By AMANDA VINCENT
The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met at the Hall of Fame in Uptown Charlotte on Wednesday to discuss and debate the 20 individuals up for nomination for 2016 induction into the Hall. Four hours later, the Panel produced the names of the five inductees to be officially inducted Jan. 22, 2016. Those inductees include (in alphabetical order):
Jerry Cook — Jerry Cook was a modified legend. He was a six-time champion in NASCAR’s Modified Series, the oldest series in NASCAR. Cook was dominant throughout the 70s, with his six titles coming between 1971 and 1977. Four of those championships were consecutive, as he was series title winner each year from 1974 to 1977. Throughout his NASCAR Modified career, Cook won more than 300 races. After retiring from driving in 1982, he became the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Director in 1985. He’s still active in the sport, serving as Competition Administrator.
Bobby Isaac — Bobby Isaac is 10th on the all-time poles list at NASCAR’s top level with 49-career poles to his credit. An impressive 19 of those poles came in 1969, giving him the record of most poles in a single season. Isacc won the championship at NASCAR’s premier level in 1970 on the strength of 11 wins, 32 top-fives and 38 top-10s in 47 races. That wasn’t his winningest season, though. He won 17 times in 1969 and finished sixth in the points standings that year. In all, Isaac has a total of 37 wins at NASCAR’s top level, putting him 19th on the all-time wins list.
Terry Labonte — A two-time champion at NASCAR’s Cup level, Terry Labonte once held the record of consecutive starts, a string of 665 races. That record stook until 2002. During that time, he won championships 12 years apart in 1984 and 1996, making him one of only six drivers with championships in two different decades. He’s a two-time winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Those two wins just happen to bookend his wins tally, as his first-career win came in the 1980 Southern 500 and the last of his wins came in 2003 Southern 500. Labonte is 10th on the all-time top-10s list with 361.
“Obviously, this is a really proud day for the Labonte family,” Terry Labonte’s brother and 2000 NASCAR Winston (now-Sprint) Cup Series championship driver Bobby Labonte said. “I think back to when we were kids racing quarter midgets, and I always just wanted to do what Terry was doing and be like him. He kind of blazed the trail as he advanced through different series, and I was fortunate to follow in his footsteps. I never would’ve thought way back then that we’d both grow up to be Sprint Cup champions, and now one of us is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s a pretty special day.”
O. Bruton Smith — A legendary track promoter, Bruton Smith teamed up with Curtis Turner to construct what became Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960. Prior to that, he promoted his first stock car race in Midland, N.C., at the age of 18 and operated the National Stock Car Racing Association as a competitor to NASCAR. He later founded Speedway Motorsports Inc. SMI’s family of tracks now includes not only Charlotte, but also Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway. SMI became the first mtoorsprots company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 1995. Smith already is a member of the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
After learning of his induction, Smith released the following statement:
“When I found out that I was nominated, I realized how much this meant to my family and the 15,000 employees that work for my companies. Now, I realize how much it means to me. It will truly be an honor to be remembered at the Hall of Fame along with people like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Glen Wood, Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip and so many others who helped built this sport. That’s what I’ve tried to do my entire life. I’m a frustrated builder who had a knack for promoting races, and it’s been fun to always try to push the sport to greater heights for the fans. From the first World 600, I’ve always wanted the fans to leave with something spectacular to remember about their experience. even if they don’t remember who won the race, I want them to remember the pre-race show and having the time of their lives. I want fans to know we’re always working to build the best facilities for them, and that’s who I really owe this recognition to. The millions of fans who’ve attended our race tracks all of these years are the ones who really deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. They’ve built the sport right along with us, and I want to sincerely say, ‘Thank you,’ to them and the voting committee.”
Curtis Turner — Considered the “Babe Ruth of stock car racing,” Curtis Turner was a colorful character in the early days of NASCAR. He posted 17-career wins at NASCAR top level, the first of those coming in only his fourth start at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway in 1949. He was also a 38-time winner in NASCAR’s long-defunct Convertible Division. Turner was the only driver in NASCAR premier-level history to win a race in a Nash. Even though most of Turner’s career predated the emergence of superspeedways on the NASCAR landscape, he did win the 1956 Southern 500 at Darlington. Turner holds the distinction of being the only driver to lead every lap of two-consecutive races.
Smith’s name was on 68 percent of the ballots, Labonte 61 percent, Turner 60 percent, Cook 47 percent and Isaac 44 percent. Fifty-seven votes were cast by various representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR hall of Fame, track owners, motorsports media and auto manufacturers, and a tally of an online fan vote on NASCAR.com
The Hall of Fame Voting Panel also selected the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The honor, which will be bestowed during the induction ceremony in January, will go to Harold Brasington, the founder of Darlington Raceway. The first Southern 500 at Brasington’s Darlington track drew 25,000 fans, more than double the expected number of 10,000, for NASCAR’s first 500-mile race. Brasington also assisted in the construction of Charlotte Motor Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham.
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