The 10 best race car drivers of all time

Article by Andrew Christian, on November 22, 2015

Many children, at one point in their lives, dream of becoming a racecar driver. Some of them will eventually grow up to fulfill this dream. Being a racecar driver however is not easy. It takes not only skill but also requires patience, hard work, and sometimes luck. Below is a list of the 10 best racecar drivers of all time.

1. Michael Schumacher

Completing the list is German racecar driver Michael Schumacher. While he has already retired from racing, he is considered by many as one of the all-time greatest Formula One drivers. Schumacher has been named twice as the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year.

He is known for holding a number of records like having the most number of championships, pole positions, and race victories. He also holds the record for driving the fastest laps.

Furthermore, he won 13 races in 2004, the most for a driver in a single season, though this was also achieved by Sebastian Vettel in 2013, a fellow German racer. By the year 2002, Schumacher became the only Formula One driver in its history to have a top three finish in all the races of the season.

Not content with that, Schumacher even broke the record for the most number of consecutive podium finishes. On Formula One’s website, Schumacher is considered as potentially one of the greatest driver in motorsport history.

With Ralf, his younger brother, they are the only brothers to have won Formula One races. They were also the first set of brothers to have record a 1st and 2nd place finish in the same race, an accomplishment they managed to repeat in four succeeding races.

Sadly his story does not have a happy ending. While skiing in December 2013, Schumacher experienced an accident and suffered a rather severe head injury. Due to the traumatic brain injury, he had to be airlifted and he was put in a medically induced coma from the end of December 2013 to the middle of June 2014.

It was reported in November 2014 that Schumacher was paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair due to the unfortunate incident.

2. Ayrton Senna da Silva

Brazilian Ayrton Senna da Silva is well known around the world for his three wins of the Formula One World Championships. Senna remains to be one of the most successful and dominant Formula One drivers of the modern period.

any regard him as one of the greatest racecar drivers though his career was cut short when he was killed in an accident as he was leading the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. He is one of the few drivers to have died while participating in a Formula One World Championship race.

Senna started in karting before participating in open-wheel races by 1981. By 1983 Senna won the British Formula 3 championship. In 1984 he made his Formula One debut with Toleman-Hart. However he transferred to Lotus-Renault by 1985.

Over the next three racing seasons, Senna won six Grand Prix. He transferred again in 1988 to McLaren-Honda joining Alain Prost. Between these two amazing drivers, they managed to win 15 of the 16 Grand Prix of the same year.

It was also during this period that Senna recorded his first ever World Championship. Though it was Prost who became the champion in 1989, Senna managed to get his second in 1990 and then a third in 1991. Different motorsport polls typically include Senna as one of the most influential and best all-time Formula One drivers.

Though he is known for his qualifying speed in one lap, he had the most number of pole positions from 1989 to 2006. He is also well-known for races during wet weather like the Monaco grand Prix in 1984, the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1985, and finally the European Grand Prix in 1993. He has had six victories racing the Monaco Grand Prix and in terms of the number of races won, is the third over-all.

3. Steve Kinser

Sprint car racer Steve Kinser is next with 20 victories in the WoO or World of Outlaws series. He presently uses the #11 Bass Pro Shops racecar. He left the WoO in 2006 to be able to race during the National Sprint Tour series though he did come back in the 2007 season.

In 2008, ESPN included him in their list of the all-time top drivers. He started racing in WoO way back in 1978. In 1987, he surprised the world by winning 46 features, with 12 of them being consecutive wins plus also winning 24 of its last 26 events.

Other achievements include 12 victories in the Knoxville Nationals and the Gold Cup Race of Champions. He is also a seven-time champion of the Kings Royal at Eldora. He has recorded a total of 20 WoO championships with 577 “A” features wins as of February 2014.

In 2005 Kinser was inducted to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Many people, like sports writers and even his rivals, consider Kinser as the best sprint racer.

