We’ve had a lot of fun with this topic, and by all indications, we’ve been able to stir up some conversations on different message boards. We’ve found our link on several different boards concerning the list, with some pretty spirited discussion about the selections. Having read many of the comments, we felt it was important to explain the selection process again. The Top 25 List was generated primarily from input by our Facebook fans along with suggestions by our editors and writers. There were a couple that we added because of their prominence in the racing world; namely the older inclusions like Frank Lockhart and Roy Hall. This was done to ensure that drivers from the early era were represented.
We truly wanted to get a healthy discussion about drivers, not necessarily ‘dirty drivers’ but drivers that were so far ahead of their time that they seemed to have an unfair advantage. We opted to omit most of the current drivers because it would turn into a fan debate rather than ‘good clean fun’, unfortunately, we had a couple of current drivers that were so great that they had to be included. Drivers like Brett Hearn are so dominant that they are a lightning rod for opinions. Quite frankly, Hearn belongs on every list generated about dirt track racing. The best, the worst, the cleanest or the dirtiest. The man is just that good.
Which brings up the next point: This list is not intended to be derogatory in any fashion. Check the drivers on this list and you will find Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers in every spot. Fans tend to equate winning with cheating, and as we all know; perception is everything. So in our minds, this list is a celebration of the best drivers that have ever raced on dirt. Besides, a true ‘dirty driver’ would not have made it to this level. Dirty drivers tend to get dealt with on the track by the other racers. Having said that, let’s have some good clean fun and check out our list of the Top 10 Dirtiest Drivers of All Time. We don’t expect everyone to agree with this list, but we do expect those with differing opinions to leave a comment and post their own list. It would be great to see a Top 25 List from everyone that reads this article.
Lloyd Beckman was a WT3 in the Navy during WWII. The rate WT stood for Water Tender, a job which put them in the same environment as the group that was considered the toughest guys onboard Naval Ships; Boiler Technicians. The truth was far different however, Boiler Techs were afraid of the Water Tenders. That alone speaks volumes about Beckman’s toughness. Take that kind of rough character and put them on a dirt track behind the wheel of a Modified or Sprint Car and you have Lloyd Beckman.
Speedway Motors founder “Speedy” Bill Smith hired Beckman to drive for him in 1953, and according to Smith, “Lloyd’s reputation wasn’t calm and easy; it was wild. So I wasn’t sure I was hiring the right guy.”
According to Smith, Beckman “was an alcoholic most of his life,” eventually getting control of the disease by working with the Veteran’s Hospital. “Lloyd was tough; physically and mentally. Lloyd had a demeanor that scared away 99 percent of the people that he encountered,”added Smith.
Smith explained the beginning of their racing relationship with this story; “Not long after I hired Lloyd, we decided to go racing down at Playland Park. Bud Burdick and his pals were hard to beat at Playland, and we knew going in that it would be a challenge. The Burdicks were from South Omaha, and they were a tough bunch. That’s a rough part of town, down around the stockyards. Bud had won the recent races at Playland and had a big following.
“During the race, Lloyd tagged Bud and turned him over, and he rolled up and into the television camera. After the race, all the fans and anyone else whose name was Burdick came calling on our pit area. They thought it would be a good idea to whip Lloyd and me, and anyone else standing around. We just backed up to the fence, with our backs literally against the wall. We each picked up a jack handle and said, ‘Step up, boys. Whatever needs to be, will be.’
“The Omaha boys were rugged and they weren’t just there to threaten. There was some fisticuffs, and then it kind of died down. That’s when I realized Lloyd was tough in a scrap. Oh man, was he tough.” Smith finished by saying, “That’s how Lloyd was. If you pushed him too far, he was ready to fight. And if you got him started, he wasn’t going to lose.”
From other racers’ accounts, Beckman wasn’t afraid to mix it up on the track either. Bud Burdick wasn’t the first driver that got “tagged” and turned over by Beckman, and once you got him started, he wasn’t going to lose.
Lloyd Beckman was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2002.
