This is the third of a five-part series in advance of the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Jan. 31. Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET) with live streaming at MRN.com.
It’s one thing to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But it’s another to have achieved success in two distinct categories and that’s exactly what Waddell Wilson accomplished.
Wilson was three-time championship engine builder. He produced the engines that won titles in 1968, ’69 and ’73. But Wilson also won the Daytona 500 three times as a crew chief winning with Buddy Baker in 1980 and Cale Yarborough in 1983-84.
That sparkling record earned him a trip to Charlotte where he will be officially honored as a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Not surprisingly, the unassuming Wilson believes the accolades should be shared with those he collaborated with during his stories career.
“Well it’s certainly been a humbling experience and I thank all the people who have a lot to do with it,” Wilson said.
“So many people I mention drivers because I was fortunate enough to get with good drivers because of John Holman. He gave me a job and put me in an engine room and it went from there. Then I remember AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti, working with those guys and to get this award it’s unbelievable. You only think of people like me being in the background because I never stood up and said anything. The drivers and the owners to me got all the credit, to me we were just doing the job.”
Wilson spent years honing his skills with the legendary Holman and Moody organization learning the craft that would ultimately make him one of NASCAR’s most successful and elite engine builders.
“I learned so much from John Holman,” Wilson recalled. “I remember him time and time again he said, ‘Waddell if I ever catch you cheating, I’ll fire you.’ I knew he would, but he taught me we could win races without it. That’s where Bill France Jr. and I became friends. He thought when we were coming to Daytona running the fastest that we were cheating. Then finally he realized we wasn’t and that’s where we became friends.”
In 1982, Wilson built the first engine to help a premier series driver break 200 mph when Benny Parsons turned a 200.176 mph qualifying lap at Talladega for the Winston 500.
Wilson’s stint as a crew chief featured victories in some of the sport’s biggest and most prestigious races including the Daytona 500 where he went to Victory lane three times.
The famed “Grey Ghost” he assembled for Buddy Baker still holds the 500 record with an average speed of 177.602 mph.
“You think of drivers and places and you know I would say Buddy Baker was a big one in 1980 at the Daytona 500,” he said. “Leading up to it is what was so amazing, winning that race and setting a record that stands today.”
Of course there were other names and races that stand out to Wilson as he reflects back on his outstanding career but he considers all of them special.
“I think about (Charlotte) with Bobby Allison, Fred Lorenzen and Cale Yarbrough and they all are great and it’s hard to pick one out and say it’s better than the other.”
Not everything came easy for Wilson by any means. One memory came in the mid-1970’s when he won at Daytona despite going into “The Great American Race” as a definite underdog considering the circumstances.
“The biggest surprise was in 1975 when we won the Daytona 500 with Benny Parsons,” Wilson said. “With L.G. DeWitt and Benny and they had no clue they were going to win that race. They ended up winning on an engine I put together, I wouldn’t give 200 dollars for it. When we won the race, I’m thinking how big that is. Because that was in ’75 and in ’74 that’s when we downsized and started with 364s then we went to 358.
“I didn’t know what parts to put in it because I had no clue and hadn’t run for 500 miles. I wouldn’t have unloaded the pit equipment but anyway we won it and I’ve never seen guys enjoy Victory Lane like they did it was unbelievable.”
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