The 1960s marked an important time in the history of NASCAR. During this decade, which occurred in the middle of the NASCAR Grand National era and was right before the Winston Cup era, there were a number of rule changes, the beginning of live telecasts of races, and, towards the end, a rise in tensions between drivers and fans.
Throughout the ups and downs of these years, there was also some damn fine racing put on by some of the most legendary drivers in NASCAR history. Here, we’ll look at the five best drivers from the ’60s, who cemented their legacy as some of the greatest professional auto racers of all time.
5. Fireball Roberts
Born Edward Glenn Roberts Jr., the winner of the 1962 Daytona 500 actually didn’t even get the name “Fireball” from his time on the racetrack, but rather as a result of his fastball during his baseball days. But, with 33 wins, 122 top-10 finishes, and 32 pole positions in 206 races run, Fireball Roberts was definitely more iconic as a NASCAR driver than as a baseball player.
Fireball’s untimely death came at the age of 35 following a crash at the 1964 World 600. But, as an inductee of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his name will live on in racing lore forever.
4. Junior Johnson
Though he may have been more accomplished as a NASCAR team owner, Hall of Famer Junior Johnson was a force to be reckoned with on the track. Racking up 50 wins, 148 top-10 finishes, and 46 pole positions, Johnson is also credited as the first person to use the drafting technique in stock car racing.
Johnson’s star power particularly shined during the ’60s, when he won the 1960 Daytona 500 and had his best season (1965), when he won 10 races and 13 pole positions.
Now, Junior was equally as iconic for his involvement in the bootlegging business, which even earned him some jail time in the ’50s. These days, Junior Johnson is still in the moonshine business. This time around as a legal enterprise, of course.
3. Ned Jarrett
Known as “Gentleman Ned Jarrett” for his calm demeanor on and off the track, the North Carolina native cruised his way to the NASCAR Hall of Fame with a whopping three championships under his belt (1961, 1964. 1965). In 352 races run in 13 years, Jarrett racked up 50 wins, 239 top-10 finishes, and 35 pole positions.
As the father of former NASCAR drivers Dale and Glenn Jarrett, racing definitely runs in Ned’s blood.
2. David Pearson
As second on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with 105 victories, David Pearson also had three Cup Series championships to his name (1966, 1968, 1969). Racking up 57 of his 105 wins in the ’60s, Pearson also had 366 top-10 finishes and 113 pole positions through his career. And that was all in 574 races run.
For his Hall of Fame finalist nomination, NASCAR claimed that Pearson was “the model of NASCAR efficiency during his career. With little exaggeration, when Pearson showed up at a race track, he won.”
Having passed away on November 12, 2018, Pearson’s memory will live on as one of NASCAR’s brightest stars.
1. Richard Petty
There’s a reason that Richard Petty is often referred to as simply “The King.”
The son of racing icon Lee Petty, Richard is number one on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with 200. He has the most career starts with 1,027. He is tied for the most all-time Cup championships with seven (two of those coming in the ’60s). He has the most Daytona 500 wins with seven.
Even though Petty’s performance on the track reached its peak in the ’70s, he still racked up two championships and 101 wins in the ’60s. Needless to say, those are still some pretty kingly numbers.