Scott Bloomquist is another one of the great drivers that seem to be a lightning rod of fan’s emotions. Fifty percent of the fans love him and fifty percent of the fans despise him. Those that love him cherish the ability that he demonstrates on the track. Those that despise him accuse him of cheating and dirty driving. Truth is, the man is such a gifted driver that he has to be included on any Top 25 List related to racing. If this was a Top 25 List of the cleanest dirt track drivers, he would be included there as well.
Bloomquist wins so often that many fans consider him a cheater. In the minds of those fans, “You can’t win that much without cheating.” Remember, perception is everything.
Ok. Sure, we all know about the tire infractions and penalties. Let’s face it, racers will try to get away with whatever sanctioning bodies let them get away with. That’s just human nature.
We included Bloomquist on this list, and in the Top Ten, not only because of fan perception, but the man is a hard driver and likes to win. We respect that and want our Top Ten racers to crave winning so much that they will turn a slower car hogging the racing line and holding them up. Bloomquist is one of those guys. He will be patient for a lap, maybe two. After that, the slower driver will get a heavy handed reminder that he is slower and Bloomquist wants to get by. Most of the time, there is not a second warning and the slower driver finds his way into the infield facing the wrong direction.
Whether you think Bloomquist is a dirty driver or not, he belongs on every Top Ten list because he has achieved so much, and raced so long at the top level.
Danny “The Doctor” Johnson is a successful veteran racer whose nickname could easily be ‘Kidney Stone,’ as in: “You can pass him but it’s gonna hurt.” The Doctor races hard and hates to give up a spot. Fans will say that “The Doctor” doesn’t give any ground or “it was just one of them racing deals” when contact is made. You will even hear the “rubbin’ is racin” phrase thrown around after a race that Johnson has competed in. Certainly, there are those racing incidents that happen on the track when two fast cars are battling for the same piece of real estate. We understand that. It’s just that it seems to happen at a much more frequent rate with Johnson.
Let us say it again, we’re not bashing Johnson for being an aggressive driver. If anything, we are celebrating his driving because it has brought a lot of great racing rivalries to the DIRTcar series. For instance, here’s a video clip of Danny Johnson and Steve Paine at a race in August of 2010. Pay attention to the interview at the end when Johnson says, “Somebody needs to teach him a lesson.” It seems as if Johnson is willing to take on the role as “The Tutor” in that lesson:
Did Johnson leave any room for Paine or did he trap him on the bottom knowing that contact would be made? We’ll leave that call to you, but in our opinion, Danny Johnson is a cagey veteran that knows where to put his car on the track to make passing him almost impossible.
Danny Johnson’s record speaks for itself and he will undoubtably be in several Halls of Fame when he decides to hang up the helmet. The Doctor has given us a lot of pleasurable racing memories as he operated on the track, which earns him the coveted #8 spot on our list.
Curtis Turner was one of the great early NASCAR stars when many of the races were run on bullring dirt tracks. Slide jobs weren’t really looked upon as racing, but bumping and banging was. He eventually acquired the nickname of “Pops,” allegedly because of the way he would “pop” other drivers on the track. Turner explained that when two cars banged together on the track, it made a noise that sounded like “Pop.” It wasn’t long before he took to calling everyone “Pops.”
When Bobby Allison came on the NASCAR circuit, he was as tough as an anvil. He didn’t back down from anyone for fear that the other drivers would see him as weak. In August 1966, he took on the crusty veteran Curtis Turner on one of NASCAR’s short tracks.
The battle started when Turner hooked Allison’s rear bumper and sent him spinning on Lap 8 of the 250 lap event. Allison went a lap down but joined right back in running up front, trying to pass Turner to get back on the lead lap. Turner was throwing a block on anyone trying to get around him. As Turner moved to the outside to block a move for the lead, Allison dove under Turner and the cars rode three abreast into the third turn.
The cars of Turner and Allison came together which resulted in Turner’s Ford spinning. Turner returned to the track moving slowly, waiting on Allison’s Chevrolet. Allison saw Turner waiting and did not fall into the trap. Rather than drive by and let Turner ‘pop’ him, he cut back and hit Turner’s car in the rear. After that, it was man versus man for the next 10 laps. They hit each other like they were in bumper cars at the county fair. Some of the banging occurred under the yellow flag. Turner spun Allison, and Allison came back and spun Turner. Turner waited on Allison once again for another shot at his car. Allison aimed his wrecked racer at Turner and buried the front of his car into Turner’s car.
