O. Bruton Smith, who grew up in the small Stanly County town of Oakboro and founded the first motorsports company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, leads the newest class of inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Smith, the owner and longtime CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., received 68 percent of the vote from the 57 votes that were cast by the Hall voting panel (including one vote cast by race fans).
Joining Smith in the Class of 2016 are two-time Cup series champion Terry Labonte; Curtis Turner, nicknamed the “Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing”; Jerry Cook, a six-time NASCAR modified series champion; and Bobby Isaac, a 37-time winner in the Cup series, who also won the 1970 series championship.
“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 statement. “Now, I realize how much it means to me.”
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In announcing Smith’s selection to the Hall, NASCAR Chairman Brian France, who is also on the voting panel, said Smith “gave our fans an experience that has transformed the sport.”
Cook was the only member of the new class who was present Wednesday to hear the announcement. Labonte was in Texas. Isaac died in 1977 but was represented by his son, Randy. Turner died in 1970.
Labonte received 61 percent of the vote, Turner 60 percent, Cook 47 percent and Isaac 44 percent.
The five drivers that constituted the fans’ vote, registered on NASCAR.com, were Buddy Baker, Alan Kulwicki, Labonte, Mark Martin and Benny Parsons.
Labonte was the only driver from the fan vote that made the 2016 class. He won championships in the Cup series in 1984 and 1996 – a 12 year stretch that still stands as a NASCAR record.
“That’s really incredible,” said Labonte, who took part in a teleconference call from his hotel in Dallas. “I certainly do appreciate all the fans out there that voted for me. That’s very exciting.
“It’s something when you start out racing that’s not one of your goals you set. You set to do as good as you can every weekend and try to win races and win championships, and being selected to something like is really, really an unbelievable bonus.”
Although Cook stopped competing on the track in 1982, he remains involved in the sport, first serving as modified series director and working now as competition administrator.
“I’ve learned how to lose it before I learned how to win it,” Cook said of his induction. “It was the same way with the championship – I learned how to lose them two or three times, finishing second, before I learned how to win one.”
Asked what he first thought when he heard France call his name, Cook replied, “I had to make sure it was right.”
Isaac, who won 37 races in what is now the Cup series, still holds the record for most poles won in a season (19 in 1969). He won the 1970 series championship behind 11 wins, 32 top-five and 38 top-10 finishes in 47 starts.
Turner, one of the most colorful competitors of his time, won 17 times in the Cup series and 38 of the 79 races in which he competed in the NASCAR convertible division. He remains the only series driver to win two consecutive races from the pole by leading every lap.
Harold Brasington, who opened Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, NASCAR’s first superspeedway, in 1950, was named the second winner of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
How Utter voted
The Observer’s motorsports writer, Jim Utter, joined the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel for the first time this season. Here is how he cast his first ballot:
Landmark Award: Ken Squier