Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner Bruton Smith said he “honestly gave up” on being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame a couple years ago, which is why his selection last week came as such a surprise.
“It’s amazing the reaction to this,” Smith said, while watching Sunday’s race from his suite at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It finally happened. It seems like all the family and all our employees are happy about it.”
According to published reports, NASCAR Chairman Brian France was among those who spoke in favor of Smith’s induction during the Hall’s voting panel meeting last Wednesday. Smith and the France family, which founded NASCAR, have had numerous feuds in the past.
“It was quite nice of him and I appreciate it,” Smith said of France’s comments. “Brian and I get along very well and I thought it was awfully nice of him to be so complimentary at that time.”
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Smith will be joined in the 2016 Hall class by Terry Labonte, Curtis Turner, Jerry Cook, and Bobby Isaac.
Asked what he believed his biggest contribution was to NASCAR over his career, Smith said, “I don’t know. Maybe the $4 billion I’ve invested over the years in this sport. We’ve invested an awful lot of money building these speedways, re-doing them, tearing them down and re-doing them. It takes a huge financial effort to do all that.”
Earlier in the day, Labonte and Cook took part in a news conference at the track.
Labonte, a two-time champion in NASCAR’s premier series, said he never thought any of his future achievements would be possible.
“(Racing) was kind of our hobby,” Labonte said. “I never really dreamed it really would turn into what it turned into and we could accomplish the things we did.”
Four days removed from learning of their elections, Labonte and Cook said their phones haven’t stopped ringing with calls, texts and emails from friends, family members and people they haven’t heard from in years.
“It’s obviously quite an honor, just to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is incredible for me,” Labonte said. “There are so many people that helped me over the years to get to where I was able to accomplish what I did accomplish and win the championships.”
Cook, who won six NASCAR modified championships and currently serves as NASCAR’s competition administrator, said the honor was difficult to fathom.
“This is far and above anything you could ever imagine, and I’ve been in the racing part of this for like 50 years – raced for 20 some years and worked for NASCAR for over 30 years,” Cook said. “This is absolutely at the very top.”
Leading the way: Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon’s day started earlier than most, as he was invited to be the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Gordon, who competed in his final Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night at Charlotte, starred in open-wheel cars while growing up and at one time considered a career in IndyCar racing.
“I certainly had plenty of opportunities to make laps around this track before, but never have I had the experience like I’m having here today, to be honored as being the pace car driver, to get the chance to drive that amazing Corvette Z06,” Gordon said while at IMS.
“Knowing this race, its history, as a kid growing up watching this race, seeing that pace car pace the field, knowing there was always somebody very special behind the wheel, I never pictured myself as being one of those individuals.” Jim Utter
BK Racing honors veterans: NASCAR driver J.J. Yeley and his BK Racing team raced with a special “600 Miles of Remembrance” paint scheme for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with the logo “We Salute You” to honor and bring awareness to the “Hope For The Warriors” program.
“Seeing this program come together and meeting with some of the families of the fallen, just warms your heart,” said Yeley. “You think about what these people go through with their families that have lost their loved ones. It is one of those situations where we just want to make sure that everyone recognizes the weekend and understand we lead a blessed life.”
Hope For The Warriors is a national nonprofit organization that provides assistance to combat wounded service members, their families, and families of those killed in action. J.U.
Coke re-ups through 2020: Coca-Cola Co. has extended its long-term partnership with Speedway Motorsports Inc. through 2020, including sponsorship of the annual Coca-Cola 600 at CMS. Coke products will continue to be featured at seven of the eight SMI racing facilities. J.U.