Longtime track mogul was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Wednesday The selection of race track mogul Bruton Smith to the seventh class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday came with a groundswell of support among the 57 votes that were cast. One of Smith's most vocal boosters came from what might be considered an unlikely source. Helped by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France's stumping, the 88-year-old Smith was Wednesday's top vote-getter, leading the 2016 list of inductees with a 68 percent approval rating in his third year on the ballot. The selection comes four days before the 56th annual running of the Coca-Cola 600 , an endurance race that Smith created as the hallmark event for the track he helped create decades ago -- Charlotte Motor Speedway . Though Smith's contributions to the sport as a tireless promoter and innovator in the realm of track ownership are immeasurable, so is his history of being at loggerheads with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., and his son and successor, Bill France Jr., over how best to help the sport grow. That same adversarial relationship seems to have skipped a generation, according to 2011 Hall inductee Ned Jarrett, who said he named Smith on his ballot Wednesday. "I already had him in my mind before then, but I think that might've made a difference overall," Jarrett said of Brian France's statement. "I think some people might've been surprised with his support. Bruton and Brian have always gotten along real well, and just I think him showing his support was good." H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, a longtime Smith associate at the Charlotte track through a period of tremendous growth for the sport, said he was present for many of the former struggles between Smith's Speedway Motorsports, Inc., group and the first family of NASCAR, noting how conversations frequently went with Bill France Jr.: "We conked his head a whole bunch of times, but he was hard-headed enough that he let us have it back." Wheeler said he believed the younger France's push for Smith carried plenty of sway with the voting panel Wednesday, but beyond that, it may have also smoothed over any lingering hard feelings between the two factions. "Brian has never been a confrontationalist -- never -- like his dad was and like his grandfather was," Wheeler said. "He's live and let live, and let's move on and get this thing going like we're supposed to be, et cetera. It looks like he's got a pretty good way of doing things because a lot of things he's done have worked … "I think we found out today that one of the great things about this business is you can bury the hatchet and everything's fine. And the hatchets were flying so much 20 years ago, and you were wondering, when am I gonna get one right in the skull? I used to wonder and think I'm going to put a helmet on, but you've just got to learn to live and let live and bury that hatchet." Though the relationship between Smith and the Frances was at times antagonistic, the net result was to take the sport to new levels. Smith introduced luxury suites, condominiums and other modern features that were soon incorporated into speedways nationwide, and the expansion of the sport to new markets was a mutual goal for both the Frances and SMI. Friendly or not, the competition was healthy, and many innovations sprang from its intensity. "He was, I think, a big challenge to NASCAR and the France family along the way," Jarrett said, "and I think that's one of the best things that could happen to the sport because he made them better and make them do things better. It was good that they had that rivalry going on." Jarrett said his respect for Smith stemmed from a long-ago victory at a half-mile dirt track Smith had promoted in the Charlotte area. When Jarrett went to the pay window, he said that Smith was there to help explain that he could not pay out the purse. Since the attendance that night was more than adequate, Jarrett said he asked for reasons why, only to be told that the IRS had seized that night's gate to offset Smith's early financial struggles. Jarrett said Smith wrote him a check for his Friday night winnings -- $150, he recalled -- but was told there was no guarantee that it would clear Monday morning. It didn't, Jarrett said, but Smith vowed that he would make the situation right. Jarrett said he stuck to his word, an unusual circumstance in the sport's earliest days, when crooked promoters often skipped town with that night's proceeds. "Then the rest is history as far as all the other speedways and things," Jarrett said. "I mean, he has made major, major contributions to this sport." With contributions and recognition for seven decades in the sport come the setting-aside of any long-ago grudges. In a statement released Wednesday evening by the speedway that he bet the farm on back in 1960, Smith thanked not only the voting committee, but also NASCAR's fans -- the lifeblood of any track owner. Though he might not have known the behind-the-scenes process that potentially helped spur his induction, Smith could also give a tip of the cap to NASCAR's chairman, who opted not to let bygones cloud the panel's voting judgment. "Rivalries are what makes the sport," Wheeler said. "But sometimes, you've got to put the peanut butter back in the jar and put the lid on it." 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NASCAR Hall of Fame, Class of 2016
