The Greatest Car Racers Of All Time
Whether Formula One, NASCAR, NHRA, Rally or Endurance Racing, racing fans love to discuss “who is the greatest driver of all time”. Not every driver will make it to the top and into the history books. Only a few lucky (talented) ones reach the top and are remembered for eternity.
In compiling this list of the best racers of all time, it was difficult to be able to number them in any particular order because, firstly, all of them enjoyed successful careers in different kinds of racing and secondly, they all were very good. So, numbering them in order would have made this list biased.
So, who is the best race driver? This question can start a fight. So we will not make one driver the #1, but instead list some of the names that would surely make the shortlist.
We’ve tried to include all the obvious choices, but there may be some missing that are the #1 for you. We apologize!
Drivers of the 1920s
illiam Grover Williams; Eliška Junková; Antonio Ascari; Pietro Bordino; Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin; Woolf Barnato; Henry Segrave; Louis Wagner; Robert Benoist; Giuseppe Campari;
Drivers of the 1930s
Sir Malcolm Campbell; Luigi ‘Gigi’ Villoresi; Bernd Rosemeyer; Hans Stuck; Richard ‘Dick’ Seaman; Rudolf Caracciola; Jean-Pierre Wimille; Tazio Nuvolari; Manfred von Brauchitsch; Piero Taruffi; Achille Varzi;
Drivers of the 1940s/1950s
Juan Manuel Fangio; Bill Vukovich; José Froilán González; Tony Brooks; Lee Petty;
Alberto Ascari; Jack Brabham; Mike Hawthorn; Stirling Moss;
Drivers of the 1960s
Mario Andretti; Dan Gurney; Jack Brabham; Pat Moss; Richard Petty; John Surtees; AJ Foyt; Erik Carlsson; Timo Mäkinen; Graham Hill; Phil Hill; Jim Clark; Vic Elford; Jochen Rindt;
Drivers of the 1970s
Al Unser; James Hunt; Henri Pescarolo; Ronnie Peterson; Jacky Ickx; Mario Andretti; Cale Yarborough; Sandro Munari; Jody Scheckter; Gilles Villeneuve; Niki Lauda; Jackie Stewart; Richard Petty; Bobby Unser; Emerson Fittipaldi;
Drivers of the 1980s
Gilles Villeneuve; Rick Mears; Nelson Piquet; Ayrton Senna; Ari Vatanen; Walter Röhrl; Juha Kankkunen; Dale Earnhardt; Nigel Mansell; Derek Bell; Michèle Mouton; Henri Toivonen; Alain Prost; Niki Lauda;
Drivers of the 1990s
Michael Schumacher; Dale Earnhardt; Jeff Gordon; Carlos Sainz; Mika Häkkinen; Colin McRae; Alain Prost; Nigel Mansell; Tommi Mäkinen; Juha Kankkunen; Ayrton Senna;
Drivers of the 2000s
Michael Schumacher; Tom Kristensen; Lewis Hamilton; Allan McNish; Jimmie Johnson;
Fernando Alonso; Sébastien Loeb; Dario Franchitti;
Drivers of the 2010s
Lewis Hamilton; Sebastian Vettel; André Lotterer; Sébastien Loeb; Fernando Alonso; Kimi Räikkönen;
A passionate racer, Jeff Gordon is one of the premier NASCAR drivers of all time, with 88 wins, four championship titles, and three Daytona 500 wins to his name.
With four Formula One Champions, Prost has the second most F1 titles of all time. And, from 1987 until 2001, he held the record for most Grand Prix victories in history. Nicknamed “The Professor”, Prost was known for his smooth, relaxed style and he was the best driver of the 80’s and early 90’s. He secured 51 GP victories in his career.
Known as “Super Tex”, A.J. Foyt is one of the best American race car drivers of all time. He holds the USAC career wins record with 159 victories, and the American championship racing career wins record with 67 first place trophies. Additionally, Super Tex is the only driver to win 7 IndyCar Championships, 4 Indy 500’s, the Daytona 500 and one 24 Hours of Le Mans. A.J. Foyt also won the International Race of Champions all-star racing series in 1976 and 1977. He was at home on any race track – dirt sprints, paved ovals, Indy, and road races, and he won them all. Reportedly drove 18 hours out of the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, together with his co-driver Dan Gurney, and won in a Ford Mark IV GT. He is the first four time winner of the Indianapolis 500, and started in 35 Indy 500 races. Surely a legend.
