Dale Earnhardt and the Most Intimidating Drivers in NASCAR History
Dale Earnhardt was the master of intimidation in NASCAR racing. He was able to drive a car beyond its limits and he would either drive past his competitors or move them out of the way on his way to the front.
He was aggressive with his driving style. His moves on the track were often controversial, but his talent behind the wheel was unquestioned.
Earnhardt won seven NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) titles in 1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994. The last six championships were with Richard Childress Racing.
In 1987, Earnhardt won four consecutive races and won five out of seven races.
The nickname "Intimidator" came about with his famous "Pass In the Grass" after spinning Bill Elliott out in the final segment of "The Winston," now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race held at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt set the bar high with the intimidation factor in racing. Perhaps no other driver could convey such a sense of anxiety then when the black No. 3 filled a driver's mirror and they felt the bump from the nose of Earnhardt's car.
Outside the race car, Earnhardt had a swagger and a grin that was often an indicator he was about to make it a long day for his fellow drivers.
He was intimidating as a father. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said: "You wanted to please him all the time, make him happy and you wanted to, whatever you did, you wanted it to somehow get a response from him."
Earnhardt may remain in a league of his own as a NASCAR driver. He left a void in the sport with his untimely death during the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Whether you were his fan or not, he garnered respect for his ability behind the wheel and his leadership in the garage area.
In the history of NASCAR, there will only be one "Intimidator."
There are other drivers who combined their relentless, aggressive driving style with tremendous ability behind the wheel who elicited an intimidation factor among other drivers in NASCAR.
Let's take a look at those who are considered tough racers who never hesitated to do what was necessary to gain advantage on a race track.
See if you agree that these drivers were able to intimidate with their driving style and do it well. Some are still honing that skill. They are listed in no particular order.
No. 1 David Pearson
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
David Pearson showed up to win a race. Running a full season in NASCAR's top series was of little importance to the driver who will be inducted into the second class of NASCAR's Hall of Fame this year.
In 1974 he ran only 19-of-30 races and still finished third in the series-point standings, proving he was a consistent winner.
Pearson was the 1966, 1968 and 1969 NASCAR Grand National (Sprint Cup) champion with a total of 105 wins to his credit during his career.
He and Richard Petty maintained a serious rivalry and together they finished first-and-second 63 times during the period they raced against one another, the advantage going to Pearson.
Pearson drove hard, he was a driver who seemed to have a psychological advantage that matched his ability to wheel a car.
Petty stated: "Pearson could beat you on a short track, he could beat you on a superspeedway, he could beat you on a road course, he could beat you on a dirt track. It didn't hurt as bad to lose to Pearson as it did to some of the others, because I knew how good he was."
Pearson was not known as a charismatic driver. He was just a humble driver who wanted to win. He is second in all-time wins with 105 to Petty's 200. The South Carolina native holds the record for the most poles with 113.
No. 2 Junior Johnson
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
Junior Johnson was a wild man on short tracks, wheeling his car recklessly as he headed to the front for a win. Win he did, with a total of 50 and 148 top-10 finishes out of the 313 races he ran.
Johnson, who was inducted in the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year, was also an innovator in NASCAR.
He is credited with the discovery of drafting which he used to his advantage and it has been used by drivers ever since then.
Drivers knew that when Johnson was coming up on them, trouble could soon follow on the track. Had he raced in better equipment, his win record could have rivaled David Pearson's.
Johnson became better known as an owner for some of the racing greats like Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, LeeRoy Yarbrough and so many others.
No. 3 Kyle Busch
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
For Kyle Busch, winning a race is foremost on his mind and he will all-but run over the top of another driver to get that win.
In 2008 he set a record that still remains with 21 wins during a single season in the top three series of NASCAR. He just set a record of 25 wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Phoenix International Raceway.
At the age of 25, Busch has 19 wins in the Cup series after making his first start in 2004. He won the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in 2009 and he now has his own team in the Camping World Truck Series.
Busch drives the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is a threat any time he is behind the wheel of a racing machine.
Busch came into the sport of NASCAR at the age of 18 and he has been known for his temper tantrums and immaturity. Now he is married, he owns his own team and he is maturing as a driver.
This JGR driver shows lots of personality, sometimes good and sometimes not so good, but NASCAR needs this type of driver.
This season he will concentrate on going for the Cup title and after the second race of the season at Phoenix, he is on top of the point standings.
No. 4 Glenn " Fireball" Roberts
photo credit: The Tennessean 1963
Fireball Roberts was a fun-loving, hard-driving superstar in the top series of NASCAR, having won 33 races out of the 206 he ran in a 15-year period. He finished in the top five 93 times during those 206 races.
He was a very physical driver who was awesome on short tracks, but he also took to the bigger tracks of the day, including superspeedways.
In 1962 he won the Daytona 500 and the Firecracker 250. He was the first driver to win nine races on the big tracks.
Roberts once said: "Understeer is hitting the wall with the front of your car. Oversteer is hitting it with the rear."
Sadly Roberts was involved in a horrible, fiery crash at the World 600 in 1964. He suffered second and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body and it appeared he would survive his injuries. But nearly six weeks after the crash, he died from pneumonia and blood poisoning.
No. 5 Tim Richmond
photo credit: nydailynews.com
Tim Richmond was one of the first drivers to jump from open-wheel racing to stock cars. He was a party boy who came from wealth and liked nothing better than a good time.
Driving a race car was serious business for him and he would drive the wheels off of one. Humpy Wheeler, then president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, said: "We've never had a race driver like Tim in stock car racing."
He was handsome, charismatic and perhaps one of the best driving talents in NASCAR. During the eight years he raced, and some seasons were not full-time, he amassed 13 wins, 78 top 10s and 14 poles out of 185 races.
