Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: The ‘Stache, the Secret to Drivers Winning Races is Right Under Their Nose

From time to time, the mystery and complexity of life confounds my mind, and I’m prone to fits of absolute wonder. For instance, why didn’t Jimmy Spencer compete in the Bud Shootout in Daytona? Instead of these dumb stimulus packages that don’t work, why not just give everybody a million dollars? Where did the name for the Chevrolet car “Chevelle” come from – and what does it mean?

And how come mustaches aren’t cool anymore?

I am a product of the generation who grew up in the 1980s. It was a time when a man’s worth was judged by his mullet and success meant you aspired to drive either an IROC-Z or a Buick Grand National. But if you really were looking to be noticed and assert your alpha-male status, you couldn’t just rely on that Members’ Only jacket. No, you needed to have a mustache.

In modern times, however, it is a look that has been given an Amish shunning. If you are under 40 years old and show up with one now, people will Google your name to see if you’re on a sex offender registry. It’s as if they’ve become the sole domain of state troopers and guys who drive vans with no windows.

Well, I think it’s high time we kick this notion to the curb, then retreat to a simpler time when things made sense. People usually retreat to a simpler time when their situation becomes overwhelming, and we certainly are in the midst of it now on all fronts. And if there was anything that my time growing up in the ’80s confirmed, if you want to get to the top, you have to come clean, man up and grow a mustache.

I mean, think about it – looking through history, anybody who is a legitimate badass has had one. Wyatt Earp, Teddy Roosevelt, Don Mattingly, Sam Elliott, Burt Reynolds, Albert Einstein, G. Gordon Liddy… the list goes on, infinitum.

And nowhere is this more apparent than in NASCAR.

Don’t believe me? Check out Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, combing for 14 Winston Cup championships and 276 victories. Sure, Petty may only have had his soup strainer for one title in 1979 – but he wouldn’t have gotten all that press for this long had he won just six. Besides, those final 15 wins it took to get to 200 didn’t just happen by themselves – you can connect the dots to see how they really got there.

Remember how sometimes Petty would suck on a wet towel during a race to help keep himself hydrated and from biting his tongue in an accident? It was really to absorb the sweat from that big wooly bear living under his nose.

Earnhardt Sr. looked a whole lot more intimidating with that glorious crumb catcher spanning the width of his face than without it. After a rather violent accident at Talladega in 1998, Earnhardt singed his trademark cookie duster in a fiery wreck with Bill Elliott. It was honestly more shocking than seeing him pull himself from the wreckage there two years earlier when he was struck in the roof while tumbling upside down, or even at Pocono in 1982 as he hobbled down the turn 2 banking helped by Tim Richmond (suffering a broken knee in the incident).

Speaking of Richmond – there is another driver who turned the NASCAR world on its ear out of nowhere in the mid-1980s. Although he raced barely six and a half seasons, Richmond won 13 races, including seven victories in 1986, finishing third in points to Earnhardt. Only one other guy in the top 10 had a mustache that year; Kyle Petty in ninth position. If we were running by today’s Chase standards, Terry Labonte would have made it a quartet with his customary flavor saver in 12th.

Think it just applies to NASCAR? Think again. How about 1992 Formula 1 and 1993 CART Champion Nigel Mansell? Perhaps you are familiar with 14-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force? And let’s not forget USHRA Monster Jam pilot Dennis Anderson… who drives Grave Digger.

I know what you’re saying. “Vito, that is all well and good, but what about today? How come drivers now don’t have mustaches?” And to you, I say, “Nay, they do not.” Instead, today the new look de rigeur is the scruffy stubble look. In today’s racing world, looking like Thomas Magnum has been replaced with resembling Sonny Crockett.

Remember Tony Stewart a couple of years ago? Unabashed, unapologetic and unshaven. With that wad of greasy hair sticking out from his Home Depot Hat, he looked like a Midwest version of Vince Neil from Motley Crue. But he’s not the only one; Brian Vickers finally started running up front and winning once he shunned the Gillette Young Gun look and got in touch with his inner-scuz. Elliott Sadler sometimes tries to emulate the old Stewart look, but maybe that’s because he kept running into him back in 2008.

Jimmie Johnson has, in the last two years, tried to grow a beard at certain points throughout the season… but for some reason, it just doesn’t work. He’s too clean-cut, straight and narrow to try and look like a tough guy anyways. But considering he’s working on an unprecedented (like the last two) fifth straight title, is it time for him to graduate into the elite realm of racecar drivers and grow a mustache? Do you really think he stands a chance at getting to seven titles just because Chad Knaus will be telling everybody what springs and shocks to put under the No. 48?

Yeah, OK.

If Johnson were to ascend to the rare air of Petty and Earnhardt, think of the marketing opportunities that would exist to promote a trio of seven-time Cup champions. How great would that look on a painted dinner plate or a new Sam Bass mural: three iconic drivers with mustaches, wearing Ray Bans, Gargoyles and a cowboy hat. It would be an epic addition to any race fan’s rec room or dining area, and help set NASCAR apart once again from the other sports that it has tried so hard to emulate in recent years.

With the struggles that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has suffered as of late, he would do well to drop the Jeremiah Johnson look and take a tip from his dad in his prime; shave the scruff and just leave the lip lizard intact. Better to look like the Intimidator in his prime… than Layne Staley in decline.

You can laugh at me or scoff all you want, which you have every right to. Just tell me how I’m wrong.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via