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NASCAR Hall of Famer and Mitchell County Legend Waddell Wilson to appear on April 6 at Southern Ridge Café in Bakersville and Western Sizzlin’ Steak House in Spruce Pine

By Tim Gardner

     Meet-and-greet visits with NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) Hall of Famer and Mitchell County native and legend Waddell Wilson will be held in Bakersville and Spruce Pine on Saturday, April 6.

     Wilson will be at the Southern Ridge Cafe next to the old Mitchell County Court House in Bakersville from 11:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and then at the Western Sizzlin’ Steak House, off NC South 226 Highway in the Grassy Creek Community in Spruce Pine from 2:30 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.

     Wilson grew up on a farm on McKinney Cove Road, just off Cane Creek Road, in Bakersville. He is a graduate of old Bowman High School. Wilson also is a former resident of the Crossnore School & Children’s Home in Avery County.  He currently lives in Denver, North Carolina.

     Wilson will be accompanied on these visits back to Mitchell County by his wife, the former Barbara Fox, who was raised in the Grassy Creek Community, and his other family members, who also worked in NASCAR.  He welcomes all NASCAR fans, vehicle enthusiasts, old friends and acquaintances of his from Mitchell County and surrounding areas, and everyone else who would like to come and visit with him and his family and become their new friends in an informal session at either or both restaurants to talk auto racing, Mitchell County, Avery County, or any other topics.  

     There is no charge to attend these special appearances by Wilson. Of course, those attending can purchase foods and beverages at each restaurant, both of which are known for their variety of delicacies.

     Wilson got his first practical job experience involving vehicles by performing mechanical work as a teenager at the old Ford Dealership in Spruce Pine. He started his professional racing career driving jalopies, street stocks, and modified cars at the Hialeah, Palmetto, and Hollywood short tracks in Florida.  “I won a few races,” he said, “but before long I figured building engines really was my niche, so I quit driving and concentrated on building engines and being a crew chief.”  

     Wilson began as an engine builder for the Holman Moody Racing Team, based in Charlotte, North Carolina in the early 1960s.  

     A true dual threat as an engine builder and crew chief, Wilson powered and guided cars to some of the biggest victories in NASCAR history. As an engine builder, he supplied the power that helped drivers David Pearson (1968 and 1969) and Benny Parsons (1973) to Cup Series championships. Overall, Wilson’s engines helped some of the greatest drivers to ever wheel a car – including besides Peason and Parsons, their fellow-NASCAR Hall of Famers Edward Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, and Buddy Baker – to 109 wins and 123 poles. 

      Wilson gained his first national acclaim for building the engine Roberts used to win the 1963 Southern 500 at the Darlington, South Carolina race track. Wilson guided three cars to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 at Daytona Beach, Florida as a crew chief, winning “The Great American Race,” with Baker (1980) and back-to-back with Yarborough (1983 and 1984). The famed “Grey Ghost” car Wilson assembled for Baker still holds the Daytona 500 record with an average speed of 177.602 miles per hour (MPH).

     Wilson built the engines that powered seven Daytona 500 winners won by six different drivers on five different teams. Two besides Baker and Yarbrough, are also NASCAR Hall of Famers: 1965 winner Fred Lorenzen (2015) and 1975 winner Parsons (2017).

     In 1967, Daytona 500 winner Mario Andretti and second-place finisher Lorenzen lapped the entire field in Holman-Moody Racing Fords with Wilson engines.  And A.J. Foyt won the 1972 Daytona 500 with a Wilson-built engine

     Wilson also built the engines in four consecutive Daytona 500 pole-winning cars from 1979 to 1982. And he built engines for winning-drivers Junior Johnson and Geoff Bodine.

     Additionally, Wilson prepared an engine for Hendrick Motorsports that Waltrip used in a practice session to set an unofficial track record at Daytona that exceeded Bill Elliott’s 1985 mark. And Parsons set the record for the first 200-mile-per-hour (320 km/h) qualifying lap at the Talladega, Alabama race track with an engine built by Wilson.

     In the fourteen-year period between 1979 and 1993, Wilson was the crew chief for 22 NASCAR Winston Cup race wins.  Equally, or, even more impressive is that between 1983 and 1986, the Yarborough and Wilson team won nine races in only 60 starts, including four of sixteen in 1983. 

     Also, in 1981, Wilson set a personal season-high mark leading Bobby Allison to five race wins.

     Wilson was also the crew chief for IndyCar driver Al Unser Jr.’s only NASCAR start at the 1993 Daytona 500.

     Wilson’s final victory as a crew chief came at the Darlington Raceway with Rudd in 1991. He closed out his crew chief career working with driver Ricky Craven for the first five races of 1995.

     Additionally, Wilson was a Team Manager for Hendrick Motorsports and a General Manager for Yarborough Motorsports and in 1973, he authored the top-selling “Race Engine Preparation” book.

     Wilson retired from racing full-time in 2000, but remained active in the business for several years after as a consultant for Jerica Performance Products.  He was also selected to be one of three retired crew chiefs to vote for the inaugural class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. 

     Wilson received the “Golden Wrench Award” by the North Carolina Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.  Then in 2011, he was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame.  He also was presented the Woods Brothers Award of Excellence in 2022, which annually honors racing crew members and chiefs, engine builders, and race engineers for outstanding contributions to NASCAR through on-the-track success.  

      Next, Wilson was honored with the ultimate achievement of his professional career–enshrinement into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

     He was among five inductees of the 2020 Hall of Fame Class  – the 11th since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. Besides Wilson, enshrined as both an engine builder and crew chief, the Class consisted of drivers Baker, Tony Stewart, and Bobby Labonte, and team owner Joe Gibbs, also a three-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the National Football League’s Washington Redskins.  In addition, Edsil Ford, II earned NASCAR’s 2020 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to professional auto racing.

     In 2020, the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners designated January 31 each year as “Waddell Wilson Day” in the county to honor Wilson, who was enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on the same day that year.  That day is annually set aside for Mitchell natives and its other residents to pay special tribute to one of the county’s most famous natives and his numerous contributions to NASCAR, which have made him a household name in the sport.

     “My family and I are excited about returning to Mitchell County and hopefully getting to visit with many friends we’ve known there for years as well as meeting many new friends,” Wilson stated.

     The meet-and-greet sessions with Wilson and his family are sponsored by the High Country Press with assistance from the Mitchell County Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce and the Mitchell County Historical Society.

     Wilson will be featured in a story in the April issue of the High Country Magazine, published by High Country Press.