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.
Next on the docket: some of NASCAR’s best in the 1960s and ’70s who we haven’t already covered.
A winner and champion at the highest level of stock car racing, Isaac was undoubtedly one of its greatest drivers. He was also one of its fastest, both in NASCAR and outside of it.
Isaac began racing full time in 1956 but didn’t make his NASCAR Cup Series debut until 1961. It was two more years before he ran another event at the highest level of stock car racing. But once he did, he was remarkably competitive. Isaac scored his first Cup victory in 1964, though he still only ran a limited schedule.
Then in 1968, Isaac ran the full season, which at the time was a daunting 49-race marathon. He claimed three wins, three poles and finished second in the standings behind champion Pearson.
The following year was nothing short of phenomenal. The 36-year-old racked up 17 victories and 19 poles, a single-season record that still stands, and finished sixth in the standings.
In 1970, Isaac and his team put together an unbelievable season. He totaled 11 wins and placed in the top 10 at the finish of 38 out of his 47 races. His crew chief during this period was Harry Hyde, whose eventual association with Tim Richmond would become the inspiration behind the movie Days of Thunder. Isaac wound up claiming his lone Cup championship that year.
As it turned out, Isaac didn’t run a full season in NASCAR again. In 1971, he made a land speed record attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He set multiple speed records, some of which have yet to be broken. He added four wins to his total that year and picked up his 37th and final Cup trophy at Rockingham Speedway in 1972. He also won eight poles.
In 1973 at Talladega Superspeedway, he abruptly pulled off the track mid race and parked his car in the pits, saying he had nothing left to prove in a racecar. He made only a handful more starts in Cup but continued racing in other divisions.
During a sportsman race at Hickory Speedway in August 1977, Isaac pulled into the pits, calling for a relief driver. He collapsed on pit road, suffering from heat exhaustion. He was revived at the hospital but suffered a heart attack and died. He was just 45 years old.
Isaac was one of the fastest drivers of his era and his statistics at his peak rival those of any top driver from the late ”60s and early ’70s. Isaac was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2016. -Frank Velat
Fred Lorenzen never ran a full Cup Series season across 12 years of involvement with NASCAR. But he made sure those watching during that time remembered him and his white No. 28 Holman Moody Ford.
That’s despite embarking on one of the more oddly successful careers in Cup history; though he never competed full time in any season, Lorenzen’s 26 career wins rank 33rd all[ time.
After seven Cup starts in 1956 led to little success, Lorenzen won a pair of USAC titles to close out the decade and made a second foray into NASCAR’s premier level. Ralph Moody’s decision to place him in his lead machine yielded near-immediate success, with three wins and six top fives in 15 starts. Two years later, though still not full time, the Elmhurst Express made 29 starts, winning six races and finishing in the top 10 23 times (nearly 80% of his starts) while coming home third in points.
Lorenzen racked up 26 wins from 1961-1967, seven seasons with at least one victory and a mark few have matched within that many seasons as a full-time driver, and tacked on 30 poles in those 112 starts for good measure. Though he made just 16 starts in 1964, the Illinois native won half of those appearances and followed up ‘64 with a triumph in the 1965 Daytona 500.
Lorenzen added a pair of Most Popular Driver awards, two Coca-Cola 600 triumphs and an eventual Hall of Fame mantle to his resume, also holding the distinction of being the first driver to claim more than $100,000 in winnings in a single season. -Adam Cheek
Benny Parsons was one of the true nice guys of NASCAR, a man originally from Detroit who moved to the South in order to achieve his dreams.
At one point, Parsons was driving a cab for a living. Before moving down to North Carolina, Parsons raced full time in the ARCA Menards Series, winning two championships.
He joined the Cup Series tour in 1970, driving for LG DeWitt. His time at DeWitt could be best described as consistent, but not very flashy. Even his championship season in 1973 could be described as such. Parsons won only once at Bristol Motor Speedway but had 21 top 10s. He didn’t finish the other seven races.
Those other seven included the season finale American 500 at Rockingham Speedway, where Parsons was involved in a multi-car crash on lap 12 of 492. Due to an unusual point system variant in use only that season, the champion was declared by laps completed. A herculean effort was undertaken by the DeWitt team with help from other squads to put together a Frankenstein car for him to get back out and complete the necessary laps to win the title by 67.15 points (at Rockingham, this equated to approximately 134 laps).
