The Origin of NASCAR's Most Infamous Nicknames
What is it about nicknames that we as a society love so much?
Nicknames are commonly developed from a personality characteristic of someone ... or a facial characteristic. In a sense, they define who we are as individuals.
Some are given out of affection or familiarity, other are meant to ridicule.
Love 'em or hate 'em, we've all called someone by a pet name at some point in our lives and more than likely we've heard someone call us by some silly alternate.
Even as an adult, my father will still call me by my childhood nickname from time to time...Clementine, a name derived from my initials.
It was a alias that I shunned during my formidable years. The mere mention of it would embarrass me to the ends of the earth.
To make matters worse, my dad wouldn't just say it in casual conversation, oh no!
In his boisterous Southern drawl he'd shout it out in public places . His voice echoed like a bullhorn for all to hear as I turned a mighty shade of crimson each and every time.
It's funny how things change as we grow older.
Today when I hear him say it, I can't imagine a sweeter sound.
While studies show that female nicknames tend to reflect physical and emotional traits, nicknames given to men often reflect their social status and accomplishments.
Such is the case when it comes to some of NASCAR's most exacting personalities.
*Photos used in this slideshow are courtesy of lolracepics.com
Dale "The Intimidator" Earnhardt
A man of many nicknames, "The Man in Black," "Ironhead," "Mr. Restrictor Plate" but none as well-known as "The Intimidator."
In 1987, known for his competitive instincts and hard-driving style, Earnhardt earned the nickname after spinning out competitor Bill Elliott during the final segment "The Winston," a non-points event, now dubbed the All-Star race.
He was as hated as he was loved. Earnhardt's aggressive nature was not for the faint of heart, but he made it look effortless.
During his Sprint Cup career, which spanned over two decades, Earnhardt won 76 races, had 428 top-ten finishes, sat on the pole 22 times and tied Richard Petty with seven NASCAR championships.
Intimidation never looked so good.
Richard "The King" Petty
Formally known as "The Randleman Rocket," Petty's dominance of the 1967 season earned him the nickname "King Richard."
In that year, Petty won 27 of the 48 races he entered, including a record 10 wins in a row between August 12 and October 1, 1967. He also won his second Grand National Championship.
At the end of his career, Petty would go down in history as one of the greatest stock car drivers to ever get behind the wheel.
He won a record 200 races over his illustrious tenure, stood in victory lane a record seven times at the Daytona 500 and has seven NASCAR championships under his belt.
That is a record fit only for "The King."
"Awesome" Bill "From Dawsonville" Elliott
"Million Dollar Bill"
1985 was a very good year for Bill Elliott, earning him 11 wins and 11 poles out of 28 races.
He also won the first Winston Million in the Southern 500 at Darlington and the nickname was born.
That year he went to victory lane in some of the series' most prestigious races. He took the checkered flag at the Daytona 500 and the Winston 500 at Talladega by running a record average speed of 186.288 MPH, earning him a second nickname, "Awesome Bill From Dawsonville."
A fairly obvious nickname, since Elliott hailed from Dawsonville, GA and after dominating the first half of the season, proved that he was truly awesome.
Elliott was honored as the first NASCAR driver to adore the cover of Sports Illustrated that same year.
Interestingly, Elliott's performance faltered during the last quarter of the season. He finished second in the Winston championship standings, 101 points behind Darrell Waltrip.
How 'bout that Sports Illustrated cover curse?!
Darrell "Jaws" Waltrip
FOX NASCAR analyst Darrell Waltrip is often referred to as "D-Dubya" by fans and fellow broadcasters.
But long before the lighthearted attitude from a man who starts race days by customarily shouting out "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, Let's go racin' boys," Waltrip was a force to be reckoned with on the track.
In the 1970's, his aggressive driving and outspoken style earned him the nickname "Jaws", a reference to the 1975 film about a killer shark. The nickname was given to Waltrip by rival Cale Yarborough in an interview after Waltrip crashed Yarborough out of a race.
While not fond of the new-found nickname, Waltrip did acknowledge Yarborough by displaying an inflatable toy shark in his pit at the next race.
