SPEED Analysts Reflect On Careers Of 2013 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Inductees


Whether for their contributions as NASCAR pioneers or their feisty, fan-captivating prowess and personality behind the wheel, each member of the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class is unique in his own right.

SPEED shines a spotlight on Hall of Fame inductees Buck Baker, Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood in a one-hour biography special premiering Feb. 2 at 9 p.m. ET in a lead-up to the network’s live coverage of the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Below, SPEED analysts Dave Despain, Larry McReynolds, Kyle Petty and 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip reflect on the careers of these five NASCAR giants:

Cotton Owens:

“Cotton Owens was a good driver who became a great car owner. Graduating from the Modified ranks, where he was two-time champion, Owens won a race in NASCAR's premier division every year from 1957-61. But his greatness was in fielding cars for a host of NASCAR early stars, most notably Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and David Pearson. In all, 25 drivers in Owens' cars scored 29 poles, 32 wins and one championship.” --Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel

“Buddy Baker and David Pearson always refer back to Cotton as the guy who gave them their big breaks or turned their careers around, and he had similar impacts on so many drivers. Cotton was so patient with his drivers, and he and his wife, Dot, practically adopted those guys. You might drive his car, but you really became part of his family, and every driver wanted to be there and in Cotton’s factory-Dodge cars. “ --Kyle Petty, SPEED analyst

“Who doesn’t love Cotton Owens? I knew him very well for decades and absolutely think the world of him. Cotton was a great car owner and car builder and one of the legends of our sport. What he did with Buddy Baker and Marty Robbins, two dear friends of mine, was remarkable. Cotton certainly had the credentials and is very deserving of this honor.” --Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

“There was a bit of controversy about Cotton being voted in before some of the other nominees, but he made his mark both behind the wheel and under the car, winning nine races as a Cup driver and finished runner-up in the championship to Lee Petty in 1959. But to me, he is more notable for his contributions as a car owner and car builder. A little like Leonard Wood, he built the cars and engines and won nearly 40 races as an owner, leaving a huge impact on the career of Hall of Famer David Pearson, with whom he won a championship. Cotton could spot talent a mile away – he hired both Pearson and Junior Johnson, two of the sport’s most important figures.” --Larry McReynolds, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

Herb Thomas:

“In the spring of 1951, Herb Thomas jumped in a Hudson Hornet and caught fire. He won the Southern 500 for the first of three times and went on to claim the first of his two championships. Until he was badly injured in 1956, Thomas was a perennial title contender and his winning percentage of 21% is still second only to Tim Flock among drivers with 100 or more starts.”--Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel

“Guys like Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens and Buck Baker built the foundation our sport stands on. They made enormous sacrifices in their personal and professional lives to get the sport up and running, so guys like them are a necessity in the Hall of Fame. That’s why this year’s class is so important. They represent the beginning of the sport, and without a beginning, there would be no Hall of Fame.” --Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

“Herb Thomas was a big part of the first decade of NASCAR, winning his championships in ’51 and ’53. He won 48 Cup races and 39 of those in a four-year span between 1951 and 1954. Are those Rusty Wallace numbers? No. Are those Jeff Gordon numbers? No, but without 1951 and ’53, there would be no 2013. Those guys had other jobs outside the race car – they weren’t just race car drivers, but they still were the foundation upon which the sport was built. Hence the reason we recognize them.” --Kyle Petty, SPEED analyst

“Herb solidified himself as one of the sport’s first superstars when he became the first to win two premier NASCAR championships – in 1951 and ’53. Not only that -- he finished second in the points in ‘52 and ’54. That’s astounding. Additionally, he built, worked on and drove his own cars. The man was a one-stop shop and very deserving of this honor. I am so glad to see this voting committee reach back and vote in some of the true pioneers of our sport. When you think of pioneers, Herb Thomas’ name comes to mind quickly.” --Larry McReynolds, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

Buck Baker:

“Buck Baker was already a veteran racer by the time NASCAR was formed and he quickly became one of its featured stars, first to win back-to-back championships, third on the all-time start list and 13th all-time in race wins. His son Buddy is also one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers and it was at Buck's driving school that young Jeff Gordon first climbed into a stock car.” --Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel

“They didn’t come any tougher than Buck Baker. The man would have wrecked everybody and anybody to win a race. He went to the track simply to win. Look at Herb Thomas, Buck, and my grandfather, Lee Petty -- they raced to make money and put food on the table. It wasn’t about the glory or the Hall of Fame; it was about beating all the other guys. It was about making a living. I’m from North Carolina, where a lot of people grew tobacco or chickens. We just happened to grow race cars in my family, and that’s how guys like Buck were. Racing wasn’t about the glory or the trophies or being inducted into the Hall of Fame one day. It was your life, your lifestyle and how you fed your family. That’s what racing meant to Buck Baker.” --Kyle Petty, SPEED analyst

