When it comes to doing the dirty, there’s no dirty little secret in the dirt track world. Everyone is aware that there is some dirty driving going on, and there are some dirty drivers. Not afraid to do the dirty work, we are going to get down and dirty and name the names of the top 25 dirtiest dirt track drivers of all time.
Naming the top 25 in any category is a difficult task, but we took on this dirty deed with the intent of defining what a “dirty driver” was and picking the top 25 based on the criteria we established. Many of the drivers on our list have a public persona as “white hat wearing good guys” and their inclusion on a dirty driver list may cause angst amongst their fans. Rest assured, we looked beyond the image presented to the public to find those truly worthy of being on a top 25 of all time list.
Criteria for selection
To be considered for the list, a driver must have had some reputation as a mean, nasty or underhanded driver. There’s always two sides to every story, so we looked for drivers whose “dirty” reputation could be backed up by a reputable source. We also wanted to select drivers that were well known and successful. Johnny Smith at the local track may be dirty driver, but the elite dirty drivers, the top 25 of all time, have shown that they can make dirty driving pay off. These are the bullies that ruled the schoolyard and proved that “cheaters do prosper” regardless of what your mom told you.
The issue with determining who is a real dirty driver is that not everyone will apply the same measuring stick equally across the board. Dale Earnhardt Sr. is the best example. Everyone agrees that Senior was an aggressive driver, or they wouldn’t have called him the “Intimidator.” Most fans will deny that he was dirty however. Fans that didn’t like him were the only ones that called him dirty. We worked hard to make the measuring stick fair and apply it equally to all.
Talk Dirty To Me
In this article we are going to address the dirty drivers from #25 counting down to #11, saving the top ten for an article of their own. Keep in mind, this is dirt track drivers from all time, but we tried to keep the current crop of active drivers out of the top 25 in hopes that they step it up a notch to make a future Top 25 list.
The Weld family; Pappy, Jerry and Kenny, were all intense. Greg was often considered the most affable and well liked of the Weld family. So why is he on the dirty driver list? Greg was a very inventive mechanic. For instance, in the 70’s Weld had one of two magnaflux stations in the US that could magnaflux parts and supply paperwork for the IMCA sanctioning body. Weld would often falsify papers (for a price), for parts and cars for his teams and his favorite clients. Needless to say, these parts and cars were very successful. Weld makes the list for making cheating prosperous.
Crew member Steve Long said, “I think Jud Larson was [Greg Weld's] hero.” Jud Larson ranks much higher up on our list, so it would make sense that Weld, following in his mentor’s footsteps, would make our top 25 dirtiest drivers of all time.
What is the patriarch of the Petty clan doing on our list? In the early days of NASCAR, most of the races were run on dirt tracks. Petty was there at the start when every race was held on dirt tracks. Even through the early 60’s, many of the races were on dirt, so all of the NASCAR pioneers have to be considered.
In the 50’s, Lee Petty drove a car that had an illegal carburetor. Called to the post race inspection, Petty parked the car outside the NASCAR garage and had son Richard turning the bolts to take the carb off when a couple of inspectors came out and inquired why the hood was up. The elder Petty told the inspectors that the radiator was being drained, and that “This boy is new, and has never done this before.”
As far as being dirty, we’re going to rely on a trusted source for the lowdown on Lee. The great Smokey Yunick had a reputation for being brutally honest, and when Peter Golenbock interviewed Yunkick for the book “American Zoom”, Smokey called it the way he saw it. According to Smokey; “There wasn’t too many people who liked Lee Petty…a two-faced, dirty driver.” We’ll take Smokey’s word on it.
Lee Petty was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1996 and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. He was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998.
While we are quoting Smokey Yunick, he also said that Buck Baker “had a nasty streak that I didn’t like.” Baker drove for NASCAR team owner Carl Kiekhaefer of whom Smokey also said, “For years we had a picture of Kiekhaefer framed on the toilet seat in my garage.”
We’re sure that Baker isn’t a dirty driver by association, but Kiekhaefer ran the team with a firm hand and his drivers complied, even if it meant taking a teammember out. Baker benefitted from Kiekhaefer’s team rules when Kiekhaefer ordered Speedy Thompson to take team mate Herb Thomas out in a late season race so Baker could win the championship. The whole team had a reputation for being dirty, but Baker was the one that benefitted most, and that’s what puts him on our top 25 list.
Elzie Wylie “Buck” Baker Sr. was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame in 1982, the Internationals Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1998. In 1998 he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers.
Always described as a winner through hard driving and intimidation, dirt late model hall of famer Billy Scott recalls the intimidation and hard driving style of Stick Elliot; “Regardless of the purse size, Stick drove the same way — wide open.” Scott was the recipient of a painful reminder of Elliott’s driving style.
Scott recounts a race where Scott and Elliott were battling side-by-side at Concord Speedway, the white flag came out and on the fourth turn “I received one of the familiar ‘Earnhardt taps’ from Stick. It put me in the wall and broke my collar bone. After being admitted to Concord Hospital, I learned I had won the race,” said Scott. The caution and checkered flag had been waving for an accident on the other end of the track when Elliot punted Scott. This time the bully didn’t come out on top but more often than not, Elliott did come out as the winner.
Stick Elliott was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2009.
Yes, one of America’s first favorite drivers was a dirty driver. Fireball spent much of his time on the dirt tracks around the South. Roberts earns the distinction, not by driving for Smokey Yunick, but by being one of the most ruthless drivers on the track. A prime example of this was a race in which Fireball and Fred Lorenzen battled lap after lap. Fireball had started on the pole and Lorenzen caught up to Fireball’s back bumper. Every time Roberts would back off in the turns, Lorenzen would hit his bumper and the crowd would cheer. Roberts eventually pulled into the pits with handling problems. Lorenzen took the lead and his fans cheered the driver on. But their cheers turned to groans when Lorenzen pulled into the pits three laps later with a crunched radiator.
Said Roberts after the race; “I was minding my own business when he started bumping. I was running as fast as I wanted to go and if he wanted to pass, he could. I just locked up my brakes and busted his radiator. I guess all we proved is that the back end of a Pontiac is tougher than the front end of a Ford.”
Smokey Yunick described his famous driver this way: “He was interested in Fireball only, didn’t care what anybody thought. He really didn’t feel anything for anybody else.” That’s why Fireball Roberts makes the dirty driver list.
Glen “Fireball” Roberts was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1995.
“Rapid” Roy Hall started out as “Reckless” Roy and was a crowd favorite. Jim Croce later immortalized Hall in the song “Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy).” Hall was the people’s champion in the ’30s and ’40s. Racing for cousin Raymond Parks, (Yes, “THE” Raymond Parks), Hall could have been stock car’s biggest post war star. Parks described Hall as being “too wild, undisciplined and angry.” By 1946, Roy Hall was banned from most stock car associations and races, either by his actions on the track or simply by being in a jail cell.
Even after he was banned from stock car racing, a driver continued to run with a car that looked a lot like Hall’s, with the same stature and driving style. The car even had the same number 14 on the side. The driver’s name was “Bad Eye” Shirley, and his name can be found frequently on racing programs from the day. Fifty years later, “Bad Eye” Shirley came clean; “I never raced a day in my life but I helped out Roy Hall quite a bit.”
Contrary to Jim Croce’s hit song that claimed “On Sunday afternoon he was a dirt track demon in a ’57 Chevrolet,” Hall only drove Fords. In the last bit of irony, after being released from prison late in life, Roy Hall would become a Chevy salesman.
Roy Hall was inducted into Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in the first class in 2002.
