NHRA's 50 Greatest Drivers -- final ten revealed
Ten NHRA drag racing legends now stand alone, voted above all others as being among the Top 10 Drivers from NHRA's first 50 years of competition. The countdown, which began at the AutoZone Winternationals, the season opener for NHRA's 50th ...
Ten NHRA drag racing legends now stand alone, voted above all others as being among the Top 10 Drivers from NHRA's first 50 years of competition. The countdown, which began at the AutoZone Winternationals, the season opener for NHRA's 50th Anniversary season, will conclude at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in November with the naming of the No. 1 driver.
Alphabetically, Joe Amato, Dale Armstrong, Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Don Garlits, Bob Glidden, Bill Jenkins, Warren Johnson, Shirley Muldowney, and Don Prudhomme comprise the final 10, as decided by a panel of experts. The final countdown will begin Sept. 21 with the unveiling of Driver No. 10.
Through Thursday, Sept. 20, NHRA.com will offer its visitors the opportunity to weigh in on the subject through an interactive poll. Visitors can rank their own personal top 10 from among this list and have their votes tallied with others taking the poll to see how their picks stack up against the final list.
Below is a brief description of each driver's accomplishments.
Joe Amato is a five-time NHRA Winston Top Fuel champion and the first man to exceed 260 and 280 mph and to dip below 4.6 seconds. Amato, who began his career in the Sportsman ranks before moving up to Alcohol Dragster, where he won his first five national event titles, moved to Top Fuel in 1982, where he won a class-record 52 event titles in 102 final-round appearances. He is the only driver to win five NHRA Winston Top Fuel championships (1984, 1988, 1990-92) and the only one to win three straight.
Dale Armstrong is a former NHRA Winston champion in the Pro Comp class and one of the sport's great innovators. The winner of 12 NHRA national events and a former national record holder in the Funny Car class, Armstrong later became crew chief for Kenny Bernstein, with whom he won four consecutive Funny Car championship (1985-88) and the Top Fuel crown in 1996. Armstrong was the first Funny Car Crew chief to use wind tunnel testing and data recorders and developed the lock-up-style clutch still used today. He currently is the crew chief for Funny Car racer Jerry Toliver.
Kenny Bernstein is the only driver to win NHRA Winston championships in Top Fuel (1996) and Funny Car (1985-88). Long viewed as the most successful businessman-racer, Bernstein began in 1980 an association with the Budweiser brand of Anheuser-Busch, Inc., which today is the second longest racer-sponsor alliance in motorsports. The first driver break the 300-mph barrier and the first to reach 310 mph, Bernstein has won 52 NHRA national titles (30 in Funny Car and 22 in Top Fuel) in a career marked by his willingness to allow his crew chiefs to innovate and experiment.
John Force is the winningest driver in NHRA history with 97 career victories, all in the Funny Car class, where he is a 10-time NHRA champion. Force is one of the most popular drivers in NHRA history, a self-avowed "man of the people," yet one of the most successful sponsor gatherers of the last decade. Force, the first Funny Car driver to eclipse the 320-mph barrier, holds NHRA single-season records for 13 wins, 16 final-round appearances, and won 65 elimination-round wins, all recorded in 1996 when he was voted the national motorsports Driver Of The Year in 1996 in balloting by nationwide motorsports media, the only drag racer to earn honor.
Don Garlits is truly a racer who could do it all: Designer, engineer, engine builder, tuner, team manager, driver, and more, "Big Daddy" is one of drag racing's ultimate icons. Winner of three NHRA Top Fuel championships and 35 NHRA national events, the first to reach 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, and 270 mph, Garlits also was the first to perfect today's familiar rear-engined Top Fuel dragster. Garlits recorded perhaps the best run in drag racing history, a 5.637-second, 250.69-mph blast at the 1975 World Finals that stood unchallenged for more than five years. Garlits opened his Museum of Drag Racing in 1984, and his revolutionary Swamp Rat XXX dragster was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution in 1987.