Despite winning the title in 1973 and the Daytona 500 in 1975, Parsons’ best years in Cup were after that point. The championship year was the second in a stretch of nine consecutive years in which Parsons finished in the top five in points. Seventeen of his 21 career victories came between 1975-1981 — his prime years with DeWitt, two years with MC Anderson and a pair with Bud Moore.
After that point, he stepped back from full-time racing and drove for Harry Ranier, becoming the first driver to qualify at over 200 mph for the 1982 Winston 500. He spent four years with the Jackson Brothers, sharing a car with his brother Phil. Benny Parsons was then called up to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 1987 in place of Tim Richmond, who was described at the time as having double pneumonia. He ran solidly and then moved to Donlavey Racing for what turned out to be his final year.
Parsons worked in TV part time as far back as 1984 with Special Events Television Network and then started appearing part time with ESPN. When he retired, he went to ESPN full time, first as a pit reporter, then in the booth after Gary Nelson left, creating one of the most recognizable broadcast booths in the history of NASCAR.
Parsons’ legacy is that of an extremely friendly, boisterous man who carried no airs. He was a great racecar driver but an even better person. He was apparently willing to give out his home address on live television. and was always able to offer help. He helped launch Greg Biffle’s career by personally recommending him to Jack Roush.
Quite simply, he was one of the most well-liked people in the history of NASCAR. -Phil Allaway
For a driver who was around sporadically, Jim Paschal put together a long and successful Cup Series career. The High Point, N.C., native is one of a few drivers who raced in the first-ever Cup race, known as the Strictly Stock series at the time. He was still racing 22 years later when it became the Winston Cup Series.
Paschal never ran the entire schedule, and in the days of 40-60 races on the calendar, he only ran more than 30 races six times. Despite that, he finished in the top 10 in points 10 times. His best was fifth in points in 1956.
Even though he never truly ran for a championship, Paschal won 25 Cup races, tying him for 34th on the all-time wins list and putting him higher than 12 NASCAR Hall of Famers. Paschal has the second most wins of HoF-eligible drivers who are not yet in the HoF. Only Carl Edwards has more.
Two of Paschal’s wins were World 600s (1964 and 1967). In the 1967 win, Paschal led 335 of the 400 laps, which stood as a record for the event until Martin Truex Jr. led 392 laps in the 2016 Coca-Cola 600.
Twelve of Paschal’s wins came in cars fielded by the Petty family. In fact, in Bill Libby’s book, “King Richard,” Richard Petty labeled Paschal as the most underrated driver in the field at that time.
Paschal retired from Cup racing following one start in the 1972 season. He passed away on July, 5, 2004, due to cancer. – Michael Massie
No star shined as brightly — nor dimmed as quickly — as LeeRoy Yarbrough’s did.
The Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 are races at which wins can define a career. 1969 marked Yarbrough’s second season driving for Junior Johnson, and he began it by winning a thrilling last-lap battle with Charlie Glotzbach. Yarbrough’s last-lap pass on Glotzbach entering turn 3 was the first time that had happened for the lead in the Great American Race.
Yarbrough followed that by beating Donnie Allison by two laps in the Coke 600 in May; third place finished 18 laps down.
Next up was the Southern 500, in which Yarbrough had to face Pearson. Much like he did at Daytona International Speedway, Yarbrough was able to make the race-winning pass entering turn 3, then held off Pearson to the line. To this day, only Pearson in 1976 and Jeff Gordon in 1997 can also lay claim to winning the big three races in a single year. At the time, no one had won all three in a single career, let alone in a year.
Yarbrough also won races at both Rockingham and Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1969, meaning that in one year, Yarbrough had won at all five original superspeedways.
But then came the fall. After 1969, Yarbrough only won one more time (the fall Charlotte race in 1970) and was out of a ride when Johnson shut his team down early in 1971. Undiagnosed brain damage from multiple hard crashes is generally cited as the reason for his sudden downturn in mental health and the quick end to his career.
Yarbrough was later found not guilty for reasons of insanity in 1980 after attempting to strangle his mother and died four years later at age 45. -Michael Finley
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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