Frank Lockhart was from California and became a dirt track racer by virtue of strong mechanical and engineering abilities in which he used to build his custom cars. Lockhart built the first car equipped with an intercooler and raced it Culver City in California. The intercooler added 8 miles per hour to the cars top speed. Lockhart’s skill at “finding extra power” showed at every track where he raced and he was not afraid to muscle his way to the front. By all accounts, he was an intimidating driver that had more powerful cars. He decided to race the Indianapolis 500 in 1926 where he took the lead on lap 72 and had extended his lead over the next competitor by 2 laps when the race ended at lap 160 for rain.
Lockhart’s mechanical skills enabled him to attempt to set the land speed record at Daytona Beach in 1928. Using the smallest-displacement car ever to make the speed record attempt, Lockhart turned a warmup run of 198.29 mph, with his first official pass at 203.45 mph. Well below the 207.552 mph mark that was the record at the time. On Lockhart’s return pass the car cut a tire and went out of control tumbling violently across the sand, throwing Lockhart from the car and killing him instantly. The hard driving mechanical genius that dominated the West Coast dirt tracks was gone but not forgotten by those that he bumped out of the way en route to victory.
Frank Lockhart was inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame in the first class in 1990. Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Parnelli Jones was talented, no doubt about it, but his quick temper and competitive personality could have kept him racing at the lower levels of racing on the dirt tracks of Southern California, except that he caught the interest of J. C. Agajanian. “Aggie” knew how to temper the young driver’s emotions enough to make him a success. Jones began racing at 17 under the name “Parnelli” in hopes that his family did not find out he was involved in the dangerous sport. Moving from jalopies to stock cars and late models, Jones found his biggest early successes in Midgets and Sprint cars. Winning the Midwest region Sprint car title in 1960 set the wheels in motion for Agajanian to become the rough and tumble Jones’ sponsor.
It was no accident that Parnelli’s early successes came on the Agajanian promoted track at Ascot Park. Together with Agajanian’s sheer force of will and Jones’ win at all cost mentality, the two became a team that no midget or sprint car team could beat. Evidence that Agajanian and Jones were tops in dirty tactics was never more apparent than in the 1963 Indy 500 race. With the race winding down to the last laps, driver Jim Clark was closing in on the race leading Jones. Agajanian’s Willard Battery Special, driven by Jones, had developed a serious oil leak. USAC starter Harlan Fengler, who was a close friend of Agajanian, had warned teams about oil leaks on the already slick track during the pre-race meeting.
Eddie Sachs crashed, and teams started pointing out that Sachs’ crash was caused by the oil laid down by Jones’ car, Agajanian took matters in his own hands and went to the starter’s booth arguing that the oil leak had stopped because it had dropped below the level of the crack. Lotus team owner Colin Chapman joined in the argument and as they battled, Jones kept the lead and took the checkered flag.
The last piece of evidence that we offer to proclaim Parnelli Jones worthy of being considered as one of the top 25 nastiest of the nasty, wildest of wild, dirty drivers of all time, comes from a quote attributed to Jones himself; “If you’re under control you’re not going fast enough.”
Parnelli Jones is inducted in over 20 Halls of Fame and the list of honors continue to grow.
This choice will surprise a lot of people. Jan Opperman once said of Ferkel: “Anyone can be a nice guy when he’s a winner. But Rick Ferkel has stayed the same nice guy win, lose or crash.” Ferkel makes the list, not so much for being rough, but for being sneaky. Don’t get us wrong, Ferkel has a muscular build and had flirted with the idea of being a professional football player, but quitting school and joining the Marine Corps ended that dream. He could be rough when the time called for it but he’s considered more devious than brutish or in-your-face. After getting out of the Marines, Ferkel decided to go Sprint Car racing. It was 1966 and the driver had no money, no experience, no knowledge and no race car. Zeros all the way around.
Managing to get his hands on a couple of worn out cars, Ferkel promptly trashed them on the track, collapsing the cages and ruining the chassis. At that point, he really had nothing. So he set out to build his own race car and the only material handy was an old swing set in the backyard. The swing set car, appropriately numbered with a zero, was taken to Eldora where Ferkel ran it in the Eldora 500.