The driver nicknamed, "Hollywood" had a natural ability behind the wheel. He was a true threat to anyone who saw him in their mirror.
Who knows how his record would have played out if he had lived, but Richmond died at the age of 34 from complications of HIV/AIDS.
No. 6 Curtis Turner
photo credit: Curtis Turner Museum
Curtis Turner was a North Carolina lumberman who made and lost fortunes. He was another who loved a good party, sometimes leaving one to go to the track for a race.
Turner raced hard against competitors and never cut anyone slack, nor did he expect any. He was the only driver to win 25 races in one season with the same car, though it was a convertible in 22 races and had a welded top in the rest.
Turner had 17 wins, 73 top 10s and 16 poles in the 183 races he ran over a period of 17 years. He was the first NASCAR Grand National (Sprint Cup) driver to exceed 180 miles per hour in the 1967 Daytona 500 behind the wheel of a Chevrolet prepared by Smokey Yunick.
At the age of 46 he died in an airplane crash on his way to a race at Charlotte. In the pre-Dale Earnhardt days, some would consider him the best driver in NASCAR.
No. 7 Tony Stewart
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Tony Stewart came from the open-wheel cars to drive the No. 20 Home Depot car for Joe Gibbs Racing. In his first Cup race in 1999, he finished second in the Daytona 500.
That first year at Daytona he went to battle with Dale Earnhardt in one of the Gatorade Duels and finished second, but impressed a lot of people.
Stewart built a reputation as a hot-head who let his temper get the best of him. Over the years he has mellowed, especially since becoming an owner/driver. He still continues to say what he thinks, though.
The driver of the No. 14 Mobil1/Office Depot Chevrolet was the NASCAR Cup series champion in 2002 and 2005. He has 39 wins and 247 top-10 finishes to his credit.
Stewart is one tough competitor, not known to back down from anyone when he is competitive.
No. 8 Richard Petty
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Richard Petty was the son of a racing legend, Lee Petty, who started Petty Enterprises. The son, known as the "King," was fortunate enough to drive really good equipment at a young age which contributed to his winning record.
Petty drove for 35 years and his record shows 200 wins, which remains unmatched. He ran 1,184 races in the top series of NASCAR and amassed 712 top-10 finishes and 127 poles.
The "King" won seven Cup titles in 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1979. The only other driver with seven championships is Dale Earnhardt.
Petty was not particularly good on superspeedways, but he was able to prove his talent behind the wheel at all the other tracks.
The driver of the famous No. 43 was not known to be intimidating so much for his aggression on the track or his driving style, but rather because other drivers knew when he showed up with fast cars, he was always going to be a threat.
No. 9 Fred Lorenzen
photo credit: racingal.com/google images
Fred Lorenzen was a good-looking, charismatic driver who started with drag racing but signed with Holman Moody Racing for his first venture in NASCAR Cup racing.
As a rookie he battled Curtis Turner at Darlington Raceway, created his own groove and won the race. He earned the nickname of "Fearless Freddie" as a result of that race, which is indicative of why he is considered intimidating.
In 1964 he won eight of the 16 races he entered, finished 13th in the point standings and missed 45 races that season.
It took Lorenzen, dubbed "The Golden Boy," only six seasons to win at all five of the original superspeedways while Richard Petty took some 20 years.
Lorenzen retired at the peak of his career when he was 32. He ran a few more races a couple years later, but he did not win, though he had some top-five finishes.
No. 10 Cale Yarborough
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
The Timmonsville, S.C. native was always a threat to win any race he was in. He drove hard, he was physically well-conditoned and he would charge to the front and then try to block anyone who tried to pass him.
Cale Yarborough was a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) champion three-consecutive years in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
During the 560 races he ran, his record shows 83 wins and 319 top-10 finishes.
Toughness perhaps best describes Yarborough and his feisty personality often became evident with his driving style. He was not one to give an inch to anyone when he was in a race car.
No. 11 Bobby Allison
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Bobby Allison was the 1983 NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) Series champion. His record shows 84 career wins which ties him with Darrell Waltrip. Out of the 718 Cup races he ran, he had 446 top-10 finishes.
Allison would more than likely have rivaled David Pearson's record had he driven more quality equipment early in his career, but the good rides didn't come until the mid-70's through the 80s. His first Cup race was in 1961.
Allison left his home state of Florida to race in Alabama where the payouts were larger. He became the leader of the "Alabama Gang" that included his brother Donnie Allison and Red Farmer.
The trio struck fear into drivers at short tracks throughout the south when they showed up for a race. Allison was hardly one to back off in Cup racing and he didn't hesitate to make moves that would be deemed controversial.
Allison will be inducted into the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year.
No. 12 Jeff Gordon
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Jeff Gordon ran his first Cup race in NASCAR during the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta, which was also Richard Petty's last race.
He blasted on to the scene to challenge Dale Earnhardt, making him quite unpopular with the fans of the "Intimidator."
His first of 83 career wins came at the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. He went on to win four NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) championships in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001.
Gordon was the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 in 1997 at the age of 25, until Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Great American Race at age 20. Gordon also won the Daytona 500 two other times.
The driver of the No. 24 was best known behind the wheel of the Dupont Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. Since he brought five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to HMS, Gordon has slowed in his winning ways.
Gordon may not be as intimidating now as he was in the days when he challenged the late Dale Earnhardt, but there is no doubt he has the will to win a fifth title and he doesn't plan to step away from NASCAR Sprint Cup racing anytime soon.
Gordon was able to match the win record of Cale Yarborough at Phoenix International Raceway, showing he is off to a strong start with his new crew chief, Alan Gustafson, this season.