As a current driver, maybe it is premature to put Jimmie Johnson on this list, however, he has already won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series six times. He won his first cup series championship in 2006, followed by additional wins in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Jimmie Johnson is the only driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive championships, and won the Daytona 500 two times, in 2006 and 2013. Between 2002 and 2015, Johnson amassed 72 wins, 292 Top 10 finishes and 33 pole positions.
Richard Petty, nicknamed “The King,” won the NASCAR Championship a record seven times (tied with Dale Earnhardt), and won a record 200 races during his career. Richard Petty also won the Daytona 500 a record seven times, and won a record 10 consecutive races in the 1967 season. Statistically, Richard Petty is the most accomplished driver in the history of NASCAR. His other accomplishments included winning a record number of pole positions (127) and over 700 Top 10 finishes in his 1,184 starts, including 513 consecutive starts from 1971 to 1989.
A legend, Nigel Mansell won both the Formula One World Championship in 1992 and the CART Indy Car World Series in 1993. He has also been ranked number nine among the 50 greatest race car drivers of all time. In 2005, Nigel Mansell came out of retirement to race in the Grand Prix Masters series, and he won the championship. He was inducted to the International Motorsport Hall of Fame later that year.
Senna is considered to be the fastest driver of his era, conquering the world of motor racing with 41 GP victories. Senna won three Formula One world championships and was one of the most dominant and successful Formula One drivers of the modern era. He is considered by many racing enthusiasts as the greatest driver of all time. Senna made his Formula One debut in 1984, and won six Grand Prix races in his first three seasons as a driver. In 1988, he won all but one of the 16 Grand Prix races and won his first World Championship. He won his second and third championships in 1990 and 1991.
“The Intimidator,” was the premier NASCAR driver of his era. Earnhardt won a total of 76 Winston Cup races, including one Daytona 500 in 1998, and seven NASCAR Winston Cup Championships — tied with Richard Petty.
As a seven-time Formula One World Champion, “Schumi” is regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers in history, and the most successful of the modern era.
He holds many F1 records, including most championships, race victories, fastest laps, pole positions, and most races won in a single season.
In 2002, Michael Schumacher became the only driver in F1 history to finish in the top three in every race of a season, and broke the record for most consecutive podium finishes. Michael Schumacher has won a record setting seven Formula One championships and 91 Grand Prix races. This record will stand for a long time to come. He dominated in Kart racing at an early age, as he did in other racing series throughout his career. Definitely one of the greatest drivers of all times.
Mario Andretti is one of only two drivers to win races in Formula One, Indy Car, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR. He also won races in midget cars and sprint cars. Andretti won the 1978 Formula One World Championship and four Indy Car titles, and is the only driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship. He was also one of only three drivers to win races on road courses, paved ovals and dirt tracks in one season, a feat that he accomplished four different times. He won in every car he sat behind the wheel. Andretti had 109 career wins on major circuits. He won a total of 38 Indy Car style races and four championships (USAC and CART), and 12 Formula One races.
Easily one of the most skilled drivers ever. He could win in any car. He won 2 World Championships. Jim Clark is considered to be one of the most naturally talented racers of all time. He accumulated 25 GP wins.
Juan Manuel Fangio
The original Grand Prix superstar, “El Maestro” was a superb racer, winning five Formula One championships and 23 Formula One races, while competing against other greats like Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss. He started his career at age 37 and it spanned only eight complete seasons – remarkable.
Great Spanish driver who finally broke Michael Schumacher’s grip on the F1 world championship. Alonso is without a doubt among the modern day greats. Michael Schumacher appeared to be unbeatable before Alonso became the world champion in 2005.
Dominant, in probably the most difficult of all racing formats, he has to be the greatest Rally driver ever, with 9 Consecutive World Rally Championships and 76 wins.
Sébastien Loeb is by far the sport’s most successful competitor. When he retired from full-time competition in 2013, he did so with nine consecutive drivers’ titles to his name and 78 wins. Cool, calm and focused has earned him the French nickname ‘Le Patron’ or ‘The Boss’.
A great driver, with one of the longest F-1 careers and the longest winless streak.
Colin McRae was the 1991 and 1992 British Rally Champion and, in 1995 became the first British person and the youngest to win the World Rally Championship, a record he still holds.
