NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary all throughout the 2023 season.
In 1998, NASCAR had a panel select a list of its 50 greatest drivers for its golden anniversary.
Likewise, we at Frontstretch decided to put together our own list of the 75 greatest NASCAR drivers in honor of this year’s milestone. Seventeen of our writers weighed in to pick the final 75, and we’ll be releasing four to seven drivers from that list every weekday for the next three weeks.
Similar to the one in 1998, this list is not a ranking of the top-75 drivers. Instead, we’ve broken the list down into categories, with a new category released each day (see the full list below). Within those categories, the drivers are listed in alphabetical order.
NASCAR’s legacy isn’t just about the NASCAR Cup Series — or even its other national series, for that matter. Some of the sport’s greatest made their name racing modifieds.
Not enough people are aware of the immensely talented and fascinating world of NASCAR-sanctioned modified racing. Some may know names like Richie Evans or Mike Stefanik, or even recall that Ryan Preece was a force when he drove modifieds.
And then there’s Evans’ chief rival in the 1970s.
Hailing from the same hometown as Evans, Jerry Cook was born in Rome, N.Y., in 1943. Cook built his first modified car at the age of 13 and eventually hopped in himself when he was 18. In 1969, he won the track championship at Utica-Rome Speedway. The next season, Cook took his talents to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 1970.
In order to win a championship on the Whelen Modified Tour, a driver has to have incredible endurance focus, as it often took 100-plus starts in a season to clinch it. Cook won his first title in 1971 and followed it up with another in 1972.
After a non-title year, Cook then completely dominated the tour from 1974-1978, winning the championship each season until Evans ended his reign and started his path to nine championships.
When Cook retired in 1982, he had 342 wins and six titles to show for his 26-year career.
He transitioned into a role with NASCAR as an official, and over that 34-year stint, he oversaw the Busch North Series and the Modified Tour, as well as the K&N Pro Series. In addition, he was the man who wrote the first Craftsman Truck Series rulebook in 1995.
Cook joined Stefanik and old pal and rival Evans in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. -Garrett Cook
The title of GOAT is frequently thrown around with reckless abandon.
That said, there is zero question who the GOAT of modified racing is.
Richie Evans put Rome, N.Y., on the map as he toured the Northeast, winning modified races anywhere they were contested.
He won nine titles, including eight straight from 1978 through 1985. Race-wise, he scored virtually every major race for asphalt modifieds, many of them multiple times. He even won the elite Race of Champions three times.
Evans’ first modified victory came in 1965. In 1973 he claimed his first modified title, and five years later he started his historic run of eight years in a row.
His chief rival during his heyday was Jerry Cook, another NASCAR Hall of
Fame member. When Evans and Cook were routinely mixing it up in
the Northeast, they both had multiple trailers. Often they would send a trailer to various tracks to try to decoy their rival to go to a different track.
In 1985, having already clinched that season’s title, Evans was testing at Martinsville Speedway when it appeared his throttle hung going into turn 3. Evans died in the resulting accident.
Evans was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012. He was the first driver from outside the NASCAR Cup Series to be inducted. -Mike Neff
It’s impossible to include a modified drivers section in this list without featuring the man known as Mr. Modified.
Ray Hendrick and his iconic Flying 11 Chevrolet dominated racetracks up and down the East Coast throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Despite the Mr. Modified nickname, Hendrick was almost equally as successful in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series (the precursor to the NASCAR Xfinity Series). Between that and modifieds, it’s estimated Hendrick won over 700 races. He is the only person with more wins at Martinsville Speedway than Richard Petty, winning there 20 times in just a 12-year span.
Despite being known as a prolific short-track racer, he also won Late Model Sportsman races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
Hendrick chased the races with the biggest race purses, not championships. As a result, he never won any national championships, thought he did win five track titles at South Boston Speedway (four in modifieds, one in late models) and was a two-time Race of Champions victor in the modifieds.
The Richmond, Va., native never attempted a full NASCAR Cup Series season. He competed in just 17races from 1956-74, but he scored two top fives and six top 10s in those starts.
Hendrick passed away in 1990 at the age of 61 after a four-year battle with cancer. But his son Roy continued the legacy of the Flying 11, winning track titles across the state of Virginia and even winning at their home track Southside Speedway just hours after his father died.
Hendrick was one of the drivers selected to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998 and remains just one of 14 entrants on that list to not yet be enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. -Michael Massie
For many younger race fans, the first thing that they will think of when you mention Mike Stefanik’s name is the Scowl Seen ‘Round the World from the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona in 2013.
But there was far more to Stefanik than that. In his prime, he was a tough customer who was a contender to win whenever he showed up.
He has 74 career victories in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, most all time since the Modifieds became a touring series in 1985. The next-highest driver on the win total is Reggie Ruggiero with a comparatively 44.
He is also a seven-time champion (1989, 1991, 1997-1998, 2001-2002 and 2006) of a touring series with a lot of strong players.
Stefanik is the only driver to win multiple NASCAR touring series championships in the same year. In 1997 and 1998, Stefanik won both the Modified championship and the Busch North Series title in cars sponsored by Burnham Boilers. The Modified titles coincided with career years in the series. He won 10 of 23 races in 1997 and 13 of 22 in 1998. The 1998 season saw Stefanik finish out of the top five only twice all season. In Busch North, he won with consistency over veterans such as Jerry Marquis, Brad Leighton, Andy Santerre and Dave Dion.
Stefanik quietly retired after the 2014 season and spent his time working at his own business in Coventry, R.I. He died from injuries in a single-engine plane crash in 2019 near Providence, leaving behind a legacy of excellence. -Phil Allaway
Frontstretch‘s 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers
Champions of the 2010s & Beyond
Martin Truex Jr.
The Next Generation
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Masters of the Modifieds
Ron Hornaday Jr.
Gone Too Soon
Stars of the ’60s & ’70s
Stars of the ’80s & ’90s
Stars From 1949-1960
??? (Feb. 9)
Jacks of All Trades
??? (Feb. 10)
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