Four drivers and track mogul Bruton Smith make list for seventh class
Terry Labonte voted into NASCAR's Hall of Fame on Wednesday RELATED: See all seven Hall of Fame classes " Bruton Smith gets nod from Brian France MORE: Labonte's daughter, Kristy, talks about 'Growing Up NASCAR' CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A year ago, Terry Labonte postponed a trip overseas to attend the announcement for the 2015 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But the two-time premier series champion wasn't one of the five selected for induction. Wednesday, Labonte, 58, was in a hotel room in Dallas, Texas, when the 2016 class was unveiled. And this time, Labonte's name was one of the five called. Labonte, Speedway Motorsports founder O. Bruton Smith , Modified champion Jerry Cook, 17-time race winner Curtis Turner and 1970 premier series champion Bobby Isaac will officially be inducted into the Hall Jan. 22, 2016. Reached by phone after the announcement, Labonte said he and his son Justin, "and a couple of other guys are out here in Dallas on a project we've been working on. ... We had just got back to the room, sitting down watching TV." Shortly thereafter, the Corpus Christi native said said his cell phone "started blowing up." Congratulations began pouring in. "I said, 'oh wow, I just got selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame,'" Labonte said. "(Justin) said 'Oh cool. Is it on TV?' "I said 'I don't know,' so he started flipping the channels looking for it." It's no surprise to those who know Labonte that his reaction seemed somewhat understated. It's the same unassuming attitude that marked a NASCAR career that lasted nearly four decades. Labonte made his first premier series start in 1978 for car owner Billy Hagan, and up until he hung up his helmet for good last season, his approach never wavered. No fuss, no frills. Just show up and get the job done. His championship titles came 12 years apart, one won with Hagan in 1984 and the second with successful team owner Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports in ‘96. He won 22 points races, and on a variety of track layouts – short track, intermediate, road course and the bigger venues of Pocono (2.5-miles) and Talladega (2.66 miles). MORE: Hall of Fame Class of 2016 revealed " Our writers' predictions and ballot His 890 career starts is third highest among drivers in the series while his 655 consecutive starts was the most by any driver until it was surpassed in 2005. It was a run of such magnitude that earned him the nickname "The Iron Man." Labonte's consecutive starts streak had ended five seasons earlier, in 2000, when a particularly hard crash at Pocono Raceway left him with an inner ear injury. Forced to take himself out of the car the following week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , a distraught Labonte went on to miss the road course race at Watkins Glen a week later before finally returning to competition at Michigan. "When you start out racing, it's not one of your goals you set," Labonte said of his selection to the Hall. "You set out to do as good as you can every weekend and try to win races and win championships. "To be selected to something like this is really, really an unbelievable bonus, something you never really expected or looked forward to, I don't think. So it's really quite an honor." Video from two of Labonte's victories are among the most often replayed when the series travels to Bristol Motor Speedway , where he earned two of his 22 victories. In the 1995 night race at BMS, contact from Dale Earnhardt as the two raced toward the checkered flag sent Labonte's No. 5 Chevrolet nose first into the wall – but only after it had crossed the finish line for the win. The 1999 night race also featured Labonte and Earnhardt dueling for the win, with Labonte taking the lead at the white flag. As the two cars entered Turn 2, a nudge from Earnhardt once again sent Labonte's Chevrolet spinning. This time, however, there was no recovery. "Didn't mean to turn him around; I meant to rattle his cage though," Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. "I don't think I ever had a cross word with Terry, not that I can remember, for anything," 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott said Wednesday. "We always raced and respected each other and went on down the road. "I can't think of a single time ever. I don't know of anybody that could say that. Except when he backed into Earnhardt at Bristol that time." Labonte was the second driver to win at least one race in all three of NASCAR's national series – Sprint Cup , XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. "Obviously this is a really proud day for the Labonte family," Bobby Labonte , Terry's younger brother and the 2000 Sprint Cup champion said in a statement issued by his Breaking Limits public relations firm. "I think back to when we were kids racing quarter midgets, and I always wanted to do what Terry was doing and be like him. He kind of blazed the trail as he advanced