They ran into each other until neither car would move. Both drivers climbed from their cars, and Turner jumped over a fence and walked off up through the grandstands. NASCAR fined each driver $100 for “rough driving.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I figured that Turner would be out to get me,” Allison said. “Finally, we were at another track, and I saw him coming toward me. He put his big, old right arm around my neck and whispered in my ear, “You know, Pops, we ought to have a big drink and go somewhere and talk about old times.” For Curtis Turner it wasn’t about driving dirty or aggressively, it was about having fun.
Curtis Turner was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2006 and named as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Jerry Weld was one of the three racing Weld brothers that were mentored by their father, Taylor “Pappy” Weld. Pappy raised the boys in racing, and instilled a competitive spirit that was unbreakable. Each of the Weld brothers had vastly different personalities to go with their competitive spirit however. Jerry Weld was the most aggressive according to many of the old time racers.
According to “Speedy” Bill Smith, “Butch was about as rough and tumble as they come, and absolutely fearless. In fact, Butch met an early end when he was chasing a guy from a tavern with a pool cue, they ran out in the street and Butch was struck and killed by a car.” The official story was that Butch Weld was crossing the street and was struck by a bus.
It is rumored that Jerry would sometimes spin another driver out of boredom in hopes of having a fight after the race. We don’t know if all that is true, but we do know the legend. Jerry Weld would wreck anyone in between him and the checkered flag. Amazingly, Weld has the respect of his fellow racers even forty years after his death. No one besides Speedy Bill Smith would talk about Jerry Weld being an aggressive driver.
Of the four Weld racers, Pappy, Greg, Kenny and Jerry, he is the only one not in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. According to Jade Gurss, owner of Fingerprint Inc., the PR Company that deals with NASCAR, “Jerry was the oldest and most likable of the [Weld] brothers.”
LeeRoy Yarbrough is best known for his NASCAR racing days but long before he went to the show series, Yarbrough raced dirt tracks throughout the South. Yarbrough was another driver that polarized people. LeeRoy quit school when he was 12 years old. His initial foray into racing was at the age of 16, when he took a ’33 Ford Coupe with a Chrysler engine, and made a dirt track car out of it.
According to Gerald Hodges, “Julian Klein, Jacksonville race promoter, took the cocky, brash and quick to anger youngster in tow and during the next few years, LeeRoy won more than a 100 Sportsman and Modified features. Klein finally grew tired of Yarbrough’s temper and attitude and the pair parted company.”
Tiny Lund and LeeRoy Yarbrough were friends and Tiny knew LeeRoy better than most other NASCAR drivers, yet they battled often. NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Bud Moore told of his experience with the two, “LeeRoy and Tiny started fighting before the race. And they fought some more after the race. Then we took off. We got up in the air and LeeRoy and Tiny started fighting all over again. I thought they were going to tear the sides out of the thing. It’s a wonder we didn’t crash with them two boys fighting like that,” said Moore.
Lund once explained LeeRoy’s racing by saying, “LeeRoy is the only real bad ass left among the top drivers. Everybody is an individual, but he is really different from the rest. He has always been real mean out on the track, and he keeps to himself all the time.”
Some of his fellow racers had tremendous respect for him. Sam McQuagg once said of Yarbrough, “There are lots of good drivers, but he had natural driving talent that most of them don’t have. If you were ahead of him, you better watch out. If you blinked too many times he would pass you. And one of the best things about him, is he was not a dirty driver.”
Yarbrough’s friends remembered bizarre violence, however. One afternoon after returning from the track to his motel room, he was raging mad. He snatched his wife up by the hair of the head and dragged her out of the room, kicking her as he dragged her along the hallway. Whether he was just a mean driver or had mental problems has been debated for decades, but the end of LeeRoy’s story gave some credibility to those who believed that LeeRoy was suffering from one too many crashes into concrete walls.
