By Tim Gardner
Waddell Wilson, a former resident of Crossnore School & Children’s Home in Avery County and native of Bakersville (Mitchell County) who achieved legendary status in the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has been chosen for the profession’s ultimate milestone—enshrinement into its Hall of Fame.
NASCAR announced a five-member group that will comprise its next Hall of Fame class (2020)– the 11th since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010—which, besides Wilson, an engine builder and crew chief, consists of drivers Tony Stewart, Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte and team owner Joe Gibbs. In addition, NASCAR announced that Edsel Ford II earned the 2020 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
“I’m deeply honored for being chosen for this ultimate NASCAR recognition,” Wilson stated. “I thank my family, friends, all those who have worked on crews for me, the drivers and team executives I’ve worked for, and racing fans. I’ve enjoyed my career in racing and I appreciate the association with so many good people. The fact I’m being inducted with such quality individuals and successful colleagues makes it extra special.”
The Class of 2020 was determined by votes cast by a voting panel, that included representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders, a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.com and, for the sixth year, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion (Joey Logano).
In all, 57 votes were cast, with two additional Voting Panel members recused from voting as potential nominees for induction (Wilson and Ricky Rudd). The internationally-accomplished accounting firm of Ernst &Young (EY) presided over the tabulation of the votes.
Voting by percentages was as follows: Tony Stewart (88), Waddell Wilson (72), Joe Gibbs (72), Buddy Baker (70) and Bobby Labonte (67).
The five inductees came from a group of 20 nominees that included, in addition to the five inductees chosen: Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer, Ray Fox, Harry Gant, John Holman, Harry Hyde, Hershel McGriff, Ralph Moody, Marvin Panch, Jim Paschal, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd, Mike Stefanik and Red Vogt.
The next top vote-getters behind the 2020 Hall of Fame inductees were Stefanik, Fox and McGriff.
Nominees for the Landmark Award included Edsel Ford II, Alvin Hawkins, Mike Helton, Dr. Joseph Mattioli and Ralph Seagraves.
Driver and Hall of Fame member Jeff Gordon said of Wilson and the other 2020 inductees: “What a wonderful class NASCAR has for next year… it’s truly an outstanding one. And with Waddell (Wilson), when you start to look at the statistics of what he’s contributed to the sport beyond just being a crew chief, they’re great. Certainly, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and I’m most happy for him.”
Wilson started his racing career driving jalopies, street stocks and modifieds at the Hialeah, Palmetto and Hollywood short tracks in Florida. “I won a few races,” Wilson said, “but before long I figured building engines really was my niche.” He began as an engine builder for the Holman Moody Racing Team in the early 1960s.
A 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, ’69) and Benny 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, Edward Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Baker – to 109 wins and 123 poles.
Wilson originally gained acclaim for building the engine Roberts used to win the 1963 Southern 500. Wilson guided three cars to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 as a crew chief, winning The Great American Race with Baker (1980) and Yarborough (1983-84). 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).
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, AL race track using an engine built by Wilson.
Between 1979 and 1993, Wilson was the crew chief for 22 NASCAR Winston Cup race wins. Additionally, between 1983 and 1986, Yarborough/Wilson won nine races in only 60 starts, including four of sixteen in 1983.
Wilson was the crew chief for IndyCar driver Al Unser Jr.’s only NASCAR start at the 1993 Daytona 500.
Wilson also has been a Team Manager for Hendrick Motorsports and a General Manager for Yarborough Motorsports, and in 1990, authored the top-selling “Race Engine Preparation” book.
Wilson received the “Golden Wrench Award” by the North Carolina Stock Car Racing Hall Of Fame in 2006 and was selected to be one of three retired crew chiefs to vote for the inaugural class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was featured on the April 9, 2003 episode of the Speed television channel’s show Men Behind the Wrenches.
He retired from racing full-time in 2000, but has still remained active in the business in several capacities. He also has been a consultant for Jerico Performance Products.
He is married to the former Barbara Fox of Spruce Pine. They have four children—Gary, Greg, Lisa and Freddie—all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps by also working for NASCAR.
Highlights of the careers of Wilson’s fellow-2020 Hall of Fame inductees and Ford II includes:
At six feet, six inches tall, Buddy Baker was often called the “Gentle Giant,” a nod to his personable nature during a 33-year career. He won 19 races in the Cup series, including a victory in the 1970 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway where he lapped the rest of the field. He also won back-to-back Coca-Cola 600s at Charlotte in 1972-73. 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.
Joe Gibbs has won throughout his entire life. The three-time Super Bowl champion football coach started Joe Gibbs Racing in 1992 and has led the organization to four Cup Series championships and five Xfinity Series titles. Gibbs’ 164 Cup Series owner wins (through May 22, 2019) rank third all-time. They include three Daytona 500 victories and five Brickyard 400 wins. His Cup Series titles have come with three different drivers: Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002, ’05) and Kyle Busch (2015). Referred to in NASCAR circles as simply “Coach,” Gibbs was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
The ultimate grinder, Bobby 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 Cup Series title. A success in all three of NASCAR’s national series, Labonte 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.
Tony 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. Stewart won his first Cup championship in 2002 driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. 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. In 2009, Stewart became a team owner, partnering with Gene Haas. He won 16 times as a driver/owner including one of the most memorable championship pursuits in history. In 2011, he won five of the 10 Playoff races – including the season finale – to claim his third title by virtue of a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards.
Edsel Ford II
There are few names as iconic in the sport of auto racing as Edsel Ford II. A member of the Ford Motor Company Board of Directors and longtime executive of the company founded by his great-grandfather Henry Ford, Edsel’s is a familiar face in the racing garage. Ford’s support of NASCAR has been both behind the scenes with the Ford Motor Company but also out in front where he is greeted warmly by the sport’s competitors, executives, team owners and fans at any race track he visits. His leadership at Ford includes time as President and Chief Operating Officer (May, 1991-1998) and a Director of International Speedway Corporation (November 2007-October 2015).
The Class of 2020 Induction Weekend is set for Thursday, Jan. 30 2020, through Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, NC. The official Induction Ceremony for the distinguished group of new inductees will take place on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The Class of 2020 will bring the total to 55 inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Tickets to Induction Ceremony events begin at $75 per person (plus tax and applicable service fees). Tickets go on sale on Saturday, July 6th, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). Special pre-sales will be available to NASCAR Hall of Fame members Tuesday, June 25th through Friday, July 5. For additional details about the Class of 2020 Induction Weekend events and to learn about becoming a NASCAR Hall of Fame member, visit nascarhall.com.