CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace hated running second to anyone and doesn’t plan to start now that he’s part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Wallace, the 1989 series champion who won 55 races, headed the group of five picked Wednesday as NASCAR’s newest Hall of Famers. The others selected were Leonard Wood, Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens and Buck Baker.
Wood was a famed member of the Wood Brothers teams whose brother, Glen, was picked for the hall last year. Thomas was one of NASCAR’s first superstar drivers, Owens was a success as driver and owner, and Baker is 14th on the victory list with 46.
But it was Wallace, the sharp-tongue, quick-witted driver turned TV analyst, who promised to keep promoting the sport and the hall to anyone who’ll listen.
“I can tell you what, I’m not going to run second to Darrell Waltrip. I can tell you that,” Wallace said.
NASCAR chairman Brian France said the fourth class was the hardest so far to select. Voters said there was a divide between those panelists eager to honor the sports’ pioneers and those understanding what a personality like Wallace could do for the Hall and NASCAR’s continued growth.
“We need people who can represent the Hall of Fame now,” said Hall of Fame member and voter Ned Jarrett.
Still, Wallace was third among inductees at 52 percent of the vote behind Thomas and Wood, who received 57 percent. Owens was next at 50 percent with Baker and Fireball Roberts tying at 39 percent. A re-vote was done – the first time that’s happened in four Hall of Fame classes – and Baker took the final spot.
Wallace said he was honored to be nominated and was comfortable waiting his turn behind others.
“I’m totally surprised. I really am,” he said. “My numbers are one thing and the wins, that’s there. But the names, you think of Benny Parsons, you think of Freddy Lorenzen, Fireball Roberts and Wendell Scott, these are guys I grew up listening to.”
Wallace is ninth on the career victory list.
“I’m just humbled, I really am,” he said.