Bob Glidden was the unrivaled king of NHRA accomplishments until 2000, when John Force exceeded his record of 85 NHRA national event wins. Glidden dominated the quarter-mile like few have. He won 10 Winston Pro Stock championships from 1974 to 1989, including five straight (1995-89) and is the winningest driver in U.S. Nationals history with nine victories. Although long known as one of Ford's most successful racers - winning in everything from Pintos and Fairmonts to Thunderbirds and Probes, Glidden also won the 1979 title in a Plymouth Arrow. The man his fellow competitors called "Mad Dog" for his unrelenting work ethic once went an entire calendar year -- June 24, 1978 through June 30, 1979 - without suffering a single loss in eliminations.
Bill Jenkins was to Chevrolet fans what Glidden was to Ford fanatics: simply the best. He literally put the small-block Chevy on the map while shutting down Chrysler's dominating Hemi in the Pro Stock class, of which he is considered one of the founding fathers. Considered by many to be Pro Stock's greatest innovator and one of drag racing's more popular personalities in his heyday, he also was the first Pro Stock racer in the nines. Known as "Grumpy" for his gruff demeanor, he revolutionized the Pro Stock class on a regularly with his innovations, most notably his tube-chassied, small-block Vega. After turning in his driving gloves, he became first a successful car owner and then engine builder, with his small-blocks a dominating force in Pro Stock Truck and Comp.
Warren Johnson referred to by the panel as "the thinking man's drag racer" and a "latter day Jenkins," he earned his nickname "the Professor" largely for his scholarly study of all aspects of racing but also probably because he's a big believer in "homework," spending countless hours dyno testing his engines for the smallest horsepower gains. The five-time Winston Pro Stock champ is the second-winningest driver in NHRA history with 86 victories and was the first to accomplish 160-, 180-, 190-, and 200-mph Pro Stock runs. W.J., the winningest driver in Pro Stock history, has been responsible for much of the innovation in Pro Stock from areas he developed himself, including the DRCE engine and cylinder heads, which brought the class to where it is today.
Shirley Muldowney is the only female on the entire Top 50 list, but she didn't earn her way into the top 10 on novelty. One of the fiercest competitors to ever wage war on the quarter-mile, Muldowney is a three-time NHRA Winston Top Fuel champ with 18 national event wins to her credit. Often cited as a guiding inspiration by aspiring female racers, Muldowney cut her teeth in gas dragsters and fuel Funny Cars before becoming the first female Pro-class winner with a Top Fuel victory at the 1976 Springnationals. Crowd-favorite Muldowney, who won the U.S. Nationals in 1982, overcame life-threatening injuries from a high-speed racing crash in 1984 to return to the dragstrip.
Don Prudhomme is another drag racing legend of mythical proportions. Like Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney, "the Snake" is synonymous with the quarter-mile. Prudhomme was virtually unbeatable from 1975 to 1978, winning four consecutive Winston Funny Car championships. Even though he retired from the cockpit at the end of the 1994 season, he still ranks seventh on NHRA's all-time win list with 49 victories (35 in Funny Car and 14 in Top Fuel). From the beginning, he has been a star in the sport and with his marketing with Army and Hot Wheels helped broach the gap between the hot rodders and the general public. Since his retirement, he has createdone of the best teams in the sport with drivers Larry Dixon and Ron Capps. As driver and recently as car owner, he's won races in five different decades in two different classes.
The panel of drag racing experts, from diverse fields including print and television journalists and longtime historians of the sport, were asked to cast their votes based of the following criteria:
1. Ontrack success as a driver (and, if applicable, as team owner, crew chief, or combination of the three)
2. Contributions to the growth of NHRA drag racing
3. Technological breakthroughs
4. Marketing/sponsorship breakthroughs
5. Fan popularity
6. Innovations or fresh thinking (regardless of success)
Each panel member supplied a ranked listing of drivers from 1-50. The votes were then tabulated using a weighted points formula and combined to arrive at the final list.