NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers: The Pioneers

NASCAR is celebrating its seventy fifth anniversary all through the 2023 season.

In 1998, NASCAR had a board choose a listing of its 50 biggest drivers to rejoice its golden anniversary.

Likewise, we’re in growth We determined to compile our checklist of the 75 Best NASCAR Drivers in honor of this yr’s milestone. 17 of our writers participated within the collection of the 75 drivers, and we are going to launch 4 to seven drivers from that checklist every weekday for the subsequent three weeks.

Just like the checklist in 1998, this checklist isn’t a rating of the highest 75 drivers. As a substitute, we have damaged the checklist down into classes, with a brand new class launched every day (see full checklist beneath). Inside these classes, drivers are listed in alphabetical order.

The most recent version of this collection discusses the unique NASCAR Superstars, the game’s pioneers who got here earlier than the remaining.

Buck Baker

Buck Baker, a former bus driver from North Carolina, was among the many 33 drivers within the NYC
NASCAR’s first Strictly Inventory racetrack in 1949. It marked the start of a profession spanning greater than 25 years at NASCAR’s highest degree.

In that point, Baker has 46 wins, 246 prime 5s, and 372 prime 10s.

Baker gained the Grand Nationwide Championships in 1956 and 1957, turning into the primary driver to win back-to-back Sequence One titles. The primary championship within the race got here for the highly effective Chrysler workforce, led by Karl Kekhaefer, with whom Becker gained 14 instances.

When Kiekhaefer pulled out of NASCAR earlier than the 1957 season, Baker spent most of that season racing for himself. Not solely did he win the title once more, however he additionally scored 10 wins and completed exterior the highest 10 solely twice in 40 begins.

Baker was a fixture on the Grand Nationwide tour throughout his youth, operating nearly all of a season every year from 1953 by way of 1966. Not like lots of his contemporaries who tended to choose and select which seasons they might often compete in, Baker positioned himself in championship competition each Nearly a yr. His profession included eight consecutive seasons with top-five finishes.

Whereas most of Baker’s wins have come on quick filth ovals, he was typically quick at Darlington Raceway. In 1964, he drove a Ray Fox-prepared Dodge to victory within the 500 race, his third race win and in the end the ultimate win of his profession within the NASCAR Cup Sequence.

Baker continued to make sporadic begins within the Nineteen Seventies, and had his final prime 10 end at Darlington in 1976 on the age of 57. He handed away in April 2002. – Brian Gable

Reed Byron

Most Military Air Pressure veterans throughout World Warfare II stationed within the Pacific Islands flew solely about 20 missions at most in a B-24 Liberator crew, one of many largest and most produced bombers ever constructed.

Crimson Byron served in 57 missions and was not scheduled for 58y Even answering the decision of obligation when a last-second alternative is required. That is 58y job, the 29-year-old’s left leg was rendered ineffective.

After a little bit over two years of enchancment, Byron was capable of get better sufficient to return to ex-NASCAR inventory automotive racing. He was simply starting to trigger some headwinds within the panorama when the conflict started, and he refused to permit solely a handicapped man to face in his method.

Byron drove a custom-made clutch pedal to which his metal stanchion was bolted. On observe, Byron was a primary driver famous for his Southern model, driving cool and letting most of his competitors falter earlier than making a cost on the finish of the race.

In 1948, Byron gained the inaugural NASCAR Modified Sequence championship and the primary NASCAR-sanctioned Daytona Seaside race. In 1949, he gained the inaugural NASCAR Strictly Inventory Sequence championship.

However that damned leg and the unstated, unfair guilt of a 1948 accident when his automotive misplaced a tire and crashed into a bunch of spectators left a 7-year-old boy useless all reduce quick Byron’s lively profession.

Byron grew to become a sports activities automotive workforce supervisor within the Nineteen Fifties, however was by no means capable of obtain as a lot success on this self-discipline as he did as a driver. The primary Cup winner at Daytona and Martinsville was discovered useless of a coronary heart assault on the age of 45 in 1960. – Michael Finley

me my dwelling

When Lee Petty flipped out of his first Strictly Inventory race, few thought the 35-year-old household man would make a comeback.

As a substitute, he grew to become the patriarch of certainly one of racing’s most royal households, and though son Richard would ultimately take the crown as NASCAR’s king, Lee parlayed that flip right into a massively profitable 12-year profession.

Taking the baton from Crimson Byron because the calmest driver on the observe, Petty’s most important job was to verify there was meals on the desk; He would not have been such a brutal man as Curtis Turner. Petit has made 427 Cup appearances, and has completed within the prime ten 332 instances. He solely completed 326 races, which meant that Petty had an enormous lap benefit at instances that he may nonetheless end within the prime 10 regardless of his late-race drawback.

Solely 21 instances in Petty’s profession has he completed with out ending within the prime 10, and even when you embody the 16 races when Petty’s standing was unknown on the finish of the race, that is nonetheless a meager 37 instances.

