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Hall of Fame Inducted Crew Chief Recollects Pulling the Strings at One of NASCAR’s Most Respected Teams

Published 02/29/2024, 5:19 AM EST

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Hearing Waddell Wilson reminisce about his NASCAR days is like flipping through a NASCAR Hall of Fame storybook or watching an epic movie unfold. From his modest beginnings to the pinnacle of his career, Wilson’s journey is nothing short of legendary. While he has shared plenty of tales about the early days and crafting top-tier engines, he recently spilled the beans on Dale Jr’s show about what it was like working with Buddy Baker and pulling double duty as both the engine builder and crew chief for the team.

Waddell Wilson shares there were just two people and he was the third one taking care of the engine

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Waddell Wilson got his start in the engine game, where he was head over heels for building motors. At Holman-Moody, his days stretched from 8 in the morning to 10 at night, all for a starting wage of $1.50 an hour. But his job didn’t stop there; he eventually took on the role of crew chief too. He whipped up engines for racing legends like Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen, Dick Hutcherson, Mario Andretti, and notably, David Pearson, steering Pearson to snag two Grand National Championships in ’68 and ’69.

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Fast forward to 1978, and Wilson found himself wearing two hats as both engine builder and crew chief for Harry Ranier’s team, with Lennie Pond initially in the driver’s seat. Pond handed over the reins to Buddy Baker at the end of the year. Buddy Baker, affectionately known as “The Gentle Giant,” was a throwback racer through and through, with one gear—flat out.

Chatting on Dale Earnhardt Jr‘s podcast, Waddell Wilson couldn’t help but praise Buddy Baker, especially when it came to Daytona and Talladega. He shared, “I just remember he, loved Daytona Talladega and so did I. He was unreal at those two racetracks. Yeah. Unreal.”

Wilson also shared that jumping into the crew chief role wasn’t something he was gunning for. He explained, “The biggest reason I didn’t have to argue with myself how much tape to put on the front of it, you know, that them mechanics that always wanna put too much on there and, and ruin the engine and run it hot and then the two low gears, they’d wanna put gears in it. That didn’t work.”

And when it came to juggling engine duties with being a crew chief, Wilson had it down. “When I worked at Holman-Moody and be on the race car, you know, with them guys, they just two of ’em and me and I’d be the third one ’cause I took care of the engine. But I changed springs and sway bars and, and done pull strings down them cars just like the rest of ’em did. you know, there’s only so much you can do to an engine. So there’s all that other work to do. Yeah. And I was well aware of everything that was going on. I didn’t, you know, setting up, setting up a racecar that wasn’t no problem me to set it up.”

Up for another fun fact about Waddell Wilson? The 1980 Daytona 500, where Buddy Baker’s “Grey Ghost,” put together by Waddell Wilson, both body and engine, still holds the record for the fastest Daytona 500 ever, clocking an average speed of 177.602 mph. It’s been a record for over three decades! Waddell’s been honored by the Nashville Auto Diesel College, landing a spot in their Graduate Hall of Fame, and he even serves on the board of directors for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC.

But even with all his fame as a top-notch engine builder and achievements, there were whispers and accusations of cheating tagged to his name.

Legendary crew chief and engine builder was accused of cheating

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This 86-year-old legend, who was part of the Hendrick Motorsports crew and worked with Waltrip’s team, was so ace at building engines that rumors started flying about him cheating to win. Truth be told, nobody could pin anything on him because he played it straight. His engine smarts were off the charts, and he just had a knack for boosting a car’s performance, with a bit of insight from the drivers to boot.

“A lot of people accused me of cheating throughout the years. Nobody ever proved anything because there was nothing to prove because we didn’t cheat,” Wilson shared.

Read More: “People Accused Me Of Cheating”- Legendary Crew Chief & Engine Builder Waddell Wilson Unravels Iconic Craft That Left Rivals Red-faced

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He went on to say“There were a lot of things involved there. If you knew anything about rolling resistance, aerodynamics, and horsepower, it took those 3 ingredients to make a race car go fast. Different drivers come in to work on the race car and they’d have different ideas. You’d always pick up on their ideas, what they had.”

The idea of cheating just wasn’t how Holman-Moody rolled, something the legendary engine builder made absolutely clear in one of his chats last year.

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Written by:

Neha Dwivedi

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Neha Dwivedi is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. As a journalist, she religiously believes in the power of research, which allows her readers to dive deep into her stories and experience the detailed nuances of the sport like never before. Being proficient with Core Sport and Live Event Coverage, she has written multiple copies on the top entities of Stock Car Racing, like Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, and Tony Stewart.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath