Despite never having won a Cup championship, the Arkansas-born native has nonetheless been described by ESPN as one of the best drivers. He’s not the best there ever was, but with 40 wins, 51 pole positions, and a career that spanned more than 31 years, he is definitely deserving of a spot on our list. Plus, there’s that minor fact that he managed to make an earning of over $85 million by the time he retired.
In 2017, Martin received the honor of being inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Raymond Parks, and Benny Parsons. Since retiring from racing, Martin has switched to the back end and now is the owner of several car dealerships in Arkansas.
Cale Yarborough- Three Cup Championships
Cale Yarborough was born in 1939 in South Carolina to a tobacco farmer and cotton gin operator. Before entering the world of racing, Yarborough was a football athlete. In 1957, he made his racing debut at the Southern 500. He quickly became one of the top racers, eventually winning 83 races, tying him with Jimmie Johnson.
Most notable in his career, were his three consecutive Cup championships from 1976-1978. Jimmie Johnson would eventually beat that and add two more consecutive wins. Yarborough was one of the best race car drivers of his time. He was inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. Another big honor was getting a part of South Carolina Highway 403 re-named after him to Cale Yarborough Highway.
Ricky “The Rooster” Rudd- 788 Consecutive Starts
Virginia-born Ricky Rudd got his racing start as a teenager in go-karts and motocross. He made his NASCAR debut in 1975 at North Carolina Speedway. Two years later, he became a full-time driver. His 32-year career consisted of 23 wins at the NASCAR Cup Series. He retired in 2006 and was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
One of Ricky Rudd’s most memorable NASCAR moments was in 1988 at the Budweiser At The Glen. He was able to pass the finish line before Rusty Wallace by inching closer to him although Wallace had gained speed in the final laps.
Joe Weatherly- 153 Top-Tens
Joe Weatherly was known for his sometimes crazy antics, like once showing up in a peter pan costume to do practice laps. His racing career started in 1950 and over the course of his 12-year career, he raced in 230 races. In 1950, he won more than half of the races that he competed in. Two years after that, he won the NASCAR Modified National Crown.
By the second half of the ’50s, he began competing in the NASCAR Grand Nationals, where he drove a Ford for Pete DePaolo Engineering. Tragically, Weatherly died in 1964 during a racing accident in 1964 after his head was hit by a retaining wall at the Riverside International Raceway.
Herb Thomas- 228 Races
During the 1950s there was a North Carolina-born native who took the auto racing world by storm. The former farmer developed an interest in auto racing in the late forties and in 1949 he partook in NASCAR’s Strictly Stock race. His first win came at Martinsville Speedway in a privateer Plymouth.
This picture was snapped in 1955 and it shows Thomas posing with his Fish Carburetor 1939 Plymouth Modified that he came in fifth place with at a NASCAR event. Thomas drove Plymouth but after a fellow driver suggested that he switch to a Hudson Hornet, Thomas made the switch and quickly proceeded to win six races. Over Thomas’ 13-year career, he won 48 races, which ranks him 14th.