4. Mario Andretti

Though already retired, many consider Italian-American Mario Gabriele Andretti as one of the most successful American racecar drivers in motorsport history. He is only one of two racecar drivers to have won in the NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One and World Sportscar Championship.

He has raced and won in sprint cars and midget cars categories. Andretti has won four IndyCar titles, three of which were under USAC-sanctioning with one being CART. He has also won the IROC VI and the Formula One World Championship in 1978.

At present, he remains to be the sole driver to have won the Formula One World Championship, the Indianapolis 500 (in 1969), and Daytona 500 (1967). Furthermore he is the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500, Formula One, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a record that has only been recently broken by Juan Pablo Montoya.

Since winning the Dutch Grand Prix back in 1978, no other American racer has managed to win a Formula One race. All throughout his career, Andretti has won a total of 109 times on different major circuits. Andretti is one of the racecar drivers to have experienced a very long career.

By far, he is the sole driver to be chosen as United States Driver of the Year in three different decades, the first one in 1967, the second 1978, and finally in 1984. While Andretti is just one of three drivers to have won races on dirt tracks, paved ovals, and road courses, in the course of one season, he is the only one to have done so four times.

When he won the IndyCar in April 1993, he became the first to win the race in four different decades. He is also the first to even win races of each kind in five decades. While Michael Schumacher may be well-known across the world, Andretti’s name remains to be equated to speed especially in American popular culture.

5. Jimmie Johnson

Entering the list half-way is Jimmie Kenneth Johnson who is part of Hendrick Motorsports with the No. 48 Chevrolet SS as his car of choice. This American is best known for stock car racing and has been the champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series six times.

Johnson is an important part of NASCAR history as being the only driver to win five consecutive times starting in 2006 all the way to 2010. In 2011, he only managed a sixth-place finish based on points though he managed to go up the ranks to third by 2012.

However it was in 2013 that he obtained is sixth championship, just one shy of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty’s record. He is also a two-time Daytona 500 champion, winning the race back in 2006 and another in 2013. For the years 2002 to 2015, in addition to the six championships, he also has had 33 pole positions with 292 top-ten finished and 72 wins.

Johnson added another feather to his cap by being selected as the Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in 2009. He has even won the Driver of the Year award a total number of five times, with the most recent one being 2013.

Other awards include being part of Forbes.com’s list of Most Influential Athletes in 2011 and 2012. Finally he is the only driver to have been qualified for the Chase every year since it was started in 2004.

6. Richard Lee Petty

Former NASCAR driver Richard Lee Petty’s choice of race was the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and the Strictly Stock/Grand National Era. He is also known as “The King” due to his numerous accomplishments.

For instance he is a seven-time NASCAR Championship, a record tied by one other racecar driver, Dale Earnhardt. His other achievements include seven victories in the Daytona 500 and he even won 27 races during the 1967 season with 10 of them being consecutive wins.

All through his career, Petty recorded a total of 200 race wins. As such, he is statistically considered in the history of motorsport racing as its most accomplished racecar driver. It is no surprise to learn then that he remains to be the most respected driver in motorsports.

He has had 127 poles with more than 700 top-ten finished in 1,184 starts. In fact during the years 1971 to 1989, he had 513 consecutive starts.

The King was formerly the sole driver to win his 500th career race start before Matt Kenseth managed to achieve the same in 2013. Petty was part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class and was inducted to it in 2010.

7. Dale Earnhardt

Known to fans and competitors as “The Intimidator”, American Dale Earnhardt is both a racecar driver and a team owner. Earnhardt is mainly known for NASCAR stock car racing and the nickname is due to his aggressive driving style.

He started racing in 1975 during the World 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of the Sprint Cup Series then called the Winston Cup Series. Many consider Earnhardt as one of best racecar drivers of NASCAR.

This is not surprising considering he won 76 Winston Cup races and he got another one during the 18 Daytona 500. Earnhardt has also won NASCAR Winston Cup Championships a total of 7 times, tying with Richard Petty.

