NASCAR inducted five more men -- Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood -- into its Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte, N.C., during a special ceremony at the Hall of Friday night.
Baker was one of the early stars of NASCAR, becoming the first driver to win consecutive premier-level championships in 1956 and 1957. More impressively, Baker finished first or second in the points standings four consecutive years, sandwiching those two championship seasons with two runner-up performances in 1955 and 1958.
After retiring from driving in 1976, Baker founded high-performance driving schools at several southeastern NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. He passed away in 2002.
"Buck always made an impression, whether it was good or bad," Baker's wife, Susan Baker, said. "If you met him, you'd always remember him."
Owens wasn't too shabby as a driver from 1950-1964, claiming nine wins in 160 race starts at NASCAR's top level. He came close to laying claim as a championship driver, finishing second to fellow-Hall of Famer Lee Petty in 1959. And like Baker, Owens was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
But it was as a car owner that Owens made his mark. Owens drove his own cars early in his career, but after climbing out of the car, he enlisted the driving abilities of other NASCAR Hall of Fame members like Junior Johnson and David Pearson.
Owens passed away in June 2012, too soon to be in attendance for his official induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But he was around long enough to find out shortly before his death that he'd be inducted in 2013.
"He took great pride that he could build a winning race car from the ground up," Owens' grandson, Kyle Davis, said, going on to mention that his grandfather believed in four principles, God, family, friends and the 426 Hemi.
Baker may have been the first driver to win back-to-back championships in NASCAR, but Thomas was the first to win two, period, doing so in the early years of 1951 and 1953. Like Baker, Thomas also finished first or second in the championship points standings four-straight years, finishing second in 1952 and 1954. As a matter-of-fact, Thomas only finished outside the top- two once during the six-year stretch that spanned 1951-1956. His down year of 1955 resulted in a fifth-place finish.
In all, Thomas posted 48 race wins in 228 race starts during his career that began in 1948, the first year of what is now the Sprint Cup Series, and ended in 1962. And like those mentioned before him, Thomas was selected as one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, the year NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Thomas passed away in 2000.
"I truly believe this is the greatest honor a driver could receive," Joel Thomas, Owens' son, said during the induction ceremony. "My father would've been very honored and humbled to receive this recognition."
Thirty-seven of Wallace's 55-career Cup wins came from behind the wheel of Penske's famed Blue Deuce. Wallace remained with Penske Racing until retiring from competition in 2005. And like he was at home at Penske Racing, Wallace also made himself right at home on NASCAR's short tracks. 25 of his career-wins came on the short tracks of Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway and Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
In the time since, Wallace has found a new home inside ESPN's broadcast booth as a NASCAR analyst. He also owns his own NASCAR Nationwide Series team -- Rusty Wallace Racing.
"I am humbled that I made it here," Wallace said. I'm humbled that I'm standing up here. . . . I hope all the current drivers respect NASCAR the way I respect NASCAR."
The four aforementioned inductees may have been known, at least in part, for their driving skills on the track, but Wood made his mark in a different way -- as a crew chief and mechanic.
Leonard Wood is credited with the creation of the modern pit stop. With Wood calling the shots, Wood Brothers Racing quickly garnered a reputation for having the quickest crew on pit road. Wood's reputation of pit stop master put him at Indianapolis in 1965, pitting Jim Clark's car in the Indianapolis 500.
Wood wasn't just a master on pit road, either. He also ran a top-notch engine shop. Wood-built engines powered Pearson to 43 of his 105-second-to-only-Richard-Petty-career-wins. Wood was also instrumental in preparing and pitting race-winning cars for Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney. In all, Wood-prepared cars made 94 trips to victory lane.
"It's certainly a high honor to go in the Hall of Fame behind brother Glen and our former drivers Cale and David," Wood said.
Two other awards were handed out earlier in the day. NASCAR broadcast veterans Barney Hall and Ken Squier were the first honorees of an award that bears their name -- the Squier Hall Award for Media Excellence.