Latest Nominees To NASCAR Hall of Fame Left A Mark At BMS
The five latest nominees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame certainly made an impact on the sport, and left a mark at Bristol Motor Speedway in the process.
Announced Friday, the five: Buddy Baker, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates, fill the slots left empty by the induction last month of the most recent class of the NHOF. And fans do not have to dig deep at all to see the Bristol influence on the careers of each.
Buddy Baker: Baker finished fifth in the first NASCAR Cup race at Bristol in 1961in a car owned by his father Buck, a 2013 NHOF inductee. Baker, often known for his prowess on the superspeedways, being the first driver to officially break the 200-mph barrier in a stock car, certainly was no slouch on the high banks of Bristol. Following that first top-five run, Baker posted four more and seven top 10s at Bristol to go along with winning three poles. His best run was a second-place finish to Cale Yarborough in 1974.
Bill Elliott: Even with a career that went beyond the definition of domination on superspeedways, million-dollar bonuses and gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, Awesome Bill from Dawsonville launched pursuit of his 1988 NASCAR Cup title with the first short-track win of his career on the high banks of Bristol. He solidified his run to the title by returning to Bristol that August to finish second. In 14 career top-10s at Bristol are solid numbers. But Elliott's ability to take care of his equipment was evident in his career at The Last Great Colosseum. At a place where just finishing a race is a challenge, Elliott was still running at the finish in 39 of his 44 career races at BMS.
Terry Labonte: Forever linked to two specific races at Bristol, including one he did not win, Labonte visited victory Lane twice at the Last Great Colosseum. The first win came in August of 1984 with Hall-of-Fame crew chief Dale Inman on their way to the NASCAR Cup title that season. The second came 11 years later in the first of the two famed duels with Dale Earnhardt. Labonte won the 1995 Night Race, crossing the finish line, his car askew before slamming the wall after a tap from Earnhardt. He then limped his crushed and mangled car to victory lane. The duo met again in nearly identical circumstances in 1999 with Earnhardt winning. Fans consistently vote these two races two of the greatest in BMS history. Still, Labonte's career at Bristol went way beyond those selected races as he posted an incredible 33 top-10 finishes on the high banks.
Mike Stefanik: The owner of nine NASCAR Championships, including two in different series in the same season, Stefanik arrived at Bristol Motor Speedway last August for the NASCAR Whelen Modified race in what he openly admitted was the twilight of his career. Stefanik started middle of the pack in 18th in a 150-lap race that moves at a frantic pace. With 12 to go he was in position and grabbed the point leading the last 11 laps and winning. He was emotional in victory lane of The Last Great Colosseum, voice cracking. "This is way up the ladder. I'm being cool right now, but I'm freaking out inside," said the Coventry, R.I. native. "This is a huge, huge victory in my arsenal of victories - right at the top if not the top. I'm really going to try and savor this. "This game is so emotional, so intense, so frustrating. It's not like I can't do it or I'm too old to do it, but there comes a time when you just have to say it's time."
Robert Yates: The man who got his start sweeping floors at the famed Ford Racing juggernaut Holman-Moody, Yates later took a fledgling team and driver with "potential" to the top of the sport. Far from the youngster sweeping floors, Yates built one of the best teams in the business with more horses under the hood that the stables at the Kentucky Derby. Two of Yates Racing's 57 career wins came at Bristol Motor Speedway with two different drivers. The first, in the spring of 1990 with that young driver with potential -- Davey Allison -- clipping Mark Martin at the finish line by eight inches, is one of the closest races in the history of the Last Great Colosseum. The second came eight years later on a hot August night with NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Dale Jarrett behind the wheel. Yates Racing posted 25 top-10 finishes at Bristol to go with those wins. Those figures do not include Yates' work with Holman-Moody and that team's tremendous success with NHOF-member David Pearson at Bristol in the late 1960s.
The best of the best. The road to the NASCAR Hall of Fame continues to go through Bristol.
The rest of the 20 nominees for the 2015 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame are: Buddy Baker, won 19 times in NASCAR's premier (now Sprint Cup) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500
Red Byron, first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949
Richard Childress, 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series. Bristol story: 16 wins and 97 top-10 finishes as a car owner at Bristol Motor Speedway
Jerry Cook, six-time NASCAR Modified champion
Ray Fox, legendary engine builder and owner of cars driven by Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and others
Rick Hendrick, 14-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series Bristol story: 13 wins and 100 top-10 finishes as a car owner in NASCAR's three national series.
Bobby Isaac, 1970 NASCAR premier series champion Bristol story: Six top-10 finishes and a pole at Bristol Motor Speedway
Fred Lorenzen, 26 wins and winner of the Daytona 500 and World 600 Bristol story: Three of his 26 career wins and four of his 32 poles came in just 12 starts at Bristol. Only completed 3,607 laps at Bristol but led 1,119 of them. In five races from 1962-64, won three and finished second in the other two. In four of those races, he led 1,115 of 2,000 laps run.
Raymond Parks, NASCAR's first champion car owner
Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR premier series champion Bristol story: The only win during his 1973 championship season came at Bristol. Posted 20 top-10 finishes - including second three times -- and started in the top 10 in 25 of his 27 races at Bristol
Larry Phillips, only five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion
Wendell Scott, NASCAR trailblazer was the first African-American NASCAR premier series race winner, and first to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Bristol story: One top-five and five top-10 finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway.
O. Bruton Smith, builder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and architect of Speedway Motorsports Inc. Bristol story: Purchased track in January 1996, expanded to more than double the seating capacity, making Bristol Motor Speedway one of the largest permanent-seat facilities in the world, turning it into The Last Great Colosseum. Inspiration for local businessmen to build the original Bristol in 1960-61 came after they visited Charlotte Motor Speedway - built by Bruton Smith -- for first "World 600" in 1960.
Curtis Turner, early personality, called the "Babe Ruth of stock car racing" Bristol story: Ran just one race at Bristol. Earned the pole.
Joe Weatherly, two-time NASCAR premier series champion Bristol story: Finished in the top-10 in five of the six races he ran at Bristol Motor Speedway. Won the Southeastern 500 at Bristol in 1961 for NHOF car owner Bud Moore. Never started further back than 13th at Bristol. Never finished lower than 11th.
Rex White, 1960 NASCAR premier series champion Bristol story: Four top-10 finishes in seven starts at Bristol, including a second-place run to Joe Weatherly in 1961.