Sadly, during the Daytona 500 held on February 18, 2001, Earnhardt was involved in a crash during the last lap at the Daytona International Speedway and died as a result of a basilar skull fracture. He has been inducted into various halls of fame and was part of NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

8. A.J. Foyt

Nicknamed “Super Tex”, A.J. Foyt is an American racecar driver who has competed in different genres. Though retired, Foyt competed in open wheel races like the United States Automobile Club Champ cars and even the midget cars. He even raced with stock cars in NASCAR and USAC, winning a number of major sports car racing events.

Foyt currently holds the most career wins in the USAC with 159. With 67 wins, he also holds the record for career victories in the American championship racing.

Though Foyt has won the Indianapolis 500 four times, he is the only driver to have won the Indy 500, Daytona 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and 24 Hours of Daytona. For the years 1976 to 1977, he won the all-star International Race of Champions.

Foyt also raced the NASCAR stock car circuit, winning the Firecracker 400 in 1964 and Daytona 500 in 1972. Despite suffering from serious injuries, Foyt has managed to experience and survive a total of three major crashes while closely escaping a fourth crash. His many successes led to numerous inductions in motorsports halls of fame.

9. Nigel Mansell

British race driver Nigel Mansell is well-known for winning the 1992 Formula One World Championship and the 1993 CART Indy Car World Series. While being the reigning F1 champion after his 1992 win, his move to race in the CART enabled him to actually get two records.

He is the first racer to win a CART title during his debut season and with the win, he became the only driver to have the CART title and be the F1 champion at the same time.

His career as a Formula One racecar driver lasted for 15 seasons though the final two full seasons of his career was mainly focused on the CART series. Mansell boasts of a total 31 wins.

Though this makes him as the second most victorious British Formula One driver, he is only the seventh overall when it comes to Formula One behind the likes of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, and Sebastian Vettel.

However, he did hold the most number of pole positions in a single season before Sebastian Vettel overtook him back in 2011. Murray Walker, longtime Formula One commentator, once put Mansell in his top 5 list of the all-time best Formula One drivers.

Entertainment and Sports Programming Network in 2008 rated Mansell as one of the all-time top racecar drivers.

The Times Online put Mansell at number 9 of the 50 greatest racecar drivers along with other greats Jim Clark, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, and Jackie Stewart. Mansell joined and won the 2005 Grand Prix Masters. In the same year he was inducted and became part of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

10. Alain Prost

Hailing from France, Alain Prost has been the Formula One Drivers’ Champion four times. So far only Michael Schumacher has managed to equal, let alone surpass, his record. Active in the years 1987 to 2001, Prost also holds the record for having the most number of Grand Prix wins.

In 1999, he was awarded a World Sports Awards of the Century under the motor sport category. During the peak of his career, he formed rivalries with some of the best like Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, and of course his long-time rival, Ayrton Senna.

One of his wins included beating both Piquet and Mansell in 1986, though some would say it was due to Piquet being pulled in due to a late precautionary pit stop and Mansell retiring in the later part of the race.

It was in 1988 when Prost would race against Senna after the latter joined McLaren. Prost is a four-time Formula One Drivers’ Champion while only Michael Schumacher (seven-time championship) has equalled and actually surpassed his number of titles.

From 1987 until 2001, Prost held the record for most Grand Prix victories. In 1999, Prost received the World Sports Awards of the Century in the motor sport category.

The two would later become involved in a number of controversial races like the one during the Japanese Grand Prix in 1989 where a collision allowed Prost to grab a third Drivers’ Championship. Prost had a relaxed and smooth driving style, much like his personal heroes Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart.

He was known to many in the racing industry as “The Professor”, due to the way he approached racing in an intellectual manner. The moniker however was not that much of a concern for Prost.

One of the skills he was known for was how he would set up his car to adapt to the race condition. For instance during the early stages of the race, Prost was known to conserve both the brakes and tires resulting to having them fresher and ready towards the more challenging part at the end.

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