News & Media

Wallace joins pioneers of sport in 2013 Hall class

May 23, 2012, Joe Menzer,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When he heard his name announced Wednesday as a member of the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, a look of genuine surprise flashed across the face of Rusty Wallace.

"I'm very, very excited. I almost feel like Jesse James -- like I've grabbed something or robbed a bank and run off. There are so many good guys who deserved to be in ahead of me," Wallace said.

Class of 2013

The newest Hall of Fame class includes three gentlemen known for their skills on the track, one of the sport's most successful owners and a crew chief who changed the game.

The 54-member Hall voting panel disagreed and voted Wallace in along with Herb Thomas, Leonard Wood, Cotton Owens and Buck Baker. Thomas, a former champion driver, and Wood, one of the sport's top mechanics and crew chiefs, led the way with 57 percent of the votes, respectively. Wallace garnered 52 percent, Owens 50 percent and Baker 39 percent, which necessitated a tie-breaking vote when it was determined driver Fireball Roberts also earned 39 percent of the initial vote.

Thomas was one of NASCAR's first superstar drivers, winning two premier series championships in 1951 and 1953 in self-owned cars. He also finished second in the points standings in 1952 and 1954.

Wood, whose brother Glen was part of the 2012 Hall class, amassed 96 wins and 117 poles in 990 races as chief mechanic and crew chief with Wood Brothers Racing.

Owens was successful as both a driver and an owner, winning nine times as a driver in NASCAR's premier division and 38 times as an astute car owner who hired now-fellow Hall of Famers such as Junior Johnson and David Pearson to drive for him.

Baker was the first driver to win consecutive championships in NASCAR's premier series, doing so in 1956 and 1957. He finished second in the points standings in 1955 and 1958 while racking up a total of 46 wins that ranks tied for 14th all time.

Then there was Wallace, by far the most recent competitor of the bunch in the NASCAR arena. He won the 1989 premier series championship and totaled 55 wins as a driver, which ranks ninth all time. He also has been a great ambassador for the sport since his retirement as a driver, working closely with the NASCAR Foundation to help raise charitable funds, helping design and build Iowa Speedway where the Nationwide Series currently runs, and working as a television broadcaster for ESPN.

He said he was humbled by Wednesday's selection.

"I did not think I would get in," said Wallace, 55. "I thought Benny Parsons would get in; I thought Fred Lorenzen would get in. I thought all these super big names that I read about my whole life would get in before me. And I told myself if I don't get in, I am totally fine with that -- because I just want to see someone I totally idolize get in. And then hopefully I would eventually get in."

Someone joked that, if so, it may have been the first time in the usually confident Wallace's life that he did not think he was going to win something. But Wallace insisted he was being honest when he said he did not believe he would be part of the select group announced on Wednesday.

"People had come up to me and said, 'Aw, you're too young to get in.' Then they'd come up and say, 'Rusty, did you know you're the only one with 50-plus wins [as a driver] who's not in?' ... Listen, I know what I accomplished. I can recite my accomplishments because I'm proud of 'em. But is the Hall about that?" Wallace said.

"To me, it's all about what [inductees have] given back to the sport and how much they've helped build NASCAR. That's why I love being on the [NASCAR] Foundation and that's why I got involved in building [Iowa] Speedway and that's the reason I want to do TV, because I want to tell people about our sport. The reason I keep doing all this is because I love it. I was broke on my ass, and I made some money in NASCAR. NASCAR is everything to me."

"I almost feel like Jesse James -- like I've grabbed something or robbed a bank and run off. There are so many good guys who deserved to be in ahead of me"


Robin Pemberton, now NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development, served as Wallace's crew chief for a stretch of 230 races. He's also now a member of the Hall voting panel.

Pemberton said that while Wallace's service to the sport off the track "after he hung up the helmet" was important for the voting panel to consider, it was Wallace's considerable accomplishments as a driver that mostly propelled him to selection.

"Rusty was very detailed-oriented. He would never give up and he would never quit working on the car," Pemberton said. "On short tracks in those days at the height of his career, it was all about driver feel and running long distances and really taking care of the car and the tires.

"There were many times when we thought we had the perfect car, and Rusty was still going to make it that one notch better. More times than not, he was right -- and his attention to detail on what he knew he needed in a car was second to none, to be honest with you. I think Bobby Allison and Richard Petty are in that group of how they worked on their cars like that, for sure, but Rusty to me is one of the best I've seen."

Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, said he was pleased with the balance represented in this latest Hall class.

"It's a good mix," Helton said. "It speaks to the beginning years of NASCAR, the pioneers like Buck and Cotton and Herb that played such a big role in the early years, and then Leonard Wood ... and Rusty, a more recent champion with 55 wins and not with just what he did on the race track, but what he still does off the race track. I think the whole class is just a good balance of our whole heritage."

Meanwhile, Wallace was asked what one of his former on-track adversaries and now-fellow Hall of Famer, the late Dale Earnhardt, would have said to him upon learning of Wallace's selection to the Hall.

"Earnhardt would say, 'Aw, you're a lucky SOB. Now meet me over at the barn for a beer,'" said Wallace, grinning.