The nickname stuck after Waltrip made a now famous comment about one time rival Dale Earnhardt, in which he stated that he could say whatever he wanted about Dale and his team in the news because they "wouldn't be able to read it anyway."
Tony "Smoke" Stewart
Stewart's now famous nickname, "Smoke" originated in 1991 when he was running Sprint cars in the USAC.
In an interview with NASCAR.com Stewart revealed, "I wasn't very good about not slipping the right-rear tire, initially. So it started as 'Smoker,' then it got shortened to 'Smoke.'"
"Then when I got in the Indy Racing League it was 'Smoke' because one of the guys on the crew who was my roommate, and knew the nickname, carried it over to the IndyCar team. But then when I started blowing engines, 'Smoke' really stuck. I've had it ever since."
During his NASCAR career, Tony Stewart once was told by former No. 20 team owner Joe Gibbs that he could no longer compete in races outside of his Sprint Cup obligations.
Stewart worked around this by entering a USAC National Midget race under the pseudonym "Smokey Jones" with the crowd at the track none the wiser.
After winning the feature, "Smokey Jones" got out of his car and revealed himself to the crowd as Tony Stewart.
"Cousin" Carl Edwards
Larry McReynolds nicknamed Carl Edwards "Cousin Carl" as a result of his good-natured personality, combined with the fact that Edwards is a first cousin once removed of fellow Cup driver, Ken Schrader.
Can't you see the family resemblance between Edwards on the right and Schrader on the left?
Squint a little...see it now?
Still got nothing?
Well, just look at the way they cross their arms across their chests...that's kin people!
Joey "Sliced Bread" Logano
Remember your grandmother using the phrase "That is the best thing since sliced bread" when she was talking about the latest, greatest gadget?
In my family that phrase is still commonplace and sounds a little something like this...
"Whoo Whee, that Sham-Wow is the best thing since sliced bread."
I guess I never had a full appreciation for the idiom since I never actually lived in a time when there wasn't sliced bread, but c'mon was it that hard to pull out a knife and cut yourself off a slice?
This slide is about Joey, not me.
Where did the nickname “Sliced Bread” actually come from?
“It actually came from (two-time NASCAR Busch Series Champion) Randy LaJoie,” said Logano. “I came walking in his shop one day and he said ‘hey, Sliced Bread.’
“I asked him what that meant, and he said, ‘You’re the best thing since sliced bread.’ I said back to him, ‘Whatever.’ From there, we kind of joked about it forever and even made up a cartoon logo and it stuck. It’s really funny.
“All my friends have nicknames, like Brandon McReynolds is called ‘The Franchise,’ (Hey wait, that's Reuti's nickname!) and Cory LaJoie (Randy’s son) is called ‘Super Shoe.’ It started out as a funny nickname and somehow it stuck.”
Stuck it did. Joey soon started putting the name on his helmet to keep the inside joke going. He then signed up to race in online leagues with the name “Sliced Bread.”
Dale "June Bug" Earnhardt Jr.
We all know him as "Junior" or "Little E." Obvious nicknames considering that he is Earnhardt Jr. after all.
But where did "June Bug" come from? It was something that his Father, Earnhardt Sr. called him "Jun" as a boy, short for "Junior." The "bug" was often added as a term of endearment.
Thanks to Darrell Waltrip, the nickname followed him into adulthood. Ol' "D-Dubya" can often be heard calling Dale Jr. "June Bug" during his race commentary every week.
It is something that I personally find very endearing. Feels like "home" whenever I hear D.W. say it.
Kurt "Ears" Busch
When Kurt Busch started his Cup career at the age of 22 in 2000, he brought new, exciting dynamics to the track.
He had prodigious skill, he had gargantuan talent...he had a a set of elephantine ears!
Ears so big he could hear the sun come up!
And with that, the nickname "Ears" was born.
Kevin Harvick, authored several of Busch's less flattering nicknames and would sometimes resort to calling him "Dumbo" after a good feud.
Say what you will Harvick, but those ears didn't hurt him at all in the draft. Busch won the 2004 Cup championship, big ears and all.
Despite the glory of being a success, something just didn't sit right for Busch. While his racecar was a streamlined machine, Busch's head on the other hand, looked more like a beat up hoopty with the doors left wide open!
