Five of NASCAR’s iconic figures – four drivers and one motorsports entrepreneur – were enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina this afternoon during the Induction Ceremony held in the Crown Ball Room at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Those who added their names to the list of now 35 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees, included: Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labonte, O. Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner.
The group makes up the Hall’s seventh class in its history.
Jerry Cook made his name in the modified division, winning six NASCAR Modified championships, including four consecutively from 1974-77. He joins his rival from his hometown of Rome, New York, Richie Evans, as only the second Hall of Fame driver whose career wasn’t connected to NASCAR’s premier series. Cook won 342 NASCAR Modified races in 1,474 starts. Upon his retirement, Cook stayed with the sport and helped shape the series known today as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He served as the series’ director and also served as NASCAR’s competition administrator.
"For me, it’s always been NASCAR," Cook said. "I’ve spent my entire life in the greatest sport in the world and to be honored in this way – tonight – to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with the greatest names in the sport – is the pinnacle of my career."
One of NASCAR’s original speedsters, Bobby Isaac captured 19 poles in 1969 – a mark that still stands as the record for poles in a single season. His 49 career poles are the 10th-most all time. More than just a strong qualifier, Isaac won the 1970 premier series championship by posting 11 victories, 32 top fives and 38 top 10s in 47 starts. His 37 career wins rank 19th on NASCAR’s all-time list.
"He died at the age of 45 doing what he loved to do," said Isaac’s former spouse, Patsy Isaac. "But he died way too soon. Bobby would’ve loved this honor."
Terry Labonte raced his way to two NASCAR premier series championships, the first in 1984, and the second in 1996. The Texan’s 12-year gap between titles is the longest in NASCAR history. A consummate professional, Labonte earned the moniker "Iron Man" thanks to his 655 consecutive starts in NASCAR’s premier series, a record which stood until 2002. Labonte won 22 races, bookended by Southern 500 victories in 1980 and 2003. His 361 top-10 finishes ranks 10th all time.
"Before, I’d be introduced as a two-time champion," Labonte said. "Now I’ll be introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. And I think that’s a whole lot cooler."
O. Bruton Smith finished building Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960, the facility that became the foundation of his Speedway Motorsports Inc. empire, which currently owns eight NASCAR tracks hosting 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and additional high-profile motorsports activities. He made SMI the first motorsports company to be traded at the New York Stock Exchange when he took it public in 1995. Smith is the founder of Sonic Automotive group and is active in child-related causes with his philanthropic foundation, Speedway Children’s Charities.
"I appreciate you all coming. I hope you have a great season, a great racing season," Smith said. "I’m delighted and I’m glad to be a part of the (Hall of Fame) here, this is great."
Nicknamed the "Babe Ruth of stock car racing" for his big-time personality and talent, NASCAR pioneer Curtis Turner remains the only premier series driver to win two consecutive races from the pole leading every lap. Turner notched 17 wins, 54 top fives and 73 top 10s in 184 starts. He is the only driver to win a NASCAR premier series race in a Nash and tallied 38 victories in 79 NASCAR Convertible Division events. In 1972, NASCAR Founder Bill France said, "Curtis Turner was the greatest race car driver I have ever seen."
"At day’s end and chats catching up, Daddy would always say, anything is possible," said Turner’s daughter, Margaret Sue Turner Wright, who accepted on behalf of her father. "And it was, and for us, so it is."
Each of the five inductees had an inductor who officially welcomed them into the hall. The inductors for the five inductees: Robin Pemberton for Jerry Cook; Randy Isaac (son) for Bobby Isaac; Kristy Labonte Garrett (daughter) for Terry Labonte; Darrell Waltrip for Bruton Smith; and Leonard Wood for Curtis Turner.
Active drivers introduced each inductee during tonight’s program: Tony Stewart for Jerry Cook; Ryan Newman for Bobby Isaac; Kyle Busch for Terry Labonte; Brad Keselowski for Bruton Smith; and Kevin Harvick for Curtis Turner.
In addition to the five inductees enshrined on Saturday afternoon, Harold Brasington was honored as the second recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.
Brasington, who believed in the potential of Bill France’s fledgling NASCAR business, architected Darlington Raceway in his hometown of Darlington, South Carolina. After completing the project, he expected 10,000 fans to show up at the track, but instead 25,000 spectators showed up for the inaugural Southern 500 – NASCAR’s first 500-mile race. The race turned out to be a mega-event that is still run to this day. After building Darlington, Brasington helped create Charlotte Motor Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham.
Prior to today’s Induction Ceremony, long-time NASCAR broadcaster Steve Byrnes was bestowed the fifth Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.
Byrnes’s motorsports broadcasting career spanned more than three decades. He most recently served as the play-by-play announcer for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on FS1 and was the network’s co-host of NASCAR Race Hub. Last April, Byrnes passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Throughout his career, Byrnes provided mentorship for countless young broadcasters and provided race fans with quality insight and entertainment as a pit reporter for CBS, TNN, TBS and FOX.