Picking a Mount Rushmore (Plus 4) of American Racing Is Sure to Start a Debate

richard petty and aj foyt, 1975 firecracker 400
Here's Mount Rushmore (Plus 4) of American RacingJames Drake - Getty Images
  • Each journalist and industry insider polled was asked to name—in no specific order—eight Americans who deserve to be honored.

  • In this case, we considered Italian-born Mario Andretti an American (he’s been a naturalized citizen since 1964) and Australian-born Scott Dixon, who’s lived in America for years and drives in an American series for an American owner.

  • There were three unanimous picks and a few head-scratches. You’ve never heard of H.H. Kohlsaat, have you?

Four is simply not enough. At least, not to be considered even remotely legitimate. To be legitimate, we’re gonna need a bigger mountain.


Fans and series-watching insiders have spent decades debating the concept of a mythical “Mr. Rushmore” of American racing drivers. With a half-dozen candidates too obvious to ignore, showing just four images like the four U.S. presidents on the real Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota simply wouldn’t be fair.

1981 firecracker 400
Dale Earnhardt was a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion and the face of the sport in the 1980s and 1990s.Robert Alexander - Getty Images

But eight images, perhaps? Maybe a two-sided “Mt. Rushmore” would work.

A few journalists watching the rain at Richmond on Easter Sunday evening were discussing that very issue. To wit: if given room for eight, whose images would you carve on this make-believe mountain? Racers, mainly, but anyone who’s made a significant impact in racing. It’s your mountain and your heavy equipment… do with it what you will.

So Autoweek asked around, polling 25 men and women with decades-long ties to American racing. The panel included award-winning active and retired print journalists, active and retired radio and television broadcasters, a speedway owner, co-owners of an active Cup Series team, an international correspondent, a Florida attorney with ties to Daytona International Speedway, a former NASCAR executive, a veteran photojournalist, reporters with expertise in drag racing, sports car racing, and the IndyCar Series, a retired race-winning Cup Series driver, and a former PR executive at a major American speedway.

Each was asked to name—in no specific order—eight Americans who deserve to be honored. In this case, we considered Italian-born Mario Andretti an American (he’s been a naturalized citizen since 1964) and Australian-born Scott Dixon, who’s lived in America for years and drives in an American series for an American owner.

david pearson
David Pearson is No. 2 on the NASCAR Cup Series all-time wins list with 105.RacingOne - Getty Images

American Racing's Mount Rushmore (Plus 4)

Here's eight who most voters feel have earned their place on the mountain:

Mario Andretti

Dale Earnhardt

John Force

A.J. Foyt

Don Garlits

Dan Gurney

David Pearson

Richard Petty

The results may surprise you. For sure, they’ll greatly anger some of you. Others will question how Driver-A from this series could possibly get more love than Driver-B from that series. A man you’ve probably never heard of was named. All three women on the panel (along with six male colleagues) put a woman among their eight. Only four of the 33 drivers named on at least one ballot are active.

For example:

• No upsets here: Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Richard Petty were named by all 25 panelists. In fact, most of them began with those three superstars in no particular order.

• Maybe upsets here: Dale Earnhardt got 20 mentions, but Bobby Allison, Bobby Unser, Mark Donohue, Scott Pruett, and Parnelli Jones got only one each. NASCAR Hall of Famers and multi-time champions Jimmie Johnson got five mentions, Jeff Gordon got four, and Cale Yarborough two. One panelist praised Bobby Unser more for his Pikes Peak success than his IndyCar career. Others with one vote: Ted Horn, Barney Oldfield, Briggs Cunningham, Bill France Sr., and Craig Breedlove.

nhra top racers
Don Garlits, left, and John Force, right, would make many fans’ top-8 American racers list.Bob Riha Jr - Getty Images

• John Force (13), Don Garlits (10), and Shirley Muldowney (6) were the leaders among the drag racers. Connie Kalitta, Kenny Bernstein, and Tony Schumacher each got one mention. None of the sport’s Pro Stock legends—Bob Glidden, Erica Enders, Greg Anderson, Warren Johnson, or Darrell Alderman—got even one mention. One long-time motorsports journalist said he couldn’t vote for a drag racer. “I don’t think drag racers have that much skill,” he offered. “It’s 98% about the car.”

• A head-scratcher: you’ve never heard of H.H. Kohlsaat, have you? The forward-looking publisher of the Chicago Times-Herald organized and promoted what is widely accepted as this country’s first automobile race. It was Thanksgiving Day of 1895 and only two of six starters completed the 54-mile course went from Chicago to Evanston and back to downtown Chicago. Frank Duryea needed almost eight hours to win the $2,000 first prize ahead of Oscar Mueller, who got $1,500.

dan gurney 1960s
American treasurer Dan Gurney won races in sports cars, Formula 1, NASCAR and in Indy cars.RacingOne - Getty Images

• The early years and post-World War II recovery of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earned several mentions. Wilbur Shaw and Louis Meyers were recognized as the earliest three-time Indy 500 winners. One panelist credited Eddie Rickenbacker with “saving the speedway” in the mid- to-late late 1940s. Current IMS bossman Roger Penske got two votes;

• NASCAR legend David Pearson – with three championships and 105 career victories – received only 11 of a possible 25 mentions. Dan Gurney got 9, and Steve Kinser and Tony Stewart six each. Among others named: Phill Hill and Rick Mears (4 each), and Dixon, Janet Guthrie, and Hurley Haywood (2 each).

Based on nothing more exotic than grade-school arithmetic, then, our mythical eight-sided Mt. Rushmore of American racers should feature (alphabetically) Andretti, Earnhardt, Force, Foyt, Garlits, Gurney, Pearson, and Petty.

Thoughts? Grievous errors? Spot-on nominations? Suggestions? The floor is open. Have at us. Hit us with your best shot.

mario andretti bedecked with flowers
Mario Andretti celebrates his 1969 Indianapolis 500 win.Bettmann - Getty Images

Pick Your 8

So, who's the face of American racing? We asked 25 men and women with decades-long ties to American Racing who would be on their eight-person Mount Rushmore. They went with racers, mainly, but some included others who have made a significant impact in racing.

The Voting:

Top of the Mountain: Mario Andretti 25, A.J. Foyt 25, Richard Petty 25, Dale Earnhardt 20, John Force 13, David Pearson 11, Don Garlits 10, Dan Gurney 9,

Honorable Mention: Steve Kinser 6, Tony Stewart 6, Shirley Muldowney 6, Jimmie Johnson 5, Jeff Gordon 4, Phil Hill 4, Rick Mears 4, Cale Yarborough 2, Roger Penske 2, Scott Dixon 2, Janet Guthrie 2, Hurley Haywood 2,

Also Receiving Votes: Bobby Allison 1, Bobby Unser 1, Mark Donohue 1, Scott Pruett 1, Parnelli Jones 1, Ted Horn 1, Barney Oldfield 1, Briggs Cunningham 1, Bill France Sr. 1, Craig Breedlove 1, Connie Kalitta 1, Kenny Bernstein 1, Tony Schumacher 1, H.H. Kohlsaat 1, Louis Meyers 1, Eddie Rickenbacker 1.