NASCAR Adds Sam Ard to Its “75 Greatest” List
In 1998, during its 50th anniversary season, NASCAR unveiled what it considered its 50 greatest drivers. The list included most of the stars from the organization’s earliest years, many of whom eventually would find their way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when it opened in 2010.
Beginning April 9, the sanctioning body will add 25 names to its “all-time” list as part of its 75th anniversary celebration. It is expected to name five drivers per week—most likely one per weekday—in the five weeks ending with the May 14th Goodyear 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
The newest group among the sport’s greatest drivers is being selected by a committee comprised of former drivers, team owners, industry personnel, NASCAR executives, and current and former media members. All 75—the original 50 class named 25 years ago and the new 25—will be recognized during Goodyear 400 pre-race ceremonies.
As NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998, company president Bill France called that group “the men who define the competition of our sport.” He added, “Their accomplishments are the benchmark that much of our history is identified by. Honoring them in this way, at the beginning of the NASCAR 50th anniversary celebration, is one way of showing our true appreciation for them and the invaluable contribution they have given over the past 50 years. These are the drivers who made and make NASCAR fans stand on their feet and cheer. These are the drivers who are NASCAR history.”
The original “50 Greatest Drivers” were from the Modified, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series. The Craftsman Truck Series was too young to have had any “greatest drivers,” but that’s expected to change with this new group.
Today’s Addition: Sam Ard
If not for a career-ending accident late in 1984, we can only imagine how many NASCAR Xfinity Series victories Sammy Ard might have enjoyed. As it is, the former Late Model Sportsman/Xfinity star won enough to earn a spot on the list of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers.
Ard won untold dozens of Late Model races in the 1970s, when that loosely organized series ran multiple times a week, often at tracks that didn’t keep precise records. When NASCAR promoted the Late Models to a structured, once-a-weekend, well-officiated touring series in 1982, Ard just kept winning and winning and winning.
The popular Asheboro, North Carolina, native won 24 poles and 22 races in just 92 starts during his three-year Xfinity career. He was second in points to legendary Late Model/Xfinity star Jack Ingram in 1982, then won the series championship in No. 00 Oldsmobiles for Thomas Brothers Racing in 1983 and 1984.
He suffered major head injuries in the next-to-last 1984 Xfinity race at Rockingham, N.C., and never raced again. Just 45 and at the top of his game when he was forced to retire, his resume remains impressive: 24 poles, 22 victories, 67 top-5 finishes, 79 top-10 finishes, and the ‘84 title. He fielded Xfinity cars for numerous drivers for five years (1987-1992), winning twice with former Xfinity rival Jimmy Hensley and once with Jeff Burton.
His career average starting position was 3.4 and his career average finishing position was 5.5, and he was running at the finish in 83 of his 92 career starts, 59 of them on the lead lap. He won four races in the first year of the Xfinity Series, then won 10 and eight the next two seasons.
Among his more notable victories were 12 at Cup Series venues: five at Martinsville Speedway, two each at North Wilkesboro and Richmond, and one each at Bristol, Rockingham, Dover, and the famous Milwaukee Mile. He died in 2017 at age 78.