McRae’s won the World Rally Championship Constructors’ title three times in succession in 1995, 1996 and 1997. During the following four years saw McRae win nine events, and in 2003 he helped the Citroën World Rally Team to win the first of their three consecutive manufacturers’ titles. He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to motorsport in 1996.
Should be much higher on this list personally I believe somewhere between 8th and 10th he was the first USAC triple crown winner and is still the only person to win both an Indy car title and a cup title but unfortunately people don’t recognize pure driving skill when it comes to this list because if they did Foyt would be 1st
One of the best drivers ever. A two-time F1 World Champion and the only driver to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport (Indy, Monaco and Le Mans).
The first female to excel in the male world of drag racing, she is also one of the best racers overall regardless of her gender. She was active for 40 years in IHRA and NHRA, winning three NHRA championships.
He competed in a total of 50 Formula One races and achieved 2 podiums.
Big Daddy Don Garlits was NHRA’s (National Hot Rod Association) first big star and a technical innovator. His career was as impressive. He won three NHRA Top Fuel titles and became the very first driver to reach the speeds of 200, 250 and then 270 mph. Overall, he won 144 national events over almost forty years of racing (1959 to 1986). He is, undoubtedly, the greatest driver in the history of NHRA.
Sir Jack Stewart is a living legend. He is considered to be among the fastest drivers of all times. Stewart managed 21 GP victories. He won the world championships in 1969, 1971 and 1973.
After a not so successful career in F2 and F3, he signed with Ferrari and won the world championship in 1975, 1977 and 1984. He had 25 GP victories in his career.
Stirling Moss is arguably one of the best all-round drivers, as he enjoyed success in touring cars, sports cars and rallying, while racing against another legend of that era, Juan Manuel Fangio, in a Mercedes Benz. He never won a world championship title, however he managed 16 GP wins and 24 podiums in his career.
Ronnie is among the fastest drivers in the history of F1. He secured 10 GP wins and 14 poles in his career.
Members of the famous Unser racing dynasty, took in total nine Indianapolis 500 victories. Al Unser Jr scored two, his father Al was the winner four times and Al’s uncle Bobby had won three times at Indy 500. And Al Junior also took two Indy Car titles and won two times at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Although Al Unser may not be ranked as the greatest race-car driver of all time, he is the most successful racer in the history of the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway. During his three-decade career Unser had four first-place finishes, three second-place finishes, four third-place finishes, one fourth-place finish, one fifth-place finish, and two other top-ten finishes in the race.
Röhrl raced in the World Rally Championship throughout the 1970s and 1980s, winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times, and was a two-time World Rally Championship winner.
In 1987 Röhrl set up a new record in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for being the first driver to cover the 14.42 miles (19.99 km) long mountain track to the Pikes Peak in less than 11 minutes, in his 600 hp (440 kW) Audi Sport Quattro, on the road which at that time was mainly gravel.
Röhrl was also successful in road racing events, and was called “Genius on Wheels”. In Italy, he was elected “Rallye driver of the century”. In France he was elected “Rallye driver of the millennium” in November 2000. A jury out of 100 worldwide motorsports experts elected him “Best Rallye driver ever” in Italy.
Waldegard was active in the early days of the World Rally Championship during 1970s. He won the inaugural World Rally Championship for drivers in 1979 as well as four international rallies before the WRC was formed. During his WRC career, which lasted until 1992, Waldegard participated in 95 WRC events and scored 16 wins and 35 podiums.
Mikkola is a seven-time winner of the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland and won the RAC Rally in Great Britain four times. His career spanned 31 years, with his most successful period during the 1970s and 1980s in World Rally Championship racing. 1983 was Mikkola’s year with four wins and three second places, taking the World Championship title. Mikkola made a brief appearances for the 25th anniversary run of the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. Mikkola won the original 1970 event and the 1995 re-run.
Stuck has competed in Formula One, Le Mans, Touring Cars, and many other racing categories. He drove the now famous BMW 3.0 CSL “Batmobile”.
After some success in Formula 2, he entered F1 and participated in 81 F1 races, debuting in 1974. Stuck continued racing touring and sports cars all over the world, winning the 24 hours of Le Mans twice. In 1990 he won the DTM Championship. Stuck announced the end of his active career as a race in 2011, after 43 years of racing.
