Who’s the best driver you ever saw race? That’s the question our staff tackled this week and we got a wide variety of answers. From the local tracks to the biggest racing stages in the world, there are many worthy candidates for this list. Let us know your picks in the comments section!
Admittedly, there are going to be a lot of people that don’t like this statement. However, given what I’ve watched over the past eight years and what he’s done in his career, it is probably a guy named Brett Hearn. For NASCAR fans, Hearn had a brief career in what’s now the NASCAR XFINITY Series back in the 1980s. He started 20 races, exactly one of which is on YouTube (Rockingham, 1986). He only earned a best finish of 10th at Dover back in 1982. Hearn left NASCAR for good after a nasty rollover crash in the 1989 Goody’s 300 at Daytona.
But just because Hearn left NASCAR doesn’t mean he’s left racing. Since then, Hearn’s been racking up wins and championships at a ludicrous rate. Last month, he earned his 900th career feature victory, a feat that likely won’t be matched anytime soon. He’s won the last six Modified track titles at Lebanon Valley Speedway and gets accused of cheating so often that you’d think they would have forced him to strip nude on the frontstretch in front of everyone so that his Nomex could be inspected by now.
Hearn’s 59 now and has a bad back. Despite that, he’s still a tough out anytime he shows up at a track. –Phil Allaway
Most NASCAR fans associate the name Peyton Sellers, if they know who he is, as a guy who used to run 25th in the piece of junk No. 97 in the XFINITY Series. However, if you keep up with the Virginia Late Model scene at all then you know Sellers as a wickedly talented driver capable of winning anywhere he goes. This past Saturday night, I had the chance to watch a late model race, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 — the first ever race under the lights at Martinsville Speedway.
Timothy Peters won the event, and he is extremely talented in his own right. But it was Sellers’ rally to a third-place finish that impressed me. Sellers was involved in a wreck and the crew spent extensive time repairing damage (not having a five-minute clock is a wonderful thing). In the final 25-lap shootout, Sellers went from somewhere in the 20s to second place.
Sellers did so by using the high line, at Martinsville of all places. His remarkable pinching and door banging, as well as a few wrecks by drivers in front of him, enabled the veteran to work through the field and get to Peters’ bumper. By then, Sellers’ tires and car were worn out. Lee Pulliam even got around him in the closing laps for the runner-up spot. But when all was said and done? It was truly a thrilling comeback to watch. Sellers, Peters, and Pulliam all deserve good rides in the top three series of NASCAR more than half of the drivers out there. –Michael Massie
I realize this one may be the easy answer, but… Dale Earnhardt. There’s plenty of examples out there, from the pass in the grass to his well-documented restrictor plate prowess. But in 2001, he made one of the most impressive saves I’ve ever seen during the IROC race at Daytona. It’s largely overlooked, given what took place two days later but still stands as one of the greatest examples of car control. –Frank Velat
The first auto race I ever saw, in person or otherwise, was the 1997 summer race at Loudon, and Dale Earnhardt is part of the reason I kept watching. He finished second, but ran such a calculated, masterful race, picking off rivals one at a tim. It was like some predator stalking its prey.
From that moment on, it was impossible not to be riveted by that black No. 3. –Amy Henderson
Days of Thunder, or something like that
The best driver I’ve ever had the honor of watching was the late Tim Richmond. Richmond was the Modern Era blend of moxie and marketing; he’d charm corporate sponsors at a meeting on Wednesday, then dominate a field of Winston Cup superstars on Sunday. Rick Hendrick has said that Tim would put on a suit and take business meetings just as comfortably as he’d put on a firesuit and run nose-to-tail against Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip.
We all know how Tim’s off-track interests ultimately cost him his life, but oh, how he raced. The driver turned heads when he hitched a post-race ride with Johnny Rutherford at the 1980 Indianapolis 500 but made real headlines a few years later when emerging as a true NASCAR winner. His battles at Riverside became legendary, road course skills that earned him the first win at Watkins Glen when the series returned there in 1986. Had Tim Richmond lived, I have no doubt he’d have been a multiple-season Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. He was one of the best. —Mark Howell
I second everything Mark just said. —Toni Montgomery
I’m going to step outside the Cup ranks as well. I was lucky enough to live in the Northeast when Ted Christopher was tearing up every series he ran. I remember weekends at Loudon when he’d be a threat to win in three of four races: Modifieds, Busch North, and what’s now the XFINITY Series. Christopher was super aggressive, and while he’d try to pass a driver clean, if he had to move them, he did.
There were so many great drivers running the Modifieds and the old Busch North Series then: Christopher, Mike Stefanik, Andy Santerre, Martin Truex (the elder; his kid was just getting started then). Those series often produced the best racing of the weekend, overshadowing the national divisions. –Amy Henderson
- Simply Senna
Since most everyone has named NASCAR drivers – each of them worthy – I’d like to include someone from a different form of motorsports: Ayrton Senna. The master of Monaco who could make a car dance with his hands came to prominence in Formula One right before traction control, semi-automatic gear boxes, and a vacuum cleaner-like thrum of the current four-cylinder engine package.
The tooth-and-nail rivalry between Senna and Alain Prost still stands as one of the most bitterly real on-track rivalries in racing. In the end, Senna was taken far too soon. It happened on a tragic weekend at Imola in 1994, one that also saw the passing of Roland Ratzenberger and nearly Rubens Barrichello.
There are two endearing visual memories I have of Senna. The first is the amazing qualifying lap at Monaco in 1990 working wheel, shifter, clutch, and brakes. While the 3.5L V10 Honda wails behind him, he’s sawing to opposite lock on corner exit every other turn. The other was this heel-and-toe instructional hot lap. Senna was doing some promo work with Honda, taking a lap in the then-new Acura NSX at Suzuka.
Dave Marcis used to race wearing wingtips; perhaps he should have tried penny loafers and crew socks. –Vito Pugliese
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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