Feb 22, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; A view of the statue of Dale Earnhardt Sr. before the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
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In NASCAR’s long history, many drivers have left their mark upon the sport, but what four people can be considered the best of the best?
Naming the Mount Rushmore for any sport means looking beyond what appears on the surface. Winning races and championships are great but to be considered for your sports Mount Rushmore, you need to have had a lasting impact. Robert Horry is a seven-time NBA champion, that’s more than LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. However, Horry comes nowhere near making an NBA Mount Rushmore, proving championships and wins are nowhere near the be-all and end-all.
Since Bill France Sr. founded NASCAR in 1948, many influential people have come and go within the sport. We’ve had countless drivers and owners increase the popularity of the sport and build it into the powerhouse that it is today (relatively speaking).
In every sport, there has to be a “Mount Rushmore”, or four top people who impacted the sport the most, and NASCAR is no exception. Having a Mount Rushmore for each sport sets a standard and provides a look at how said sport go to where it is today. Who do I think should be on NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore? Take a look and then feel free to comment below and let me know whether or not you agree.
The man who started the sport should definitely be considered one of the greatest. Without him, who knows where the sport of stock car racing would be. France had enough drive and will to turn stock car racing into a nationwide series, which is a main factor into why NASCAR is so beloved in the United States today. If France hadn’t pursued his dream and created the plans, we might never have had the NASCAR we know and love today.
France’s grandson, Brian France, became CEO of NASCAR in 2003, continuing the France name in the sport and making sure it remained a family owned business. While Bill France Sr. might not have always made the popular choices, NASCAR fans today continue to hold him in the highest regard. This is more than evident in the way Brian France is continuously compared to his grandfather, further cementing the fact that it’s hard to follow in the footsteps of absolute greatness.
Considered to be one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time, Richard Petty currently holds the record for most NASCAR victories (200) and championships (7). Petty’s 200 victories is a number that will most likely never be challenged, much less surpassed. His mark for championships is currently shared with Dale Earnhardt and it would seem as though Jimmie Johnson is the only imminent threat to reach eight (he currently sits at six).
Breaking into NASCAR in 1959, Petty would quickly become one of the most popular NASCAR drivers in history. His famous number 43 is iconic in the racing world, and globally recognized throughout sports, as is the Petty name. Petty was the face of the racing industry for a long time, all the while competing and finding success at the highest level.
After retiring from racing, Petty continued to remain in the sport, forming his own team in Richard Petty Motorsports. The King also serves as a global ambassador for NASCAR, landing him a spot on NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore.
“The Intimidator”, “The Man in Black”. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was a dominant force in NASCAR up until his untimely death in 2001.
Many fans flocked to him due to his aggressive racing style and off-track manner. The black No. 3 Chevrolet was constantly up front, and if he wasn’t he made sure to get there by any means possible. For fans that were tired of the same old routine, Earnhardt quickly became their favorite driver. No one had ever seen such aggression and dominance since the great Richard Petty, and his legacy still lives on to this day.
Earnhardt was the perfect transition from Petty and he brought with him all of the intangibles that NASCAR and their fans at the time needed. Earnhardt’s seven NASCAR championships tie him for the most all-time with Petty. Had that wreck in 2001 not happened, one has to wonder if he would have found a way to win an 8th title in the closing years of his career.
Earnhardt’s mark on NASCAR comes across in just one number, the No. 3. Although the No. 3 machine is piloted today by Austin Dillon, it’s still recognized by the NASCAR community as belonging to Earnhardt. The Earnhardt name is synonymous with NASCAR.
Earnhardt also continues to make his mark on the NASCAR world through his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. who drives the No. 88 machine for HMS. Arguably the most popular driver of all-time, Dale Jr. is not quite to Mount Rushmore status yet, but without his dad, we may not have as many fans of NASCAR as we do today.
Last but certainly not least, the most recent addition to the sport’s Mount Rushmore is Jeff Gordon. When you think of the top drivers of the last 20 years, Gordon is most likely at the top of the list. His illustrious career included 93 wins and four championships, and if it wasn’t for the Chase format, he most likely would have a few more.
Although he was extremely successful as a driver, Gordon’s impact on the sport spans further than that. Entering the sport after Petty retired, NASCAR needed someone to help them reach the younger audience. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was the clear choice for older fans, but when it came to the younger demographic, Gordon, in his rainbow warrior paint scheme, became a fan favorite and the most-hated all at the same time. Gordon brought to NASCAR a style and swagger that it had never seen before and in the process he helped catapult NASCAR to heights it had never achieved.
Many of today’s top drivers credit Gordon to being their inspiration, and without his presence, one might wonder where NASCAR would be today. Gordon made NASCAR mainstream and was truly the first NASCAR driver to become a superstar and develop a footprint outside of the racing world.
When it comes to NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore, one could argue each and every one of these selections. With only four slots, it’s extremely hard to pick just four people who have impacted the sport in its long, rich history. That being said, it’s hard to pull any of these four off the mountain top.