10 Greatest American Race Car Drivers To Celebrate This 4th of July
Is there anything more American than racing? This 4th of July while the fireworks are exploding in night sky high above you, or when you’re hanging out at a backyard BBQ with friends and family, spend a few moments reflecting on these incredible race car drivers who represented the USA at home, overseas, and in a multitude of different series – all while winning many times more races than there are stars on the flag.
Here, in no particular order, are our picks for 10 of the greatest American race car drivers to have ever put on a helmet.
- Richard Petty
The name Richard Petty is synonymous with NASCAR even decades after his retirement from driving, and not just because he’s stayed active as a team owner. When you win 200 times in any series, that’s never going to be forgotten – especially if seven of those wins took place at the sport’s crown jewel, the Daytona 500. With seven overall championship trophies on his shelf, too, Petty was the most dominant driver of his, or any, generation.
- AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt was never content being the star of just one racing series – he had to get behind the wheel of almost any car that came his way. This explains why Foyt was able to post wins not just at the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 (four times), but also the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Throw in 67 USAC open-wheel wins and seven IndyCar championships, and it’s clear that few can touch AJ’s accomplishments.
- Mario Andretti
If there was anyone who would be able to claim the same level of international success and versatility as Foyt, however, it would certainly be Mario Andretti. Like Foyt, Andretti’s career took him to both NASCAR and IndyCar, including four championships in the latter plus a win at the Indy 500. Mario managed to do what AJ couldn’t, however, by adding a Formula One championship to his list of accomplishments, the only American to have ever achieved that particular laurel since Phil Hill.
- John Force
John Force started winning in NHRA decades ago and just never stopped. Still out there, still shutting down the competition, and still giving the best post-race interview in all of motorsports, Force has taken home an incredible 16 Funny Car championships as a driver, including a 10-in-a-row streak that started in 1993. That’s on top of 144 race wins over his storied career – one that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
- Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart
It’s hard to think of an off-road racer who’s had more of an impact on bringing the sport into the public eye than Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart. Serving as Toyota’s factory driver for decades, Stewart won 82 races in his pickup, in addition to 17 Baja 500 and three Baja 1000 events. Ironman dominated the SCORE World championships as well as the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group stadium series, and is still deeply involved in desert racing today.
- Steve Kinser
World of Outlaws might not get the glory that IndyCar or NASCAR enjoy in the media spotlight, but it’s hard to think of a series that’s enjoyed by a greater number of grassroots racers across the country – and impossible to name a more prolific driver than Steve Kinser. He’s won more than 800 events (that’s not a typo) and 20 championships over the course of his career. Although he may have tried out most of the major asphalt series at a professional level, the dirt is where Kinser made his indelible mark on racing.
- Don Garlits
What do you get when you have the passion, intelligence, and skill to not only drive, but also build and tune your own Top Fuel dragster? You get Don Garlits, a man who took drag racing off the back page of the local newspaper and ushered in the era of big money sponsorship and national recognition. The first man to go 200-mph down the quarter mile – and the first to hit 270-mph, too – Garlits won three Top Fuel championships and 144 events over the course of his career.
- Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt’s accidental death in 2001 at Daytona was a sad coda to a career that was in no way slowing down. Matching Petty’s seven NASCAR championships, Earnhardt’s persona as an aggressive, yet talented driver helped push the sport into the mainstream, with Dale presiding over one of the most entertaining and competitive stretches of racing the series had ever known. Earnhardt had 76 wins in the modern period and still inspires fans to this day, 15 years after his last lap.
- Mark Donohue
Mark Donohue was the thinking man’s driver, someone who was as effective behind the wheel as he was in the garage at setting up and experimenting with his own vehicle’s suspension and aerodynamic settings. Donohue excelled in sport car racing at Le Mans as well as Sebring, won three Trans Am championships with team owner Roger Penske, and also counted an Indy 500 victory, an IROC championship, and Can-Am competition under his belt. He was tragically killed while driving in Formula One in 1975, snuffing out one of the brightest lights in American racing.
- Shirley Muldowney
Shirley ‘Cha Cha’ Muldowney burst into the boys club that was NHRA drag racing in the 1970s, and then won an astonishing trio of Top Fuel championships – the first to do so – before a fiery crash almost ended her career. 40 years of drag racing saw Muldowney drive her hot pink cars in a number of different classes, and she was the first woman to obtain a professional license from the NHRA in an era completely dominated by male drivers