Fans watching the drivers in NASCAR's top tier are seeing the future legends in action. They are witnessing history as it is being made.
A legend can be defined as a story or person with historical significance enduring through generations among people.
Those fortunate enough to have cheered for Pearson, Petty, Yarborough, Allison, and others of that era never realized the respect these drivers would garner as time moved ahead.
The hard charging, cigarette smoking tough guys were just racers. They provided entertainment with daring feats in actual stock cars, with little safety equipment on tracks with flimsy walls to contain them.
Now as history reveals, these men are legends to us.
Jimmie Johnson has already made his mark in the history books with his four consecutive championships under the tutelage of crew chief Chad Knaus. Jimmie intends to race for some time so his potential for more record-breaking accomplishments is a given.
Tony Stewart has two Cup championships as well as open-wheeled achievements. He is a bit old school with his tell it like it is attitude. He has proven he can handle the duties as driver/owner and track promoter quite capably.
His mark in history is already being etched.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the son of a legend. He has yet to win a championship and some may doubt his ability to do so. Jr. wants a Sprint Cup championship badly and if the stars align he will get one. He will become a legend based on his popularity.
Jr. Nation will stand behind him in a way no other group has supported a driver except perhaps for his father.
Jeff Gordon came from the USAC Triple Crown championship in 1990-91 to immediately become NASCAR Busch Series Rookie of the Year. Four years later, he began a streak of four Sprint Cup championships in six years.
He was the first driver to amass $100 million in winnings during 2009.
The Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle have each stirred controversy, but both will go down as champions.
Kurt was feisty when he splashed into the NASCAR pool. Even winning the 2004 Sprint Cup Championship didn't win him much of a fan base perhaps due to his arrogance. Being popular was not his forte but over the years, his persona has morphed into a more subdued, likable mode.
Kyle's brash style has not won him legions of fans, but the young man is able to drive the wheels off most any racing vehicle. His trademark bow to the fans after winning seems to fuel negative energy from those who are not his supporters. He is young and extremely talented with a driving style similar to the great Intimidator.
Joey Logano was thrust from the comfort of Nationwide Racing to Sprint Cup at 18 years of age. Many thought it was way too soon, but he has proven a tough competitor and has the confidence to find his way to the winner's circle often.
A Cup championship will certainly be in this young man's future.
Mark Martin, though still highly competitive has achieved legendary status due to his talent as a driver and tenure in the sport.
Certainly all potential legends from the current era can be debated. Some of our young drivers are just starting to build their careers with their future accomplishments unknown. We do, however, know generations from now many of them will be known as legends.
When fans watch NASCAR races they are being entertained. They are also watching drivers not only do their jobs, but cementing legendary status before our eyes.