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Nascar Hall of Fame Names Class of ’16

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 20 2015
Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte  was the top vote getters in balloting Wednesday to determine the five new members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte was among the top vote getters in balloting Wednesday to determine the five new members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CHARLOhallf of fame logoTTE, N.C. – Two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte and Speedway Motorsports Inc. Executive Chairman Bruton Smith were the top vote getters in balloting Wednesday to determine the five new members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Joining Labonte and Smith for the Jan. 22, 2016 induction of the seventh class will be Curtis Turner, Bobby Isaac and Jerry Cook.

Harold Brasington, who built Darlington Raceway and North Carolina Motor Speedway at Rockingham, was the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France, who announced the inductees, said immediately after the announcement that there may have been a couple of different ones he would have put into the Hall of Fame, but he quickly noted “it was a good class” and “eventually everyone will make it in.”

Smith received 68 percent of the votes, Labonte 61 percent, Turner 60 percent, Cook 47 percent and Isaac 44 percent. Of the 59-member voting panel, 57 voted while two recused from the balloting. The top vote-getters after the five who were elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame were Red Byron, Benny Parsons and Rick Hendrick.

Results from the NASCAR.com Fan Vote in alphabetical order were Buddy Baker, Alan Kulwicki, Labonte, Mark Martin and Parsons. Labonte was the only fan vote recipient to make it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I appreciate all of the fans out there who voted,” said Labonte, who was reached by telephone at a motel room in Dallas where he was on business with his son. “When you start racing, it’s not one of the goals you set. You set out to win races and championships. To be selected to something like this is an unbelievable bonus. It’s quite an honor. I didn’t expect it.”

Labonte said he was sitting in his Dallas motel room with his son when his phone “started blowing up”, telling him he’d been elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He looked at his son and said, “I have just been elected to the Hall of Fame.” His son responded “cool” and then said, “Let’s see if it’s on TV.” It was then they began channel surfing for the announcement.

“A lot of people in the Hall of Fame are people I looked up to,” Labonte said. “I never thought about being a part of it because of the great people who are in it. I’m very excited to be selected. A big thanks to so many people I have worked with over the years. It’s so much about the people who you have worked with over the years to help you get where you’re at.”

Known as the “Iceman” for his coolness under pressure throughout his career, the Corpus Christi, Texas, native won his first premier series championship in 1984 driving for Billy Hagan. His second came in 1996 with Hendrick Motorsports. No other driver has won his first two championships that far apart. He also is one of only six drivers with championships in two decades. Towards the end of his full-time driving career, Labonte became known as the sport’s “Iron Man” due to his 655 consecutive starts in NASCAR’s premier series, a record that stood until 2002. Labonte’s stellar career is tucked between two bookends – his two Southern 500 victories at Darlington Raceway. His first came in 1980 and his last in 2003. Labonte’s 361 top-10 finishes rank 10th all-time.

Labonte’s younger brother, Bobby, described it as a “pretty special day” for the Labonte family.

“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,” Bobby said. “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.”

Smith has been involved in the sport since its beginning. An Oakboro, N.C., native, Smith promoted his first stock car race in Midland, N.C., at age 18. His early endeavors included operating the National Stock Car Racing Association, which was seen as an early competitor to NASCAR, and building Charlotte Motor Speedway with business partner Curtis Turner. When Smith took Speedway Motorsports Inc. public in 1995 the firm became the first company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. SMI currently owns eight NASCAR-sanctioned tracks that host 12 Sprint Cup events as well as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race and other high-profile motorsports activities. Smith was inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007.

“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,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “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 build 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.”

Cook, from Rome, N.Y., made his name in modifieds, winning six NASCAR championships in that series, including four consecutive, 1974-77. After retiring from racing in 1982, Cook remained in the sport and helped shape the series known today as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Cook served as the series’ director when it began in 1985 and remained with NASCAR as competition administrator.

Isaac, from Catawba, N.C., possessed an uncanny skill at drawing speed from a race car. His 49 career poles ranks him 10th on the all-time list; however, in 1969 he recorded 19 poles, which still stands as the record for a single season. That same year he finished sixth in the standings after posting 17 victories. Isaac won the series championship in 1970 with 11 victories, 32 top-five and 38 top-10 finishes in 47 starts. During his career, he won 37 races in NASCAR’s top series, 19th on the all-time list.

Turner, from Roanoke, Va., was among the fastest and most colorful competitors in NASCAR’s early years. He competed in NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock race in 1949 in Charlotte and was the only driver to win a NASCAR premier series race in a Nash. He recorded his first of 17 career victories in only his fourth start on Sept. 11, 1949 at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway. Called the “Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing”, many of Turner’s victories came on short tracks and dirt ovals. However, he did win the 1956 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and the inaugural American 500 at Rockingham Speedway in 1965. He remains the only series driver to win two consecutive races from the pole leading every lap. Turner, who died in a plane crash, won 38 of 79 races in which he competed in NASCAR’s Convertible Division.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 20 2015
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