner’s circle first in the spring of 1998 for JGR, and 10 years later, the duo of Kyle Busch and Stewart made it a Gibbs’ sweep in 2008. Denny Hamlin was the last to take the checkers in spring of 2014. He also has five victories at Talladega in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Referred to in NASCAR circles as simply “Coach,” Gibbs was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
A dual threat as an engine builder and crew chief, Wilson powered and guided cars to some of the biggest victories in NASCAR history. While building the engines and calling the shots atop the pit box, he guided three drivers to four wins at the world’s greatest track – Talladega. In addition to Baker’s win in 1980, he backed it up a year later with Bobby Allison in ’81, then went back-to-back again in 1984-85 with Cale Yarborough. In addition, in 1982 he built the first engine to help driver Benny Parsons break the 200-mph barrier for the first time in an official NASCAR qualifying lap at 200.176 mph.
As an engine builder, Wilson supplied the power that helped David Pearson (1968, ’69) and Parsons (1973) to Cup Series titles. Overall, Wilson’s engines helped some of the greatest drivers to ever wheel a car – including NASCAR Hall of Famers Pearson, Fireball Roberts, Allison, Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip – to 109 wins and 123 poles.