On February 13, 1980, he was at his mother’s house in Jacksonville. He put his hands around his mother’s neck and said, “Mama, I hate to do this, but I’ve got to kill you.” One of his nephews that was in the house heard the commotion and came in. Looking around, he grabbed a quart jar of jelly off the kitchen table and busted it on LeeRoy’s head. The police came and took him to a psychiatric ward. Eventually he was judged incompetent to stand trial.
Sadly, on March 7, 1980 LeeRoy was committed to a Florida mental hospital, then on December 6,1984 Yarbrough had a violent seizure and fell striking his head. He was rushed to Jacksonville’s University Hospital where he died the morning of December 7,1984.
Whatever demons Yarbrough battled, he was still a great racer and exhibited the dirty driving skills that made him great on dirt and asphalt to claim a stop in our top five dirtiest dirt track drivers of all time. LeeRoy Yarbrough was voted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame At Darlington Raceway in 1990 and named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
There is no doubt that Tony Stewart has a short fuse. We’ve all seen it on TV on racing’s big stage, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The best known of these came at Watkins Glen in 2000, when he and Jeff Gordon tangled and crashed. Stewart made his displeasure toward Gordon known in an obscenity-laden tirade.
The 2001 season was not without controversy either. Jeff Gordon pulled a “bump and run” on Stewart to gain a better finishing position in a race in Bristol, and it resulted in Stewart retaliating in a post-race incident by spinning Gordon out on pit road. Stewart was fined and placed on probation by NASCAR. He got into further trouble at Daytona, when he confronted a Winston Cup official after ignoring a black flag. At the same race, he also got into an incident with a reporter, kicking away a tape recorder. He confronted the same NASCAR official at the race in Talladega after refusing to wear a mandated head-and-neck restraint. Stewart was not allowed to practice until wearing one and only managed to practice after his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli intervened. His fines and probation periods resulting from these incidents
2006, during the 48th running of the Daytona 500, he was involved in a number of incidents with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, who he chased halfway across the track to run into the grass. “He has no room to complain,” Stewart said of his brush with Kenseth. “He started it, and I finished it”.
The second half of his 2002 season was plagued by an altercation with a photographer after the Brickyard 400. NASCAR put Stewart on probation for the rest of the season. On July 23, Stewart once again was at the center of a media storm. On lap 31 of the Pennsylvania 500, Stewart was accidentally squeezed against the wall by fellow driver Clint Bowyer. Stewart responded by waving his hand in anger, then purposely hitting Bowyer’s car. This contact sent Bowyer spinning down the front stretch where he collided with Carl Edwards. Stewart was promptly held one lap by NASCAR for rough driving.
In 2008, Tony Stewart was fined $10,000 by USAC and placed on probation through the end of the year following an incident on pit road during Thursday night’s USAC National Midget race at O’Reilly Raceway Park (ORP) in Indianapolis.
There’s no doubt that Stewart is driven to win and sometimes this leads to an emotional outburst on the track. Stewart has been in the limelight in stock racing’s biggest stage, so we are all aware of his on track tantrums, but don’t think that these incidents are new. His personality was exactly the same on the dirt tracks but we didn’t see it as often due to the limited coverage of the series at that time.
Stewart is a great driver, and will be inducted in several Halls of Fame when his racing career ends. Part of what makes him so great is the refusal to lose, regardless of what it takes to get to the front of the pack. This earns him a spot in the top five dirtiest dirt track drivers of all time.
Kenny Weld was a great driver but his true talent was as a car builder and mechanic. If having a mechanical advantage is cheating, Weld dominated the category. Every bit as passionate for winning as the other drivers on this list, Weld often let his emotions get involved on the track, many times to his detriment. In 1964, the entire Weld “Kansas City Mafia” team was banned from Knoxville for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Kenny Weld experimented with aluminum and fiberglass in the Super Modifieds long before anyone else considered these materials. Often, the other racers would laugh at the cars that Weld brought to the track only to see the Weld car dominate the race.