Petty’s profession basically led to a horrible crash on the Daytona Worldwide Speedway Qualifier in 1961, as he solely returned for a handful of races after main accidents in that race. By then, Petty had gained 54 Cup races and led in essentially the most statistical classes, together with most wins, most prime fives, most prime tens, and most championships. Even right now, Petty’s profession ending common of seven.6 factors, is the very best mark of any driver in historical past with a minimum of 100 begins.

When you get previous his stature because the sire of King Richard and his first Daytona 500 win, Petty’s resume is extremely spectacular in his day and now. -Mf

Herb Thomas

In NASCAR’s founding period of untamed racers and moonlight runners, Herb Thomas took a distinct strategy.

Thomas was a tobacco farmer turned racer identified for his toughness and nice automotive management. He grew to become the primary driver to win a number of championships at NASCAR’s highest degree, racing vehicles tuned by legendary mechanic Smokey Distinctive.

Moreover his Grand Nationwide titles in 1951 and 1953, Thomas gained 48 races and had 156 Prime 10 finishes in 229 begins. His profitable proportion of 20.96% is spectacular, even amongst different NASCAR legends.

It was additionally essential to Hudson’s success in NASCAR’s early years. Hudson drives
To victory lane 39 instances, Thomas’ profession impressed Pixar’s Doc Hudson character vehicles franchise.

Thomas deserves particular recognition for being the primary driver to indicate his mastery of Darlington. In seven Girl in Black races, Thomas gained 3 times: the 1951, 1954 and 1955 Southern 500s. The 1955 victory was notably spectacular because it got here after Thomas had suffered severe accidents in one other race simply 4 months earlier. Whereas recovering from a damaged leg, concussion, and a number of accidents to his arm and shoulder, Thomas vowed that he would get again within the driver’s seat and win the five hundred.

Thomas sustained extreme head accidents in one other accident close to the tip
1956 season. A crash put Thomas out of competition for a potential third championship and successfully ended his aggressive profession. Nonetheless, Thomas’ heroics, frequent journeys to victory lane, and victories at Darlington immortalized him as probably the greatest NASCAR racers of the Nineteen Fifties. -BG

Curtis Turner

Babe Ruth from Inventory Automobile Racing. A bigger than life embodiment. No driver, aside from Roy Corridor and Dale Earnhardt, has given followers as a lot worth for his or her tickets as Curtis Turner.

Turner, right now’s NASCAR Corridor-of-Famer, might be greatest remembered as the primary inventory automotive driver to be on the duvet of Sports activities Illustrated and for wild tales of his off-track actions. Turner labored within the lumber enterprise, which principally allowed him to do no matter he wished. He was the exact opposite of Lee Petty, the motive force who would go like hell and win or lose, simply come out with a good time.

Turner Cup stats are common, however there are two causes for that. He spent a lot of the late Nineteen Fifties specializing in the convertible division. In 79 begins, Turner gained 38 races and has essentially the most wins within the division.

Then, in 1961, Turner was banned ceaselessly from NASCAR after making an attempt to arrange the drivers right into a syndicate, as a part of his take care of the Teamsters Union to complete constructing Charlotte Motor Speedway. 4 years later, with Ford dominating the Cup Sequence with little assist from Chevrolet and a forbidding Plymouth that stored Chrysler out, Invoice France broke the emergency glass and reinstated the Turner.

His remaining Cup win got here later in 1965. Turner awoke on the opening morning of the Rockingham Speedway race hanging from the trunk lid of his Wooden Brothers Racing Ford. Turner, who was driving drunk for the primary time in his profession, was capable of outpace a rookie Cale Yarborough within the closing laps to take the one win on his Cup comeback. -Mf

growthNASCAR’s 75 Best Drivers

Dale Earnhardt
Jeff Gordon
Jimmy Johnson
David Pearson
Richard Petty

Bobby Allison
Ned Jarrett
Rusty Wallace
Darrell Waltrip
Cal Yarborough

The tenth era
Greg Biffle
Carl Edwards
Denny Hamlin
Casey Kahne
Ryan Newman

Heroes of the 2000s and past
Brad Keselowski
Kyle Larson
Joey Logano
Martin Truex Jr

subsequent era
Buddy Baker
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Chase Elliott
Dale Jarrett

Buck Baker
Reed Byron
me my dwelling
Herb Thomas
Curtis Turner

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Masters of modifications
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Backside chain hoist
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Distinctive longevity
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He left early
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Stars of the sixties and seventies
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Stars of the eighties and nineties
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Stars from 1949-1960
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Cranes of all trades
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Brian began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has written As much as Velocity ​​for the previous six years. A lifelong racing fan, Brian is a broadcast writer and aspiring motorsports historian. He’s a local of Columbus, Ohio and at present resides in Southwest Florida.

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and lined the game often from 2013 to 2021. He has moved on to cowl Method 1, IndyCar and SRX for the spot, whereas nonetheless getting his toe within the water occasionally again within the NASCAR rally.

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