Bruton Smith, Terry Labonte lead 2016 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

Image courtesy of @NASCARonNBC.

On Wednesday night, NASCAR welcomed five new members to the Hall of Fame in Charlotte. After years of waiting, Charlotte Motor Speedway founder Bruton Smith is headlining the 2016 class after receiving the highest number of votes.

Along with the CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., two-time premier series champion Terry Labonte was also announced as an inductee. The three other members announced on Wednesday were all drivers with Curtis Turner, Jerry Cook and Bobby Isaac making the cut.

Several legends in the sport like Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett were on the voting committee to make the ultimate decision. One vote that garnered plenty of attention was that of Steve Byrnes, who passed away last month. Byrnes’ son, Bryson, and wife, Karen, delivered the vote to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday to make sure it was accounted for.

Bryson Byrnes posing with the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting committee.

Bryson Byrnes posing with the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting committee.

During the exact midway point between the Sprint All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600, both held in Charlotte, it’s only fitting that Smith would finally get the call. His name has been on the ballot for years before he garnered enough votes to be enshrined.

Ironically enough, he was also a huge part of why the Hall of Fame is in Charlotte. Now he’ll join the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Petty and several others among NASCAR royalty.

“It will truly be an honor to be remembered at the Hall of Fame along with people like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Glen Wood, Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip and so many others who helped build this sport,” Smith said in a statement from CMS. “That’s what I’ve tried to do my entire life. I’m a frustrated builder who had a knack for promoting races, and it’s been fun to always try to push the sport to greater heights for the fans.”

Smith got in with 68 percent of the votes, which is a stark comparison to the only 30 percent he earned last year. Regardless of the reasoning, Smith’s impact was evident through former driver and 2012 inductee Darrell Waltrip.

After Smith came another flood of drivers, with Labonte leading the way. In his first year on the ballot, the eldest Labonte secured 61 percent of the votes to ride off into the Hall of Fame.

It was somewhat of a surprising nod for Labonte, considering he had just 22 wins at the Cup level. Compare that to Mark Martin’s 40 premier series wins and it doesn’t quite equate. What likely pushed Labonte over the top were his two championships and a previously held record for longevity in the sport.

Martin will certainly make his way to the Hall of Fame in the coming years, as will another driver that competed with Labonte on the track—his brother, Bobby. For now, the 2000 Cup champion is content reveling in the success of his older brother until his name is rightfully called.

Labonte was the first driver announced, but he was far from the last. Smith broke a streak of five straight drivers inducted from 2015, but four will also be enshrined in 2016 with Turner, Cook and Isaac making the list.

Turner, who had 60 percent supporting him, was known as the “Babe Ruth of stock car racing,” though he never won a premier series championship. He tallied 17 wins at the top level, but finished with a record 38 NASCAR Convertible Division wins. Before tragically dying in a plane crash in 1970, Turner also helped build Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Cook, similar to Turner, didn’t cut his teeth at what’s now the Sprint Cup level. Instead, Cook thrived in the NASCAR Modified Series by winning 342 races and six championships before retiring in 1982. That was enough to earn Cook 47 percent of the vote.

The final name on the list was Isaac, who won the 1970 premier series title and 37 victories. His lone championship and record on the track garnered 44 percent from voters. With his iconic No. 71 car that he won 11 races in during that 1970 season already in the Hall of Fame, it’s only right that Isaac is enshrined in Charlotte as well.

 

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