Coming from a family of racing names, Geoff Bodine cut his teeth at a, frankly, frighteningly young age – he was part of the micro-midget division at the tender age of five. He loved racing so much that he disguised himself as a woman to race in the Powder Puff Derby when he was 15.
He’s one of the most well-rounded drivers in history. With almost 600 races in the NASCAR Cup Series, he has an impressive 190 top-10 finishes, 37 poles, and 18 wins. He was the 1982 Cup Rookie of the Year, and at one point held a Guinness World Record for most wins in one season, the 1978 Modified. That number was 55, and we guess “that one point” we mentioned is today.
Davey Allison – A Champ’s Career Tragically Cut Short
Despite only racing for about 10 years, Davey Allison still lands on this list with an astounding number of victories and accolades. He was the 1992 Daytona 500 winner, the 1991 Coca-Cola 600 winner, and a three-time winner of the Winston 500. He collected a grand total of 19 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series over nine years, with almost 100 top tens.
He got Rookie of the Year in 1987 thanks to two wins, five poles, and nine top fives, but we lost a perhaps legendary career in 1993 when the helicopter Allison was piloting, carrying fellow driver Red Farmer, crashed while landing at Talladega Superspeedway. Allison suffered a head injury and died the following day.
Buddy Baker – Still the Fastest Ever
During his 33 years of racing, Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., the son of NASCAR champ Buck Baker, collected 19 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series. He had the nickname “Gentle Giant,” and was known for his skill at coming out ahead on the superspeedways Daytona and Talladega – at those tracks he won a combined six races.
He parlayed his expertise on the track into a commentating career, which he continued until his death in August of 2015. One of his most enduring legacies is the average race speed he achieved in 1980 at the Daytona 500 – 177.602 miles per hour, a rate that has yet to fall despite all the attempts.
Neil Bonnett – Cut Down During a Comeback
At almost 50 years, Neil Bonnett was making a comeback. In 1990 he suffered a severe brain injury during a crash, and while practicing in 1994, another crash cost him his life. Before this tragic event, Bonnett was the winner of the 1981 Southern 500, the 1983 World 600, and the 1979 Firecracker 400.
He also won the Goodyear NASCAR 500 in Australia, which was the first-ever NASCAR race to take place outside North America. He had 362 races over 18 years in the NASCAR Cup Series before he died. As a member of the famed Alabama Gang, which included famous racers Red Farmer and the Allison family, he was always surrounded by other racers.
Red Byron – The Original Winner
There’s a big reason why Red Byron is on this list: he won NASCAR’s very first race in 1948. As in, like the very first one. Not only that, but he ended up winning NASCAR’s first season championship in the NASCAR Modified Division. One year later, he won the very first of what was then called the NASCAR Strictly Stock Division, which you might now know as the NASCAR Cup Series.
That’s right, this guy won the first one of them all. Those are some big accomplishments, but there’s more – since Byron was wounded in World War II, he drove with a special brace attached to the clutch pedal to make it so he could drive using his injured leg. He did all that with a handicap.