OpEd – Thoughts on FLD’s Most Influential Drivers

You’ve already seen this video, because you already watch Fast Lane Daily religiously, right? RIGHT? Well, if you don’t you should! In their latest episode, they go through the history of motorsport and select the top five most influential drivers. If you missed it, here’s the vid.

In summary, the top five most influential according to FLD:

  1. Aytron Senna
  2. Rodger Penske
  3. Dale Earnhart, Sr.
  4. Dan Gurney
  5. James Garner as Pete Aaron

I think they make some compelling arguments, but I also think they got it a bit wrong if we’re talking about the most influential drivers. Roger Penske and Dan Gurney were both “game changers” as FLD puts it, but they didn’t change the face of motorsport from the cockpit. The Captain changed the game from the command chair, leading his teams to more Indianapolis 500 victories than any other team in history. It was his complete domination as a team owner that earned him his spot in motorsports history, not his driving. …not that he was a slouch as a driver by any stretch. Dan Gurney was a brilliant driver, but his real acclaim comes not from his driving abilities, which were amazing, but for his ability to design and craft the fastest race cars on the planet. Dan Gurney’s Eagles were second to none, and his addition of a wicker (still called a Gurney flap today) to the trailing edge of the rear wing of his Eagle gave his car an almost unfair advantage over the competition in open-wheel racing. Penske and Gurney are giants in motorsport, but in the end it wasn’t for their driving. The last name, Pete Aaron, I have to reject offhand as being a fictional character. I get what FLD is going for here, but I don’t think the character was as influential as they want to believe.

So who are my three replacements if Penske, Gurney, and Garner/Aaron are out? The first two that stand out are AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti. Both were icons of motorsport and drew hoards of new fans to the sport. Also, both were successful in multiple forms of motorsport. Both won the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, with AJ being the first to win the Memorial Day Classic a then unheard of four times. Both won the premier race of stock car racing, the Daytona 500. They would also both claim victories oversees, Foyt by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Andretti by winning the Monaco GP and the Formula 1 World Driving Championship. This ability to be successful across disciplines at the highest level, earned both drivers profound respect (sometimes in the form of hate) from their competitors and thousands of fans who would come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway every year, not so much to see the racing action, but for a chance to see walking legends. For my third, I got some help from my brother who suggested American motorcycle rider, Kenny Roberts. Roberts influenced just about ever young American rider since. Like Foyt and Andretti, he excelled at more than just one discipline of racing. He raced and won on dirt ovals line the Indy Mile on monstrous bikes like the legendary Yamaha TZ 750 two-stroke, as well as on road and street circuits. Having conquered the American racing scene, he began competing on motorcycle road racing’s pinnacle series, MotoGP, where he won the riders championship on a 500cc Yamaha.

So what are your thoughts? Like my picks, do you favor FLDs, or do you have your own?

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5 Thoughts to “OpEd – Thoughts on FLD’s Most Influential Drivers

  1. 1) Michael Schumacher
    2) Senna
    3) Mario Andretti
    4) AJ Foyt
    5) Colin McRae

    My humble opinion only…there are more obviously but I think these 5 revolutionized their respected discipline which may never be seen again.

  2. This is actually a really interesting question, if you remove those who had brief careers and went on to make great things (Bernie Ecclestone, Colin Chapman and Enzo Ferrari spring to mind on that front) and only count those who actually changed the game. I can name four off the top of my head.

    – Jackie Stewart. Inititated the transformation of motorsport from the hugely dangerous sport it was in late sixties into the reasonably safe activity it is today.
    – Ayrton Senna. He took driving race cars into a new level, but he also raised the game in the level of commitment and the way of working in the pits.
    – Jack Brabham. Collaborated with John Cooper to create the mid-engined Formula 1 cars succesfully resulting in a quantum leap in racing car design.
    – Stirling Moss. Murray Walker titled Moss as ‘the first truly professional racing driver’, and he was also an example of a true sportsman. Finally, I think he was pretty much the first driver to succesfully use what might be called ‘pace notes’ when he won the 1955 Mille Miglia, with Denis Jenkinson as his navigator.

    You could propably add people like Colin McRae, Dale Earnhardt and Valentino Rossi who became household names and known worldwide in their respective sports, but did they really change the game itself? Same for drivers like Juan-Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher or Sebastien Loeb who dominated their sports but, again, did they really change anything in the game?

    Tricky question…

  3. I think Jeff Gordon did more to catapult NASCAR into the mainstream in the US than any other driver in the series… including Earnhardt Sr. The love-hate relationship that the sports fans had for this humble yet polished young driver came at just the right time when the old guard was fading and the sport needed new stars.

    I agree with you though Doug. Foyt and Andretti won in everything they drove. They deserve to be on the list as well.

    If Schumacher is on the list, then Loeb deserves a spot too Shaun.

  4. Sorry, Shaun, I can’t buy Schumacher as top influential driver. He was very successful, but he didn’t do anything that Senna hadn’t done in terms of advancing the sport. He just won more races. Colin did more than just win, he reached out and drew in a whole new demographic of fans. Rally in the US probably wouldn’t be where it is today without his influence. As for Rossi, I almost included him instead of Roberts. It was close. Rossi has done more than just win and dominate. He started at Honda and developed the bike into a championship winner, not that it wasn’t already a decent platform, but then he jumped to Yamaha which at the time was the worst bike on the grid. Nobody wanted to be on the Yamaha. Rossi went to the team and within two years turned a dog of a bike into the ride everyone wanted. He changed what was expected of a championship level rider. A rider is no longer expected to merely circulate the bike around the course on weekends, they are also expected to be involved and contributing members of the development team for the bike. If he does the same job at Ducati as he’s done at Yamaha, then he’ll truly have earned the title G.O.A.T., if he hasn’t already.

  5. See your point Doug, but you answered my Schumacher bit with your Rossi bit there. Schumacher went from an ok Benetton with a title to Ferrari who was a shell of it’s former glory. He himself brought Ferrari back to the top and made Ferrari a seat everyone wanted (all the titles in hand!). When he reported his comeback earlier this year, the world stopped because of the influence he brings to the table. I do see your point but I think Michael is right in there if not just and I mean just on the outside.

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