Ascari was a twice Formula One World Champion. He was a multitalented racer who competed in motorcycle racing before switching to cars. Back to back World titles in 1952 and 1953 and an appearance in the Indianapolis 500 in 1952. Ascari also won the Mille Miglia in 1954. Ascari was noted for the careful precision and finely-judged accuracy that made him one of the safest drivers in a most dangerous era.
Jacky Ickx ruled the world of auto-racing in the 1970s and is considered to be one of the greatest drivers. Ickx is the second most successful driver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with an amazing six victories. He raced at Le Mans while also competing in Formula 1, from 1966 to 1978. He started 116 races and claimed eight F1 victories. His first Le Mans victory came in 1969 driving the famous Ford GT40. He won again in 1975, 1976 and 1977 with Porsche. He won in the Porsche 936 in 1981 and the 956 in 1982. He won the Dakar rally in 1983. Ickx impressed in F1, but really came into his own in endurance and sports car racing.
Bell was extremely successful in sportscar racing, winning the Le Mans 24 hours five times (1975, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987), the Daytona 24 three times and the World Sportscar Championship twice, making him the most successful British driver in the race to date. He also raced in Formula One and has been described by fellow racer Hans-Joachim Stuck as one of the most liked drivers of his generation. The Bell/Ickx partnership is considered by many as one of the most famous pairings in motorsport history.
Bell achieved his highest ever speed at Le Mans in 1971, reaching a calculated top speed of 246 mph on the Mulsanne Straight in the Gulf Porsche 917LH.
Stommelen participated in 63 Formula One World Championship Grand Prix races. One of the best endurance sports car racing drivers of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, Stommelen won the 24 Hours of Daytona 4 times (1968, 1978, 1980 and 1982), and the Targa Florio in 1967 in a Porsche 910.
He is also known as “King Ludwig” for his success in touring cars and in sports car racing. In the 1970s, Ludwig drove a Kremer Racing-Porsche 935, a car which was based on the then 15-year-old Porsche 911 road car, and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall. In 1984 and 1985, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Porsche 956. Considering Le Mans and sportcars too dangerous he moved to the World Touring Car Championship. He then moved to the DTM and became champion in 1988. And in 1986 raced IMSA, finishing 8th.
Mass participated in 114 Formula One World Championship Grand Prix races, debuting on in 1973. After leaving F1, Mass enjoyed great success in the European Touring Car Championship in the 70s and the 1977 24 Hours of Daytona. He won the 1,000 km race in Italy, the 1987 12 Hours of Sebring, and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1989.
There’s a reason why Kristensen is known as “Mr. Le Mans”. The racing legend tops the Le Mans winners table with a staggering nine victories. He enjoyed championship success in German and Japanese Formula 3, before scoring podiums and wins in Formula 3000, the BTCC and DTM. His first Le Mans win came in 1997, his debut at the iconic endurance race. He won in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2008. He not only holds the record for the most Le Mans wins but also the most victories at the 12 Hours of Sebring, with six wins.
Biela counts five victories at Le Mans. As well as his achievements at Le Mans, Biela also won the American Le Mans Series in 2003 and 2005 and has scored victories at the 12 Hours of Sebring four times.
Pirro’s career crossed over with Biela’s in the endurance world, with the two drivers sharing all five of their Le Mans victories, as well as partnering with “Mr. Le Mans” Kristensen for three of them. He raced in several touring car series, winning the Italian championship in 1994 and 1995. He claimed three consecutive victories between 2000 and 2002. Pirro won two more in 2006 and 2007. During his endurance racing career he also won the American Le Mans Series twice.
For many years, Genderbien was the most successful driver to ever race at Le Mans. He claimed four victories in the late 1950s and 60s. Many of his drives in F1 were with Ferrari, but he also drove Cooper and Lotus. Between 1955 and 1961 he started 14 races, scoring two podiums. His first taste of Le Mans came in 1956, where he finished third, and in 1958 he won the race alongside Phil Hill in the Ferrari 250 TR. He won again in 1960, 1961 and 1962.
In the 60s, 70s and 80s, it was common for racing drivers to compete in many different championships, from Le Mans and sports cars to F1 and F2. Pescarolo was one such driver. He made 57 starts in F1 from 1968 to 1976, but sports car racing is where he excelled. He holds the record for the most Le Mans starts, with 33 appearances, and in 1984 in the Porsche 956B and paired with Klaus Ludwig, he won. Alongside his F1 and Le Mans achievements, he also won the Daytona 24 and competed in the Dakar Rally.
