Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Auto Racing's Mount Rushmore

Foyt one of four on racing's Mount Rushmore
LeBron “King” James started it, saying he expects to be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when his playing days are over, as one of the four best players in NBA history.  

For the record, James put Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in rock and, for the time being, Oscar Robertson.  Obviously, James isn’t exactly a student of NBA history, leaving Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabber and Jerry West, among others, off the hill. 

Not so sure about his choices.  But it started me thinking over President’s Weekend.  Who belongs on auto racing’s Mount Rushmore?  For argument’s sake, auto racing’s Mount Rushmore is for competitors only.  That means no Tony Hulman or Bill France, both of whom deserve consideration otherwise.  And oh yeah, since Mount Rushmore is for American presidents, this is for American racing drivers only.

So who are the four best drivers in American auto racing history? 

A. J. Foyt gets George Washington’s spot on the mountain.  He raced and won in virtually everything on wheels except Formula One.  All-time leader in Indy car wins with 67.  All-time USAC race winner.  Winner of four Indy 500s, the Daytona 500, seven NASCAR races, the 24 hour races at Le Mans and Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring.  Two-time winner of the International Race of Champions (IROC).

Mario Andretti.  OK, Andretti was born in Italy.  But he’s been a naturalized American citizen since 1964, when his career was just getting started.  So he’s eligible on my Mount Rushmore.  Only driver ever to win the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and F1 World Championship.  Two-time Indy car champion.  Along with Foyt, only driver to win the Indy 500 and Daytona 500.  Driver of the year in three different decades.  IROC champion.   A total of 109 major race victories. 

NASCAR’s Richard Petty.  Strictly a NASCAR driver, but his 200 Cup wins are nearly twice as many as everyone else.  Seven titles.  ‘Nough said.

Now here’s where it gets tough.  Only one spot remaining.  It’s not like the Hall of Fame where you can vote someone in next year.  This guy’s head is gonna go in granite. 

There are a number of drivers from NASCAR that deserve consideration.  Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough.  From Indy car there’s Rick Mears, Al and Bobby Unser.  Don Garlits and John Force from drag racing.  Dan Gurney and Tony Stewart for their all-around accomplishments.   Steve Kinser.
Here’s a wild card.  Ray Harroun.  Winner of the first Indy 500.  Seems fitting.
But on my Mount Rushmore, Earnhardt gets the fourth spot.  Others have won more races, but only he and Petty have seven titles.  Like Foyt, Andretti and Petty, he meant as much to auto racing off the track as on.  And he still dominates the sport nearly 13 years after his death.  Look at the commotion over the return of the No. 3 to Daytona.  The mustache might be a little challenging to carve into rock, but it will look good.
What about Jimmie Johnson?  Not yet.  Not even enough wins; not enough titles – yet.  But if that time comes, they need to get ready to make some changes.  
Then the question becomes, who would you remove?  Or as King James put it, “Somebody got to get bumped. That’s not for me to decide. That’s for the architects, to chisel somebody’s face out and put mine up there.”
We’ll leave for another day.


  1. I'll add Mark Donohue to the nomination list. Winner in Indycar, NASCAR, Daytona24. Champion in Can-Am, and Trans-Am. At least one IROC title. F1 competitor.

    I think John Force has to get the 4th spot. He doesn't get enough attention for winning SIXTEEN championships, including last year's at 64 years old. They say that racers can't win past age 50 because their accumulated knowledge isn't enough to compensate for their slower reaction time. Is there any form of racing that relies on reaction time more than drag racing?

    And I would have Gurney up there. Winning in multiple disciplines means a lot to me. I'm not old enough (fortunately) to judge the skill of drivers from the 1950s and before, but I feel the '60s and '70s were the pinnacle of the sport, when the greatest skill and greatest technology came together in global competition. Gurney held his own as a driver and moved the sport forward as an engineer.

    And, although he is my favorite driver of all time, Petty's lack of diversity would keep him off my Rushmore. Pearson only ran three full seasons and won a championship each time. I feel Petty had the organization and the cars, but Pearson was the better driver. If we had five heads on Mt,. Rushmore, David Pearson would be there.

    1. Thanks for your input Andy. Should have mentioned Donohue. Good catch. So you would have Gurney instead of Andretti. Hmmm. Remember, I said we were making the selections on their accomplishments as a driver only. Now if you were to include their other accomplishments, Gurney, Parnelli Jones and even Junior Johnson come into play.

  2. Art,

    Thanks for the column, although I have to disagree--or at least complicate the selection--a bit.

    No arguing that your choices are right up there. Its just that they're all from what I call the "TV era". How can we have a Mt. Rushmore of American Drivers without Lockhart or Vukovich up there? Milton and Murphy also deserve to be in this category as well, don't you think?

    FYI, really looking forward to your book. About time we've had a better look at MacDonald.

    1. Thanks Andy, I appreciate your comment. I criticized LeBron James for overlooking some of the greats in NBA history and realize I did the same thing. Thought long and hard on Vuky. Dominated Indy like no one else has during his short career.