Weld showed up in 1980 at the Syracuse Speedweek with the infamous “Batmobile” car that dominated the week worth of racing. The DIRTcar rule book was rewritten to close all the loopholes that Weld had exploited. Weld seemed proud of the accomplishment and said, “They used to come to Syracuse to have fun. I made them get serious about it.”
Weld’s desire to make it to the Indianapolis 500 caused a great deal of angst in his life. Feeling like racing was turning its back on him, Weld turned to drugs. In 1983, Weld was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and served 52 months in jail. While in prison, Weld learned more about machining and started the company Weld Tech upon his release. Ever the innovator, Weld and his company made a science of porting cylinder heads with CNC machines.
Kenny Weld could be as hard driven on the track as he was off the track and it earned him a reputation as a hard-nosed driver and competitor. Finishing second was not an option to Weld.
Kenny Weld was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1997.
Ralph Earnhardt is known by history as a well prepared racer that showed up at the race track ready to race. According to those around him, Ralph did all his work in the garage and never at the track. While Ralph may have been one of the first to understand “big picture” racing, he was still a hard charging driver that battled the likes of LeeRoy Yarbrough and Fireball Roberts.
Ralph was not afraid to trade paint on the track and probably was the leading influence on son Dale’s “intimidator” style skills. Yes, Ralph took care of his equipment, but he was not afraid to put the competitor’s equipment into the wall or off the track.
NASCAR Champion Ned Jerrett has said, “Ralph Earnhardt was absolutely the toughest race driver I ever raced against. On the dirt and asphalt short tracks in Sportsman competition, you went to the track knowing that he was the man to beat.” Richard Petty once said of Ralph, “You think Dale Earnhardt is tough, you should have raced against his daddy”.
Being tougher than “The Intimidator” and his preference for racing on dirt make Ralph Earnhardt the perfect candidate for the top two in our 25 dirtiest drivers list.
Earnhardt was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997, the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame in 1989, the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2007 and named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
#1 Anthony Joseph “A.J.” Foyt, Jr. (January 16, 1935)
A.J. Foyt is a living legend and an incredible talent on the racetrack. The only difficulty in A.J. Foyt’s racing was that he KNEW that he was that good. This attitude was summed up by Larry Swartz, “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 expected no quarter on the racetrack, and gave none himself. He knew only one speed – pedal to the floor.” To sum it up, if you were in A.J.’s way, you were going to pay.
Foyt has been involved in all kinds of racing controversy over the years. From getting caught using nitrous in the Daytona 500 to “bitch slapping” Arie Lyendyk at the Texas Motor Speedway in 1997, Foyt has proven that he is a man of little patience and has no love for losing.
A.J.’s lack of patience was clearly evident at the end of his career when he was fined $5,ooo and suspended for six months from NASCAR racing after a run in during the Winston 500. Foyt, who was running a part time NASCAR schedule, took offense at Alan Kulwicki’s driving and began to rub on Kulwicki’s car during the race. Kulwicki retaliated. NASCAR black flagged both drivers to pit road under the “penalty box” rule designed to cool heated tempers. Both were kept on pit road for one lap.
As Foyt left the pits, he drove past Kulwicki’s parked car, nearly side-swiping it. NASCAR officials black-flagged Foyt again and stopped scoring him. As ordered, Foyt returned back to pit road to serve a drive through penalty, but he hardly slowed down and nearly hit several officials, at one point actually driving behind one pit worker that was standing on pit road, then sped back out on the track. Foyt, black-flagged a third time, locked up his brakes and spun as he got near the exit to the garage area.
Foyt always managed to extract his own measure of revenge.
A.J. Foyt was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2000, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1990, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America as a member of the first class in 1989, the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1988 and named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers List in 1998.
We’ve had a lot of fun picking our list of the top black hat wearing dirt track drivers, and have tried to celebrate their status as great drivers at the same time. While we are certain that everyone will not agree with our list, we do ask that you evaluate your own top 25 list and post a comment to this article with a revised version from your own perspective. Likewise, we would love to hear any supporting stories about the drivers that we have listed. Retelling the stories of past dirty deeds is not a bad thing, it’s just good clean fun.