Friday, March 30, 2001
Updated: May 24, 11:12 AM ET
Breakfast with SportsCentury
Every Sunday morning from 7 a.m. - noon ET, ESPN Classic will present the previous week's SportsCentury profiles. Here's the Sunday, May 27 lineup:
All times Eastern
Raised in a family of bootleggers who never met a vehicle they wouldn't race, Tim Flock made his mark as one of stock-car racing's pioneers. Exploding on the scene in the 1950s, he won two Grand National championships and finished with 40 victories (in 189 starts). His winning percentage of 21.2 remains the best in NASCAR history. With his career winding down in 1961, Flock gained more headlines when he was banned for life from NASCAR for his involvement in attempting to start a drivers union. Flock's personality and antics were as memorable as his victories. Most notable was "Jocko Flocko," the pet monkey who accompanied Flock in his car for eight races. Flock had his best year in 1955 as he captured his second championship. He won 18 of 39 races, a record that stood until 1967, when Richard Petty registered 19 victories. The 18 pole positions Flock earned still stand as a record. Flock's fellow drivers also voted him Most Popular Driver.
He has not won a race since 1984. His last championship came in 1979. But Richard Petty's big sunglasses, cowboy hat and that No. 43 still loom large over stock-car racing. His record seven Daytona 500 wins might fall some day. But what never can be displaced is the role Petty had building stock-car racing from a day at the beach for good ol' boys into a super-speedway sport for the masses. The winner of seven Winston Cup championships (tied for the most with Dale Earnhardt) and a remarkable 200 NASCAR races was a man for the people, a charismatic presence the way Arnie was for golf and Babe was for baseball. From the fifties to the nineties, millions flocked to see the races because of him -- "The King." He's the first stock-car racer to exceed $1 million in earnings, first to repeat as winner of the Daytona 500, winner of 10 consecutive races, 356 top-five finishes and $7,755,409 in earnings. Not bad for a guy who made only $760 his first year of racing.
Bill Vukovich was a racing legend during the fifties, best remembered for three Indy 500 races. He won the first two; he died in the third. Vukovich had been the outstanding driver at the Brickyard since his third race there. Driving a Fuel Injection Special, Vukovich dominated the 1953 and 1954 races. The next year, the man nicknamed both the Mad Russian (for his charging driving style) and the Silent Serb (for his cool demeanor) sought to become the first driver to win three consecutive Indy 500s. But, on the 57th lap, tragedy struck. Three cars crashed in front of him. Vukovich had only about six feet of passable space by the outer wall, but a car spun into that space, sending Vukovich's car over the wall. Its nose hit first, bouncing, spinning and burning. Before the flames from the car reached him, Vukovich was already dead, from a fracture at the base of his skull. He was 36. A Hall of Fame driver, Vukovich was known for his intensity and will to win.
A.J. Foyt has always believed in God, America and himself -- and not necessarily in that order. A man of conviction, he is loyal to his friends and indifferent to his enemies. He is brash and blunt. He knew only one speed -- pedal to the floor. People respect Foyt, a man with as much true grit as the Duke. The tough Texan is an Indy legend, the first driver to win the prestigious race four times. The only person to have driven in the race for 35 consecutive years, he did 4,909 laps around the oval for a total of 12,272.5 miles (or about five trips from New York to San Francisco). He earned $2,637,963 competing in the Indy 500. His seven national Indy car championships remain a record. So do his 67 Indy car victories, which are 15 more than the No. 2 driver, Mario Andretti. One year, Foyt won an astounding 10 of 13 races. He is the only driver to achieve this triple: victories in the Indy 500, NASCAR's Daytona 500 (in 1972) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans international sports car race (with Dan Gurney in 1967). And no other driver has at least 20 victories in the United States Auto Club's four major categories: Indy cars, stock cars (41), sprint cars (28) and midgets (20).
Vroom! That sound you hear is Mario Andretti speeding around the track. Whether it was Indy, Formula One, Formula 5000 or Sprint cars, he proved himself a winner at all levels of competition. Let's look at Andretti's record: Only driver to win the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and Formula One world title; Only person to be named Driver of the Year in three decades - 1967, 1978 and 1984; Four-time Indy car national champion; One of only three drivers to win races on paved ovals, road courses and dirt tracks in one season, a feat he accomplished four times; At 53, he set the then-world closed-course speed record of 234.275 mph in qualifying at the Michigan International Speedway in 1993; and with his 52nd (and final) Indy car victory (also his 100th major career victory) at the Phoenix 200 in April 1993, Andretti became the first driver to win Indy car races in four decades and the first to win races in five decades. The winner of $11,552,154 in Indy car competition plus more than $1 million on other circuits, he is enshrined in four Halls of Fame -- the International Motorsports, the Motorsports of America, the Indianapolis 500 and the Sprint Car.