NASCAR Hall of Famer Waddell Wilson got ahead by playing it straight

UNKNOWN: Waddell Wilson checks over the engine of Cale YarboroughÕs NASCAR Cup car in the garage area before a Cup race. A Wilson-built engine was the first to run a lap at over 200 mph at the Daytona International Speedway in qualifying for the 1983 Daytona 500. Unfortunately, driver Yarborough flipped on his second qualifying lap and the run was never considered official. Undaunted, the team rolled out a back-up car and won the 500 that year. (Photo by ISC Images and Archives via Getty Images)

For a time, Bill France Jr. thought NASCAR Hall of Fame engine builder and crew chief Waddell Wilson had to be playing outside the rules, as fast as his cars were in the Daytona 500.

Wilson, on the other hand, had gotten a stern admonition from team owner John Holman.

“I learned so much from John Holman,” said Wilson, who was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday. “I remember him saying time and time again, he said, ‘Waddell, if I ever catch you cheating., I’ll fire you.’ And I knew he would.

“But he taught me that we could win races without it. That’s where Billy France Jr. and I became friends. He thought, when we were coming to Daytona and running as fast as we were, that we were cheating. Finally, he realized we weren’t, and then we became friends.”

In fact, Wilson won three championships as an engine builder and three Daytona 500s as a crew chief. Cars with his engines under the hood won 109 races and 123 poles.

“I was fortunate enough to get good drivers because of John Holman,” Wilson said during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Sunday at Charlotte motor Speedway. “He gave me a job, put me in the engine room, and it went from there.

“I’ve been with A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, working with those guys. And then to get this award (the Hall of Fame vote), it’s unbelievable. The drivers and the owners were the ones that got all the credit. We were just doing a job.”

Greg Engle