Top-10 List: Dirt Devils
by Tom Jensen March 22, 2021
NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers tamed the dirt tracks of the Deep South in the sanctioning body’s first two decades.
When NASCAR takes to the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City Dirt Race on March 28, it will mark the first premier series race on dirt since September 30, 1970, when Richard Petty (2010) won the Home State 200 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
Although more than half a century has passed since the last time the premier series raced on dirt, in the beginning, dirt was pretty much all of what the NASCAR drivers competed on.
Succeeding on dirt required the ability to read the track as it changed throughout the race, expert car control and knowing when to brake and accelerate. Muscle and finesse helped, too. Not surprisingly, most of the best dirt-track racers wound up in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
This week’s top-10 list features the drivers with the most victories on dirt tracks. The top eight on this list are all Hall of Fame inductees.
10. Fonty Flock, 15
One of three racing Flock brothers, Truman Fontello Flock, a/k/a Fonty scored 15 of his 19 career victories on dirt tracks. Starting in 1949, the first year of the NASCAR Strictly Stock Division (now premier series), Flock finished in the top five in points in four of his first five seasons. His best year was 1951, when he won eight races and finished second in points.
9. Speedy Thompson, 17
Competing in 197 premier series races over parts of 14 seasons, Speedy Thompson scored 17 of his 20 career victories on dirt tracks. Far and away his best year was 1956, when Thompson won eight times, all in Dodges and Chryslers fielded by team owner Carl Kiekhaefer. And here’s an odd trivia bit: Thompson finished third in points four times in a row, from 1956-59.
7. Junior Johnson, 23
A member of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2010, Junior Johnson honed his craft on plenty of dirt roads in Wilkes County, North Carolina, during his days as a whiskey tripper. Johnson applied his bootlegging skills to NASCAR, winning 50 premier series races between 1953 and 1966. Nine of Johnson’s first 11 victories came on dirt tracks, with the two exceptions coming at his home track, North Wilkesboro Speedway, which was paved.
7. David Pearson, 23
Spartanburg, South Carolina, native David Pearson (2011) ranks second on NASCAR’s all-time victory list with 105 premier series wins. During the 1964 season, seven of Pearson’s eight race victories came on dirt tracks. Two years later, while capturing his first of three premier series championships, Pearson won more than half the dirt races on the 1966 schedule.
6. Richard Petty, 30
NASCAR’s all-time leader with 200 race victories and a record-setting seven championships, Richard Petty (2010) loved racing on dirt because he felt the driver could make up more for an ill-handling car than he could on pavement. Petty’s first premier series victory came in 1960 at the old Southern States Fairgrounds, a 0.500-mile dirt track in Charlotte.
Petty’s first premier series victory came in 1960 at the old Southern States Fairgrounds, a 0.500-mile dirt track in Charlotte.
— Tom Jensen
5. Ned Jarrett, 33
Don’t let the nickname “Gentleman Ned,” fool you: Ned Jarrett (2011) was one of the toughest racers of all time, scoring two thirds of his 50 career premier series race victories on dirt tracks between 1959 and 1965. In 1964, the year Jarrett won a career-high 15 races in a single season, seven of his victories came on dirt, including five in either North or South Carolina.
4. Tim Flock, 36
One of NASCAR’s true pioneers, Tim Flock (2014) competed in 187 premier series races, including 172 from 1949 to 1956, a period when he won a pair of series championships. Given that he raced in NASCAR’s infancy, it’s hardly a surprise that 36 of Flock’s 39 career victories – a total of 92.3 percent – were on dirt. That’s the highest percentage of dirt wins in this group.
2. Herb Thomas, 40
The driver of one of the most iconic stock cars of all-time, “The Fabulous Hudson Hornet,” Herb Thomas (2013) was NASCAR’s first two-time premier series champion. Thomas took titles in 1951 and ’53, both times driving Hudsons prepared by the legendary crew chief, Smokey Yunick. From 1951 to 1956, Thomas finished in the top five in points all six seasons, and for his career, he won 48 races.
2. Buck Baker, 40
In a career that began in 1949, the inaugural year of the NASCAR Strictly Stock Division (now premier series) Buck Baker (2013) won 46 races, 40 of which came on dirt tracks. In 1956, Baker won 14 races and a championship driving one of Carl Kiekhaefer’s Chryslers. The next year Baker won 10 more races and a second championship in a 1957 Chevrolet nicknamed “The Black Widow,” a re-creation of which is on the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Glory Road.
Lee Petty, 42
Petty Enterprises founder and owner Lee Petty (2011) holds several impressive records, including being NASCAR’s first three-time premier series champion, as well as the winner of the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. Petty also won more races on dirt than any driver in NASCAR history, claiming 42 of his 54 race wins on dirt tracks, most of which were located in the Deep South.