Halfway through the race the front end came off the car. Ferkel had used a crossframe instead of torsion bars and the car came apart at the seams. Because the race was so long, Ferkel decided that he could repair the car and get back into the race. Using bailing wire, tape and a man’s pants belt, Ferkel fixed the car enough to get back on the track. The repairs didn’t last long and according to Ferkel, “To make a long story short, that didn’t work either. I was probably 40-50 miles an hour slower than them other guys, but even that was too much for that front end. But I got paid. I got $25. I figure ‘Shoot, I got paid, I’m ready to be a professional race car driver’.”
Ferkel might not have made the impact that he wanted in that race, but he did discover that sometimes going with lighter tubing made the car faster. Although it’s not mentioned much around the sprint car circuit, we have to figure that Ferkel learned how to build his chassis a little more durable, but a little more lightweight than the other guys on the track. Outspending the competition didn’t always guarantee wins back then, and Ferkel’s ingenuity and rule bending probably helped him to become “The Zero Hero.”
Rick Ferkel was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1995.
Tiny Lund was a larger than life racer that went from midgets to sprint cars and eventually stock cars. After serving in the Air Force during the Korean war, Lund decided to try his hand at racing. While generally known as a gentle giant, Lund did not shy away from a good fight. His most willing combatant was LeeRoy Yarbrough, another racer that would not back away from a fight. What made the fights between these two so interesting was that Lund’s wife, Wanda, had once dated LeeRoy.
The best fight in NASCAR involved Tiny Lund and the entire Petty family and crew. Tim Flock, a NASCAR Champion and pioneer, recalled the fight this way; “Oh, by far the best fight I ever saw was between Tiny and the Petty family. They were in line at the payoff getting their earnings with Lee standing behind Tiny. They were on a platform, oh, a good fifteen feet in the air. Lee and Tiny passed each other on the stage, and one of them made a remark to the other. Then the fists started flying.”
Lund stood 6′-6″ and weighed in around 300 pounds had recently driven for the Petty operation earlier in the season. “They’d had a falling-out over something, probably money,” continued Flock. “Lee was as tough a guy as they come. But at about 6-3 and maybe 175 he was no match for Tiny. Big ol’ Tiny was pounding Lee unmercifully. Richard and Maurice (then 19 and 18, respectively) rushed to the rescue of their daddy.”
Lund claimed that Petty had taken a swing at him and he charged at the elder Petty, who was at the edge of the platform. “I kicked him in the ass, and I mean he took off of there like a big damned bird,” said Lund. When Petty landed, he looked up at Lund, “Is that the way you fight?” “Hell no,” Lund said. “Stay there. I’m coming down.” He jumped off and later recalled, “commenced to knocking the shit out of him.”
According to Lund, the Petty boys and crewchief Dale Inman showed up with screwdrivers and pop bottles, “Ol’ Speedy Thompson, he jumped in there and was gonna help me, but he’d been frog hunting and shot a hole through his toe and he was on a cane. One of them hit him in the goddamned toe and he went hobbling off, holding his foot.”
Flock continued with the story, “Danged if Tiny wasn’t putting a whipping on all three of them. Tiny was so big and stout they couldn’t handle him. This is when Mrs. Petty got into it,” Tim continued. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when she went on that stage and started pummeling Tiny in the head with her purse. She was putting pump-knots on Tiny’s head with that handbag. The reason that it was such a weapon was because Mrs. Petty had a .38 pistol inside it.” Later Lund claimed, “I seen butterflies and everything, She had a pocketbook and I don’t know what she had in it, but she was going Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Just wearing my damned head out. And this broke things up.”
Tiny Lund was not someone to mess with. Apparently, neither was Lee’s wife.
Tiny Lund was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994 and named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers.