In 2006 Kurt Busch returned to the track with a new team, new cars and a new pit crew.
He also has a new look.
Busch saw a cosmetic surgeon in the off-season, and came out with his once-prominent ears pinned back closer to his head.
"It's hard not to pick on a guy when his ears are pinned back," Harvick said, speaking on Busch's plastic surgery. "I should stop. My wife is looking at me like, 'You should really stop.' "
Kyle "Shrub" Busch
Kyle Busch might go down in history as the driver with the most distinctive nicknames, but the one that is most synonymous would be "Shrub."
He is the younger brother of Kurt Busch, making Kurt the "Big Busch" and Kyle the "Little Busch."
Since a little bush is often called a shrub, a nickname of convenience and cleverness came to light.
"Rowdy" pays homage to Rowdy Burns in the movie Days of Thunder — and also describes Kyle's energy on the track.
Broadcaster Mike Joy can take credit for coining the nickname "Wild Thing," as Busch is always making daring and bold moves on the track.
Jimmy "Mr. Excitement" Spencer
Jimmy Spencer’s aggressive driving style won him the nickname “Mr. Excitement” when he drove in the Cup series.
Spencer was a throwback to the early days of NASCAR where a little pushing and shoving on the track was just part of a days race.
After being criticized for his actions, Spencer made a solid effort at cleaning up his act. All was quiet on the Spencer front until 2001, when a new driver arrived on the scene to challenge Mr. Excitement's patience.
A feud of the beating and banging kind ensued on the track for the better part of two seasons between Spencer and Kurt Busch.
The bad blood boiled again in August of 2003 in the garage area after the GFS Marketplace 400 in Michigan.
Busch's car ran out of gas as he was trying to drive it back to his hauler, ironically it stalled in front of Spencer's transporter.
Spencer then rammed Busch's rear bumper, causing the bumper to buckle, before getting out of his car and approaching Busch. Spencer then reached through the window and allegedly punched Busch in the face.
Busch emerged from the car seemingly unharmed, perhaps he used his giant, unpinned ear as a shield.
Kevin "Happy" Harvick
Kevin Harvick earned the "Happy" nickname early in his Cup career for his nice-guy personality.
As we've come to know, you can't always judge a book by its cover, push Harvick too far and he will quickly turn that smile upside-down.
He'll whoop your ass in a hot second or at the very least have it out with you in front of all to see.
He ain't shy!
Here is just a sampling of the individuals that Harvick has feuded with over the years.
The entire Scott Riggs team
Juan Pablo Montoya
and a stray Chihuahua
Ryan "Rocket Man" Newman
Newman earned the nickname "Rocket Man" because of his ability to rocket through qualifying laps and winning poles.
From his introduction in 2002 to the present, Newman has 43 pole positions under his belt
Early in his career he set the fastest times at six different racetracks, solidifying the nickname as factual.
In 2002, he won the Winston All-Star race and was named Rookie of the Year.
David "The Franchise" Reutimann
Last season at Las Vegas, David Reutimann qualified and finished fourth. The result led to Reutimann earning himself the nickname “The Franchise” at Michael Waltrip Racing.
“One day, I walked up to Ty (Norris of MWR) and I said ‘you know I’m The Franchise,” Reutimann said. “And unbeknownst to me, it spread like wildfire and now the crew and everybody calls me that. That’s so not me, but it’s funny because I like to go up into the offices upstairs and throw my feet up on the desks and maybe throw my weight around too.”
The "sports slang" definition of franchise is, "a player of great talent or popular appeal, considered vitally important to a team's success or future."
To date, Reuti has only one win under his belt. His team took a wise gamble in the pits during the 2009 Coca-Cola 600.
Reutimann stayed out on the track as the sixth caution flag came out for a rain shower in turn two.
Six laps later the race was red flagged and cut short thanks in part to the weather.
Reutimann recognized that "it wasn't the prettiest win," but that it was a win none-the-less and he took it like he stole it.
Still, that does not a franchise make...just sayin'
Rusty "Rubberhead" Wallace
'Wallace earned his nickname "Rubberhead" after a 1988 practice session in which he blew a tire and his car barrel-rolled six times down the front straight at Bristol (Tenn.) International Raceway. When rescue workers reached the car, Wallace was unconscious and not breathing.'