through different series, and I was fortunate to follow in his footsteps. "I never would've thought way back then that we'd both grow up to be Sprint Cup champions and now one of us in in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It's a pretty special day." The younger Labonte won the season-ending race at Atlanta in '96 as his brother, who finished fifth, wrapped up his second championship. While Terry Labonte 's championships came 12 years apart, his final victory came 23 years after his first. Both came in the Southern 500 at Darlington (South Carolina) Raceway. "You think bout how you started and who the people were ... that helped you get started in the early part of your career," he said. "Winning your first race and the championship and then later I was able to drive for Rick Hendrick, the great team at Hendrick Motorsports and all the people that helped me win the second championship. "It's just really a lot of people that really were kind of part of this over the years that kind of help to get you where you're at. "It's hard for me to imagine, really, to be in the same class as some of those people that are in there because some of them I really looked up to over the years when I was growing up that did so much for our sport." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Bruton Smith , Chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and track innovator earns a nomination for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
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Four drivers and fans have chances to win $100,000 MORE: How Dash 4 Cash works; enter now! CONCORD, N.C. -- Regan Smith said he didn't realize until Friday that Saturday's Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the qualifier for the NASCAR XFINITY Series' Dash 4 Cash Sweepstakes. But on Saturday in the driver's meeting he tapped Jason Burdett, crew chief of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, on the shoulder and said, "Hey, you know this is the Dash 4 Cash race and we need to be good today." The No. 7 remained steady and in the top 10 for the majority of the race, but what made Saturday good was a late pit stop that propelled Smith to a fourth-place finish, his best at Charlotte. Smith led a group of Dash 4 Cash qualifiers that included Darrell Wallace Jr . (fifth place), Daniel Suarez (sixth) and Ty Dillon (seventh) in a race won by Austin Dillon . The best finisher among the four in next week's Buckle Up presented by Click it or Ticket 200 at Dover International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX) will take home $100,000 and advance to the next round of the Dash 4 Cash. For Wallace, the fifth-place finish at Charlotte was a career best in his young XFINITY Series career and came on the heels of a sixth-place showing at Iowa. Wallace also finished sixth at Texas earlier this season, and the driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford said he's building some momentum. "This is a confidence booster for all of my guys," Wallace said. "We just have to clean up ourselves on pit road. That's been a struggle for us these last couple races, but we've been able to manage a couple spots on restarts and come away with our first top-five in the series. ... This is where we need to be. We're setting up ship for late in the season." As for the immediate future, Wallace said he needed to learn how to translate qualifying success at Dover International Speedway into a race win. In 2012, Wallace won the pole in the fall XFINITY race at Dover only to finish 12th. He also won a pole there in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the spring of 2013 but finished 10th. "Dover has been a very successful track for me," Wallace said. "It would be nice if (the Dash 4 Cash) paid for the pole there because I'm pretty good at qualifying there. I haven't got the finishes I wanted, but I'm excited to be in the XFINITY Series and part of the Dash 4 Cash Series, so I'm glad to be one of the four." Wallace and fellow rookie Suarez will mix it up with Smith and Dillon, who are veterans of the Dash 4 Cash battles -- with Dillon winning a Dash 4 Cash race last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway . In addition to Dover and Indianapolis, the Dash 4 Cash will take place at Bristol Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway this year. Suarez, who qualified 19th for Saturday's race in Charlotte, charged through the field early and maintained a top-10 position for the second half of the race. Suarez's sixth-place finish in his first race at CMS was his fourth top 10 of the season. "We had a hard time in qualifying -- maybe one of my worst qualifying runs of the year at 19th," Suarez said. "All these guys, they don't know how to give up and that's something that is really good, and I'm learning to be just like that as well." And like Smith , Suarez was pleasantly surprised that Saturday marked the beginning of the Dash 4 Cash. "That's cool and something new actually," Suarez said. "I saw the Dash 4 Cash, and I don't know exactly how it works or anything, but I'm really proud to be part of this and something new for me." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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