Dalmas also claimed four victories at Le Mans, matching Pescarolo and Genderbien. Each of his wins at Le Mans came with a different team.
Michèle Mouton, nicknamed “The Black Volcano”, is the most successful woman in the history of motorsport and one of the greatest rally drivers of all time. Described as ‘one of the best’ by Sir Stirling Moss and ‘Superwoman’ by Niki Lauda, Michele Mouton was, and still is, the only woman to win a round of the World Rally Championship.In 1974, Mouton made her WRC debut in the driver’s seat at the 18th Tour de Corse rally. In 1975, Mouton made an appearance at Le Mans where her all-women team and won class 21. In 1977, Mouton drove a Porsche Carrera RS winning the Rallye de España and finishing second at the Tour de France Automobile. She is best known for driving the 300+ HP turbocharged four-wheel-drive Audi Quattro monster during the 80s. Her first victory was also the first WRC win for a female driver. In 1984, Mouton focused on the notorious Pikes Peak hillclimb, finishing second overall. In 1985, against all odds, she conquered the mountain with a time of 11:25. It was a victory that ultimately broke all the barriers when it comes to gender inequality in racing. Mouton broke Al Unser Jr’s 1982 record by thirteen seconds.
Waltrip won three NASCAR Cup championships and 84 races, including the 1989 Daytona 500.
Bobby Allison won 84 races in his career and the 1983 Winston Cup championship. Allison competed in 718 races and he won the Daytona 500 three different times. Allison is one of only eight drivers in NASCAR history to earn the unofficial career Grand Slam of wins in the Daytona 500, Winston 500 at Talladega, Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Southern 500 at Darlington.
“Rusty” Wallace had a great career, starting 706 races and finishing in the top 10 in more than half (349) of those races, including 55 wins and 36 poles, and won the 1989 Winston Cup championship.
Force is the winningest driver in NHRA drag racing history with a record 134 Funny Car wins and an incredible 15 Funny Car championships, including 10 in a row from 1993 through 2002. No other Funny Car or Top Fuel driver comes close.
Known as “The Sarge”, Schumacher has become one of the greatest Top Fuel drivers in drag racing history. He won seven Top Fuel championships — six of them in a row from 2004 through 2009. Tony has achieved a number of highlights in his career, including being the first Top Fuel driver to exceed 330 mph in the quarter-mile. He’s also the first driver to reach 330 mph in a 1,000-foot pass after NHRA reduced the length of racetracks from 1,320 feet to 1,000 feet, as well as setting the fastest speed ever in NHRA competition (337.58 mph). His 68 national event wins tops the Top Fuel all-time ranks.
Kenny Bernstein was one of the greatest drivers in NHRA history, both in the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks. He is the only driver in NHRA history to earn multiple championships in both Funny Car (four) and Top Fuel (two). He earned a combined 69 national event wins—39 in Top Fuel and 30 in Funny Car, making him No. 2 in the nitro-powered classes behind only Funny Car driver John Force. Bernstein was the first driver in any class to exceed 300 mph in a race.
Warren Johnson is the winningest driver in NHRA Pro Stock history with 97 career wins and six championships from 1992 through 2001. He also won two championships in the rival IHRA. He was the first NHRA Pro Stock driver to exceed 200 mph in the quarter-mile, and also the first to run a sub-6.9 second pass. In 2010, at the age of 66, Johnson also became the oldest professional winner in an NHRA national pro event.
Bob Glidden set the standard in the Pro Stock class. He is a 10-time NHRA Pro Stock champ and won 85 national event victories in his storied career. Glidden won at least one NHRA national event for 21 consecutive seasons (1973-1993).
When it comes to sprint car racing and the World of Outlaws series, one name stands head and shoulders above all others – Steve Kinser, who is without question the greatest sprint car driver that ever lived, even carrying the nickname the “King of the Outlaws.” Kinser has 20 sprint car or Outlaws championships to his credit, and an astounding 800-plus career wins in a main event or feature races, the most victories by any driver in any form of motorsports in four-wheeled racing history.
Gurney competed for 12 seasons on the F1 circuit, won four races and had 19 overall podium finishes in 86 career starts. Gurney also recorded 28 starts in USAC, winning seven races and recording 10 other top-five finishes.
Gurney at times has been referred to as the greatest American driver to never win a championship.