'After the doctor on the scene straightened Wallace's neck to open his airway, Wallace revived, and he drove in the race the next day. That year he finished second in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, trailing the winner, Bill Elliott, by a mere 24 points.'
A hard charger from the time he joined the NASCAR circuit full-time in 1984, Wallace also became known as a hard crasher.
Nothing—no man, no car, no track, no crash—would stop him from trying to win a race. "Wallace can't stand to have anyone beat him," said Dale Jarrett in 1989. "He'll do anything to prevent it."
I blame it all on the hair.
Kenny "The Hermanator" Wallace
Kenny Wallace is the youngest of three boys, and racing was a household reality before any of the boys could wheel a car.
Dad Russ Wallace was a winning race car driver on dirt and asphalt, and in part Russ’s early success that earned Kenny his familiar nickname, “Herman.”
Russ won over 400 races in those days, and as often is the case in racing, winning a lot made him unpopular among a number of fans.
When people would talk bad about his dad, Kenny would retaliate. Lake Hill Speedway track promoter Bob Miller noticed Kenny’s boisterous behavior and started calling him “Herman,” after a mischievous cartoon character named Herman the German. The nickname has stuck through Kenny’s rise through the racing ranks.
These days, Wallace goes by a variation of the name, "The Hermanator."
Chris "J.J." Yeley
Yeley's real name is Christopher Beltram Hernandez Yeley.
Chris's nickname "J.J." is short for Jimmy Jack after uncle Jimmy and father "Cactus" Jack.
"The two of them went in when I was born and took turns being with my mom. It was a lengthy labor unfortunately so they took the initials of the two. I actually got "Chris" as my given name about a week later. I like J.J., it's a good racing name." ~ J.J. Yeley on PRN's Garage Pass Radio Show, Nov. 16, 2005
Sadly, Yeley's lackluster performance on the track has been overshadowed by his "good racing name,"
The power of the "Double J" fell into the golden hands of a man named Knaus.
Ernie "Swervin'" Irvan
Ernie Irvan began the 90's by earning the nickname "Swervin' Irvan." When there was a multi-car incident, Irvan was usually the cause.
One of Irvan's most infamous accidents occurred in 1990 at Darlington. Irvan was down ten laps when he collided with race leader Ken Schrader on a restart with 150 laps to go.
Not only did Irvan take out the leader, he caused a multi-car pile-up, which took Neil Bonnett out of racing for years with blurred vision.
When his fellow drivers reached a boiling point, Irvan asked to address the drivers before the DieHard 500 at Talladega in 1991. He offered an apology for rough driving and hoped to earn back the other drivers' respect.
Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts
Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Jr. earned his nickname not on the racetrack, but on the baseball diamond.
Playing pick-up games with friends, he developed a wicked heater. Some would claim that it was while he played for an American Legion baseball team that he was dubbed Fireball for adeptness to pitch a fast ball.
He actually didn't like the nickname and began to use his middle name, Glenn. During his driving career, his fearless driving style would earn him a shortened version of that name to just "Balls".
"Fireball" seemed the perfect moniker for NASCAR's first superstar. During his career, he won 34 races and was so good his mechanics were sometimes accused of cheating on his car.
J.C. "Suitcase Jake" Elder
I'd like to dedicate this slideshow to Suitcase Jake who passed away on Feb. 24 at the age of 73.
J.C. "Jake" Elder was known as "Suitcase Jake" because he could never settle down at one organization for long period of time, hopping from one organization to the next.
For those unfamiliar with Elder, he began his NASCAR career in the 1960's with Petty Enterprises as a fabricator.
Through the years, Elder worked with some of the best including David Person, Darrell Waltrip and Yates Racing.
In 1979, Rod Osterlund hired him to work with then rookie, Dale Earnhardt. After winning his first race Elder boasted, "Stick with me, kid, and we’ll win diamonds as big as horse turds"
Earnhardt went on to win Rookie of the Year that season.
As a crew chief, he won championships twice with David Pearson in 1968 and 1969 and worked for part of 1980 with Dale Earnhardt, who was crowned the Cup Series Champion at the end of the season.
Godspeed Jake, you will be missed.