Winning always seems to equate to cheating and perception is everything. Whatever the reason, many fans perceive “The Jett” as a cheater. The best story relating to the fan’s perception of Hearn has been passed around several forums on the internet, supposedly, Steve Kinser was racing back east and during the usual driver introductions he was impressed with the round of “BOOs” that rang out when Brett Hearn’s name was announced. Kinser was standing next to Hearn and said “You must win a lot! I’ve never been booed THAT good !”
Hearn has not been caught with an illegal car often enough to declare him a cheater but the fan’s perception is that he soaks tires, plays with weights and uses illegal engines. On the rare occasion that Hearn has been flagged with a violation, it’s usually something as small as being a little light on the scales. In 2006 at the DIRT Car season-opener at Rolling Wheels Raceway, Hearns’ #3 TEO machine came up light in the post race inspection but still fell within DIRT MotorsSports’ three percent rule which only cost Hearn half his winnings and half of the first-place points.
So why is he on the top 25 dirtiest driver list if he is so clean? Because he does nothing to stop the perception of being dirty. If anything, Hearn seems to enjoy the boos and getting into his competitor’s head. That is simply devious and worthy of landing Hearn on the dirty driver list.
A seasoned veteran, Joe Weatherly won NASCAR’s Grand National (now Sprint Cup) championships in 1962 and 1963, three American Motorcyclist Association titles, and two NASCAR Modified championships. You can’t win that much, in that many series, in that many different types of racing, unless you are cold blooded and steely eyed.
Weatherly was well known as a joker around the track and had a very respected sense of humor, until he got on the track. Weatherly was famous for banging against the other cars, specifically those driven by friend and competitor Curtis Turner. The two were often seen banging cars down the backstretch with chrome trim flying all over the track.
Weatherly had tragedy surrounding him from the earliest days he got behind the wheel. In October of 1946, Weatherly was driving through Norfolk with some friends when his ’42 Buick Sedan hit the curb, slid 188 feet across the road and smacked a tree head on. Weatherly’s head was hung up in the broken windshield while the 5 other people in the car were in serious condition. Weatherly’s friend, 24-year-old Eddie Baines, later died of head injuries from the crash. The cause of the crash was no mystery to traffic officer Charles Grant, one of the first to arrive at the scene, “It was speed,” Grant said, “which is what he was known for. Anybody who knew Joe Weatherly would tell you that he’d run a car as fast as he could. He was one we knew.” At the time Weatherly was driving with a suspended license. Over the years, Weatherly had his license suspended many more times and as he became a famous racer, newspapers columnists wondered whether he could legally drive on a track when he was barred from the streets.
Weatherly pushed a car to it’s limits and that often included pushing the cars around him, especially on the track. No one can ever doubt that Weatherly liked the harsh world of stock car racing. He has been described universally as an inveterate practical joker and hell-raiser, a resilient hard partier, a rough-and-tumble Southern rogue. This is worthy of being on our all time dirty driver list.
Joe Weatherly was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2009 and named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998.
Smith won 21 NASCAR races over a 15-year career and was a member of the National Motorsports Press Hall of Fame in Darlington. “Daddy raced in the rough and tough days,” said his son, Jackie, “He was a man’s man. He drove hard. He had broad shoulders, big arms. They raced and they fought back then.”
Smith became one of NASCAR’s great ambassadors of the sport, but during his racing days, he was as tough as they came. G.C. Spencer explained; “I bought a 1957 Chevy race car and found out when you race against the likes of Buck Baker, Jack Smith, and Lee Petty, you’ve got your hands filled and it wasn’t as easy as it looked.” According to Spencer, who was also a driver that was tough as nails and not afraid to fight on or off the track, “These guys ruled the track and didn’t have image consultants.” They did what they needed to do to win. Life on the dirt track was hard and “Dirty driving separated the men from the boys quickly. Fights didn’t mean someone hitting someone else with bottled water.”