“Buck did it his way. He was a tough-as-nails guy and a legend larger than life. He could have driven for a factory team but elected not to because he wanted to race his own cars and run his own show. Buck gave everything he had to the sport, so it’s nice to see the sport recognize those sacrifices.” --Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

“I thought Buck Baker would have been voted in a little earlier than he was because he won in virtually everything he drove – and he competed in several series. He was the first driver to win consecutive Cup championships. In similar fashion as Herb Thomas, Buck finished second in the points in ‘55 and ‘58, bookending his ‘56 and ‘57 championships. With 46 wins and 45 poles, Buck was a pioneer of NASCAR who helped pave the way, and he was a big part of the reason our sport is where it is today.” --Larry McReynolds, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

Leonard Wood:

“Following his brother Glen into the Hall of Fame, Leonard Wood is best known as the father of the modern pit stop, the first crew chief to seriously attack the problem of changing four tires and adding fuel as quickly as possible. For more than five decades, the Wood Brothers have fielded winning cars, scoring 98 wins in NASCAR's premier division.’ --Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel

“I had the privilege and honor of driving for the Wood Brothers and can tell you first-hand what a tremendous family they are. With my father, grandfather, Dale (Inman), Glen Wood and now Leonard Wood in the Hall of Fame, I’ve watched my entire family be inducted. Leonard was perhaps the greatest mechanic the sport has ever known. Bumper-to-bumper, he knew more about a race car than anyone I’ve ever seen. He worked with superstars like David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Dale Jarrett and Neil Bonnett, and always gave them what they needed in a race car. Leonard never tried to tell the driver what to do; rather, he’d listen to what the car was doing, and then go to work making it better. And Leonard always knew how to make it better. The opportunity to work with someone with that big of a toolbox is a tremendous help for a driver. Leonard Wood helped a lot of big-name drivers post the impressive numbers they did.” --Kyle Petty, SPEED analyst

“They don’t make them like Leonard Wood anymore. He and Glen were the first people I got to know really well in the sport when I came in back in the ‘70s. They were the first guys I went to for help on my cars and they never hesitated to help me despite the fact David Pearson was their driver at the time. Whether it was Leonard on the carburetor or set ups or David helping me with how to drive the car or get around a certain track, they were gentlemen through and through. Leonard and Glen were the original Southern gentlemen of the sport and there’s no one sweeter, smarter or kinder than Leonard Wood. It will be an honor for me to be in the Hall of Fame with him.” --Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

“Last year, I thought Leonard and Glen Wood should have been voted into the Hall together because the majority of their accomplishments were achieved as a team. The Wood Brothers team won 98 Cup races and 118 pole positions, and what they accomplished with David Pearson was nothing short of remarkable. Leonard has been a part of nearly every decade of NASCAR racing, and he and Glen were always several steps ahead of everyone else with regard to pit stops. There was nothing on a car Leonard couldn’t work on or make better for his driver, whether the chassis, body or engine. So, it was a no-brainer for Leonard to follow his brother into the Hall of Fame this year, and it couldn’t happen to a better fellow.” --Larry McReynolds, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

Rusty Wallace:

“En route to NASCAR, Rusty Wallace learned his craft on Midwestern short tracks, earning the 1983 ASA championship. Car owner Roger Penske's long quest for the Sprint Cup championship began in 1980 with Wallace at the wheel, finishing second in his first career start. Wallace went on to win the 1989 championship, the 1991 IROC championship, and he is NASCAR's all-time short track win leader with 34.” --Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel

“With his 55 Cup Series wins and a championship, Rusty played a big role in the golden era of NASCAR when the sport really started to explode. He, Mark Martin and others who came from the ASA ranks really opened NASCAR up to the Midwest. Rusty went head-to-head with Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Harry Gant and those guys back in the day, and he wasn’t afraid of anybody or intimidated because he cut his racing teeth on the Midwest short tracks. Having to race against Darrell Waltrip or Dale Earnhardt wasn’t that big of a deal after growing up with guys like Mike Eddy and Bob Senneker back when there were no TV cameras around to catch the action outside of the cockpit. They’d get out of the car and kick your butt and not think twice about it. At least Rusty had the advantage of TV cameras for a little extra protection, and didn’t have to worry about the Cup guys going after him too much. Nope, Rusty wasn’t afraid of anybody and that’s a good part of why he became so popular.” --Kyle Petty, SPEED analyst

“Rusty won a ton of races, is a champion and a good spokesperson for our sport. While young compared to most Hall of Fame members, he represents the current generation.” --Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst

“There was absolutely no question that as soon as Rusty was nominated, he likely would be voted in immediately. With his 55 Cup wins, Rookie-of-the-Year honors and now his contributions to the sport on the broadcast side, he definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame.” --Larry McReynolds, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst