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NASCAR 2010: The 15 Friendliest Stock Car Drivers of All Time

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2010

NASCAR 2010: The 15 Friendliest Stock Car Drivers of All Time

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    NASCAR fans are selective and loyal with the drivers they pick as their favorite.  Once their racing hero is designated, little can assuage them from their support.

    The driver may fall into a driving slump or change teams but the die hard fan remains true. They await the next win for their driver and continue to buy their memorabilia and sport attire to show their loyalty.

    An odd thing happens though when NASCAR fans face any group of drivers or even just one up close and personal.

    Suddenly the drivers who have given their all on a race track at high speeds in close quarters become a bit larger than life.

    The fan will wait in long lines for hours, fight to get a camera shot, and drag all forms of memorabilia around in an effort to get it autographed.

    For the fan it doesn't matter if it is not the driver they usually support although that would be nirvana.The fan's quest for contact with stock car drivers has been around since the early days of NASCAR.

    In those days it was much easier when safety was not so important. Tracks were not grand and glorious venues and drivers were accessible.

    Back in the day drivers were just like everyone else. They were doing what they loved despite purses that barely covered expenses before owners became savvy with sponsorship.

    NASCAR drivers have evolved over the decades from the approachable, friendly, style of the old school to the highly protected drivers surrounded by handlers that we see today.

    Throughout the years certain drivers were considered more fan friendly whether it be at an autograph session or at the race track.

    These drivers were not necessarily the all-time best drivers with the most wins and best records.

    Some of the sports most popular drivers will not be included in this list because their popularity required them to stay somewhat distanced from fans at many venues.  When these drivers were at places where they could sign autographs, the sheer volume of people prohibited much interaction with the fans.

    The list of NASCAR's friendliest drivers is based not only on fan appeal, but the interaction they had with those who sought a picture, autograph, or friendly word.

    Let's take a look at 15 drivers who were not only popular but fan friendly as well.

Lee Petty: A Late Bloomer In Racing

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    Getty Image photo

    Lee Petty did not begin his racing career until he was 35 years-old.  His first NASCAR win was at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

    Petty finished in the top-five point standings his first 11 seasons.  He was a three-time NASCAR Grand National (Sprint Cup) champion.

    Petty founded Petty Enterprises with his son Richard and Maurice.  His nephew, Dale Inman, was Richard's crew chief for nearly 30 years.

    Lee Petty was voted most popular driver in 1952, 1953 an 1954.  He ran 427 Cup races over 16 years with 54 wins.

     

Rex White: A Champion Not To Be Overlooked

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    photo credit: Legends of Nascar

    Rex White was small in stature but he had great spirit. He overcame childhood polio to  become a NASCAR champion. 

    At a young age he learned to conquer fear. At six he learned to drive a neighbors truck out in nearby fields.

    White began racing NASCAR's top series in 1956.  He didn't run a full schedule for the next few years but he roared back in 1960.

    White won six of his 28 career Cup victories that year and claimed the NASCAR  Cup title and a check for $13,000.  He was one of the first drivers to focus on the championship.

    He was a tough contender who ran up front having 163 top-10 finishes out of 233 races in nine years.

    Rex White remains to this day very fan friendly and easy to talk to.  

Richard Petty: Never Knew A Stranger

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    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Richard Petty was a seven-time Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) Champion with 200 wins to his credit.

    Despite his outstanding racing resume, Petty remained humble.  He would talk with fans anytime he encountered them.  Perhaps that was part of the reason he was voted most popular driver eight times.

    The driver of the famous No. 43 ran 1,184 races over 35 years.  His last race as a driver was the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992.

     

Benny Parsons: Nice Man, Talented Driver

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    Parsons chats with Jeff GordonChris Trotman/Getty Images

    Benny Parsons, nicknamed "BP," was an easy going man well-liked by those who knew him.

    Parsons began his NASCAR racing career in the early 60's.  He ran 526 Cup series races over 21 years and won the 1973 Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) championship.

    Parsons ran his last race in 1988 and began reporting from the pits at NASCAR races.  He went on to becoming a commentator for ESPN, NBC and TNT.

    In 2006 Parsons was diagnosed with lung cancer despite the fact he stopped smoking in 1978.  He thought he had won the battle against the disease. Sadly he died from complications of the lung cancer treatment January 16, 2007.

Ernie Irvan: Not Only a Racer, But a Fighter

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    photo credit: Irvan website

    Ernie Irvan raced karts as a kid in California.  In 1982 he headed for North Carolina with $700, his truck, and a homemade trailer to start a new life around racing.

    He raced late models at Concord Speedway and found his way into the NASCAR Cup series in 1987.

    Irvan was NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1988, ran 313 races over 12 years with 15 wins and 124 top-10 finishes.  His last Cup race was at Watkins Glen in 1999.

    The 1994 season was good for Irvan until a practice session crash at Michigan caused critical injuries. His chance of survival was only 10%.  Irvan fought back to address fans at the UAW-GM 500 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway later in the year

    By the time the NASCAR Awards Banquet rolled around, he walked on stage at the Waldorf Astoria to accept the True Value Hard Charger award.

Davey Allison: Destined to Race

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    photo credit: sportscardforum.com/google images

    Davey Allison liked football, but the son of NASCAR racing legend, Bobby Allison, became a racer.  He competed in the ARCA series and moved to the Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) series in 1985 at Talladeaga.

    Allison was best known as the driver of the No. 28 Havoline Ford.  He ran 191 races in nine years with 19 wins and 92 top-10 finishes.

    It was not unusual to find Allison making appearances at short tracks around the south to sign autographs just as his dad was known to do.

    On July 12,1993 he boarded his new toy, a Hughes 369 HS helicopter, to fly to Talladeaga Super Speedway to watch family friend Neil Bonnett and his son, David, test a Busch series car.

    En route to the track, he picked up another family friend, Red Farmer.  An attempt to land at the speedway ended tragically as the helicopter crashed.  Both occupants were pulled from the wreckage but Allison died the following day. Farmer still races.

     

Bobbie Allison: The Florida Born Leader Of The Alabama Gang

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    John Harrelson/Getty Images

    Bobby Allison finished high school in Miami, Fl. He and his brother, Donnie, and some friends went looking for a better place to race than south Florida.

    When they landed in Alabama they found racing was indeed much better.  They set up shop along with Red Farmer in Hueytown and became known as the "Alabama Gang."

    Allison became the 1983 Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) Champion. When he quit racing there were 84 wins to his credit with 446 top-10 finishes out of 718 races he ran in 25 years.

    Although the sport gave him much, it also took his two sons and nearly killed him.

    Allison knew it was the fans that made racing great.  He remained fan friendly throughout his career and is to the present day. He won the most popular driver award eight times.

Terry Labonte: Nice Guy and Hard Racer

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    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Terry Labonte won a quarter midget national championship before moving on to  stock cars on dirt and asphalt at local short tracks.

    His first Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) race was at Darlington in 1978.  He was the 1984 and 1986 NASCAR Cup champion.

    Labonte became semi-retired from racing in 2005 driving a R&D car for Hendrick Motorsports.  He then began moving around to different teams.  Plans were recently announced that he would race for Bill Stavola, a known name in NASCAR.

    The Texas driver can't kick the racing habit.  He remains well-liked among those in NASCAR and has always been respected as a clean racer.

    His mild manner and friendliness endear him to NASCAR fans.

Bill Elliott: Most Popular Driver In NASCAR Ever

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Bill Elliott was nicknamed "Awesome Bill" and "Million Dollar Bill." His father owned a lumber company but loved racing.  Along with his brothers Ernie and Dan and his father, they set up a race shop.

    Elliott's first venture into the Cup series was at Rockingham in 1976. He did not win the until 1983. He continued to amass 44 wins in his career and became the NASCAR Winston Cup Champion in 1988.

    Elliott was best known as driver of the Melling No. 9 Coors car. He recorded the fastest time ever, 212.809, in a stock car at Taladeaga Super Speedway.

    In 1985, he earned 11 wins and 11 poles out of 28 races.  Elliott won the "Winston Million" at Darlington that year and finished second in the point standings.

    Elliott won the most popular driver title 16 times--the most for any driver in NASCAR history.

    He continues to drive for the Wood Brothers in the famous No. 21 Ford and remains very fan friendly.

Ken Schrader: A Racer's Racer

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Ken Schrader is just one of those drivers who will race anything, anytime, or anywhere he gets a chance.  He ran on asphalt and dirt in several series and loved to frequent short tracks.

    He has only four wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series with 184 top-10 finishes.

    Schrader has driven for many owners including Hendrick and the Wood Brothers.

    Fans are drawn to the personable driver because he is very easy to talk to and makes many appearances at different racing related venues.

Ron Hornaday, Jr.: Quite The Trucker

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    Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Ron Hornaday Jr. is a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver with four championships in that series.

    The California native drove in the NASCAR Winston West Series and is a Featherlite Southwest champion.

    Dale Earnhardt recognized his talent and signed him to drive a truck for DEI in 1995.  That year he won six races and finished third in the point standings.  The next year he won his first championship in that series.

    Hornaday has four NASCAR Nationwide wins and currently drives for Kevin Harvick Inc. in the No. 33 truck.  He is currently fifth in the NCWTS point standings.

    Hornaday is a hard racer but nice guy who makes time for pictures, autographs, and conversation with his fans.

Kenny Wallace: Fan Friendly For Sure

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    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Kenny Wallace is the younger brother of Rusty and Mike Wallace.  His father, Russ, won over 400 races on local dirt tracks.

    Dale Earnhardt gave Wallace his first start in the Busch (Nationwide) series in 1988.  The following year he drove for Rusty and was the 1989 Rookie of the Year in that series.

    Wallace drove in the Cup and truck series of NASCAR but failed to win.  He does, however, have nine wins and 157 top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Nationwide series.

    Wallace has a rowdy, fun-loving side which earned him the nickname of "Herman" after a cartoon character.

    Though he still drives in NASCAR's second tier of racing, Wallace is perhaps better known as an on-air personality for Speed TV.

    The light-hearted Wallace realizes the importance of fans and is easily accessible.

Darrell Waltrip: A Driver Who Could Put On A Show

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Darrell Waltrip is a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) Champion.  He has 84 wins to his credit in the Cup series with 390 top-10 finishes in 809 races.

    He has raced in many series, earning accolades in each including 13 NASCAR Nationwide wins. He ran  his last race at Atlanta in 2000.

    In the 80's fans often booed him because he defeated many of NASCAR's best with a very aggressive driving style.  Fans loved or hated him much like we see with Kyle Busch in recent seasons.

    One of his toughest competitors was Cale Yarborough.  He told Waltrip he intended to leave Junior Johnson and Johnson offered him the ride as his replacement.  His championship titles were earned with Johnson.

    In 2000, Waltrip retired as a driver and went into broadcasting. He is well respected for his insight into NASCAR racing.

    Though fans disliked him during parts of his career, he was voted the most popular driver twice.

    Waltrip put on a show for fans on and off the track but he always realized how important fans were to the sport.

Mark Martin: Still Has The Drive To Win

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    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Mark Martin is still driving for a championship at age 51. He almost did it when he finished second in 2009 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

    The talented driver has 40 wins in the Cup series but has never won a title in that series.

    He is best known as a driver for Roush Racing where he spent 19 years.

    Martin announced his "Salute To You" tour in 2005 when he decided to cut back on his racing schedule.

    Martin is a racer who found just how hard it was to cut back on a sport you love so much.  He is now in the second year of a three-year agreement with Hendrick Motorsports.  His future beyond 2011 is unknown as far as what he will do in NASCAR.

    Martin's tenacity and clean style of racing make him a true fan favorite.

    Martin makes many appearances and is available to fans who seek him out.

     

Elliott Sadler: Not Just A Pretty Face

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    Jerry Markland/Getty Images

    Virginia native Elliott Sadler has only three wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series since 1998.

    He was the last driver to secure a win for Wood Brothers Racing. Sadler is currently racing for Richard Petty Motorsports. Sadler is expected to leave RPM at the end of this season.

    Sadler attracts quality sponsors and quality equipment  but his success has been somewhat lackluster.  Despite  less than outstanding performances, he attracts a strong fan base.

    His recent win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Pocono with a Kevin Harvick Inc. truck made fans proud.

    The following day Sadler was involved in a crash during the Cup race that was recorded as the hardest impact in NASCAR history.  Sadler climbed from what was left of the car without serious injury.

    Fans seem loyal to Sadler regardless of his results on the track.

    The tall, rugged looking driver has an appeal that some may not understand.  Those who follow Sadler see potential in their driver and wait for the big breakthrough combination of team, sponsor, and equipment that will lead him to wins and top finishes.

    Sadler is a family man who loves to entertain fans on his property in Emporia, Va. 

    Fans see him as a genuine driver who is the same off the track as he is in front of the camera. 

     

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