Smith had a reputation of being tough. He even looked tough. Earnhardt may have worn the “Intimidator” nickname, but Jack Smith lived the intimidator lifestyle on the track. Dirty? Well, that’s a matter of opinion, and ours is that Jack Smith psyched out his competition with a tough persona. It took some dirty driving, bumping and banging to earn that reputation.
NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. described Lloyd Seay as the “Best pure race driver I ever saw.” Seay however led a rough life and never lived long enough to see NASCAR start. Born in the Georgia hills, Seay was adventrous. Always hanging around “the rough side of the tracks,” he was often in the company of the lawless characters of his surroundings.
Seay was part of the Raymond Parks team which put cousins Roy Hall and Lloyd Seay together. Seay rose to fame faster than Hall and he found success on the track often. He could find as many ways to win as there were opportunities. Many of these opportunities came by roughing up other drivers on the track and rolling in the dirt with them after the race was over. Seay never met a bumper that he didn’t like.
Sadly, Lightning Lloyd’s rough and tumble lifestyle ended in the same fashion that he lived. Hours after winning the Annual Championship event at Lakewood speedway on September 1, 1941, Seay was shot to death by his cousin, Woodrow Anderson, after arguing over some sugar that Seay had purchased for making moonshine and charged against Anderson’s credit.
Jud Larson lived a very colorful life. The Texan was known widely as a hard drinking, hard driving racer without fear. Larson raced in the days when roll cages were for sissies and few drivers lived long enough to retire from racing. Larson was larger than life, with a fan base that adored his gladiator driving style, he was extremely popular and surrounded by fans whether he won or lost. There was no pretense about him whatsoever. Larson always called it like he saw it. Larson once commented to an Indy Official at the Indianapolis 500 that “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with this joint that a little dirt wouldn’t improve.”
John Zink hired Larson to fill in for an injured driver and called his head mechanic, A.J. Watson, explaining that Larson would meet him at the Indianapolis fairgrounds to run the car in the Hoosier Hundred. The day of the race A.J. went to the pits unloaded the car and began to get it ready for hot laps having no idea what the driver’s name was or what he looked like. While A.J. was under the car making a gear change, he saw a pair of dirty white tennis shoes appear beside the car and this huge, Texas drawl, “Hi, I think that I’m supposed to drive this shit-box today,” That was how Larson became aquatinted with his new crew.
Larson drove in the USAC Championship Car series from 1956 to 1959 and the ’58 and ’59 Indy 500 races, when he was medically retired for heart problems. While he was recuperating in Florida from the heart attack he had suffered in Springfield, Larson went to a doctor to find out how much longer he had to live. The doctor told him that there had never had been any problem with his heart and that he had been mis-diagnosed at Springfield. He had suffered nothing more than a mild heatstroke due to a large hangover. In September of 1963, Jud returned to the driver’s seat and again competed in the Sprint car series in the ’64 and ’65 seasons.
In 1966 Larson was hired by the Michner team to run with teammate Larry Dickson. This deal went South quickly when Larson threw one of the team-owning Michner kids through a picture window at a Michner party. Larson went back to running in the IMCA Sprint Car series where he was once again leading the sprint division. The night of June 11, 1966 at Reading Speedway, Jud Larson and Red Riegel were running side-by-side going into the first turn. Larson was on a mission to show that he had not lost a step and was not to be messed with. There was contact between the two cars and both started flipping. The crash killed both drivers. Larson’s hard driving had cost him and Red Riegel their lives.
Larson was inducted in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1992.
Conclusion and Preview of the Top Ten
Jud Larson sets the stage for Part II of our Dirtiest Drivers of All Time, the Top Ten. If you found our list from #11 to #25 interesting, then you are really going to like our Top Ten. These are the best of the best racers, with great pedigrees and well loved by fans, but exhibited the best qualities of dirty driving for success. There is no doubt in our minds that dirty drivers and cheaters do prosper. Not only do they prosper, but they usually end up in a Hall of Fame.