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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

The Draglist Top 50 (100, 150 & 200)

By Bill Pratt

When Phil Burgess asked for my list of the Top 50 drag racers of all time for the NHRA's 50 Top Drivers list, I wondered how I could make a unique contribution to the list. Certainly, dozens of others would provide their lists of the top racers throughout the NHRA's first 50 years. My fellow judges certainly would examine the careers of all possible nominees, and undoubtedly would include the numbers of wins, the sport-changing trends, and the general weight of the contributions attributed to each individual nominee. 

Since I knew these essential considerations were covered, I took a different tack, judging racers by strict performance on the track. I did this because I have always been a "numbers freak," someone whose adrenaline shot through the roof upon hearing of the latest jaw-dropping elapsed time or the latest mind-boggling speed. My list of the 50 Top Racers of the last 50 years was taken from a list of these outstanding performers. Besides raw numbers being my personal favorite part of drag racing, choosing to highlight the quickest racers in history was also a way for me to make a unique contribution. The Drag Racing Lists now house more than 50,000 drag racing teams over the years, with a separate listing for each racer in each year they participated. Although many of our listings are incomplete yet, we do have a wealth of data already. It would be a shame not to exploit the data we have collected.

Our lists of drag racers include their best elapsed time and speed for each season in which they competed. We do not list the number of wins for each racer -- personal best performance is the sole ranking consideration at The Drag Racing List. In this way, our list does not reflect the dominance of those racers who ran consistently and won the championships. They reflect that one perfect pass down the quarter -- that pass where the horsepower was put fully to the ground, that pass where the driver hit the right shifts at the right time, that pass where the car went straight and true and marched through the lights. 

Of course, you also had those passes where the car did everything BUT make a perfect pass, yet still recorded amazing times. Think Don Prudhomme at the 1982 US Nationals or any one of several funny car runs at the first Ennis race. To me, it doesn't matter when a pass occurred. We've had racers come out at the Winternationals and run their lowest elapsed time of the year, only to disappear or to never reach that level of performance again. Then we've had racers struggle all season long, only to come out at the World Finals and record an absolutely earth shattering time. We don't care when during the season the pass took place. If the racer ran the time within the calendar year, it is recorded on The Drag Racing List.

Therefore, the racers you see listed on our Top 50 are not necessarily the racers who won the championships or even those who won a majority of the races. Conversely, many of the racers listed did just that. The racers who appear on our Top 50 racers list are those racers who, year after year, decade after decade, thrilled drag racing fans with the top times in the sport. These were the headline grabbers. These were the racers who "broke their backs." These racers broke through the performance barriers and set the targets for everyone else. 

As we began forming our list, we included every category on the Drag Racing List, over 20 classes in all. This included Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock (NHRA and IHRA/Match Race), Pro Stock Truck, Federal Mogul Dragster and Funny Car, Pro Modified (legal and outlaw), Fuel Altereds, Jet Dragster, Funny Car, and Truck, Wheelstanders, Quick Sportsman Doorslammers (NHRA Competition Eliminator, Top Sportsman, Quick 8, and any car quicker than 8.00), Quick Sportsman Dragsters (NHRA Competition Eliminator, Super Eliminator, Top Dragster, and any car quicker than 7.50), Quick Sportsman Altereds (NHRA Competition Eliminator, Super Eliminator, Top Dragster, and any car quicker than 8.00 seconds), Street Legal Doorslammers, Nostalgia Dragsters (fuel and alky, blown and injected), and Blown Gassers (yesterday's stars and today's nostalgia competitors). Suffice to say, we used a wide range of racers and vehicle types to compile our list.

Two categories of racer are clearly underserved both in our Top 50 list and on our website: the sportsman drag racer and the motorcycle drag racer. Thousands upon thousands of deserving sportsman, bracket, and motorcycle racers were not considered for this list and are not listed at draglist.com. It is a matter of sheer numbers. As a fully volunteer effort, the Drag Racing List simply cannot keep up with all the participants in drag racing. While we will gladly list any racer who sends us their statistics, including sportsmen and the bikes, we simply do not have the personnel resources to gather their statistics. Perhaps as our situation changes, we will be able to go back and include these deserving racers. At this point, however, Draglist.com remains a "quick cars only" list, with the emphasis on "cars." [Note, as I write this, a young man in Australia is working with Steve Klemetti to compile draglist.com BIKE lists. More on this soon! bp]

In addition to the racers not included in our consideration, thousands of others are missing as well. These include car owners and crews, tuners, engine builders, speed equipment manufacturers, association officers and staff, track owners and staff, promoters, magazine and newspaper editors, photojournalists, and now, webmasters. None of these deserving folks were considered in my Top 50 list. I anticipate and hope these deserving individuals will be awarded in other Top 50 lists in the future.

Our lists were developed using the raw numbers contained in the Drag Racing Lists. The first thing I did was go to each class and save only the top ten ETs from each class for each year. This gave us the performance leaders for each year in each class. The top ten was a purely arbitrary number. Would a racer who finished number 11 in every year of competition have placed very well on our Top 50 list? Probably. But we had to cut it off somewhere. Our intent was to capture those few racers each year who made a huge performance splash. 

We began with nearly 43,000 racer listings at The Drag Racing List (after cutting out those drivers for whom we didn't have performance numbers). Our first cut at pulling together the top ten racers for each class for each year only narrowed our list down to 4,485 drivers! What an amazing number. Nearly 4,500 different drivers have occupied slots in the Top Ten in performance in their respective categories since 1951! Talk about spreading the wealth around. 

Once we had all our Top Ten finishers listed, we assigned points to them for the positions they reached each year. The quickest car in each category was awarded ten points, the second quickest car was awarded nine points, number three got eight points, and so on. The tenth quickest car each year was awarded one point. We ran a program to assign these points and did our first quick tally. Several deficiencies in our procedure were immediately apparent. 

For one thing, categories with only a few competitors (Wheelstanders and Jets, for instance), provided top racers who completely dominated the entire list of racers. I mean, Bill Golden has consistently been one of the Top Ten quickest Wheelstanders from 1964 to 2000 - 36 years of dominance! But of course, Wheelstanders are not competition vehicles and the pool of available competitors has always been very shallow. Another situation then presented itself: racers who competed in several similar categories each year. Think NHRA and IHRA Pro Stock or legal IHRA Pro Modified and then outlaw Pro Mod or Super Chevy. While it is certainly a remarkable feat to finish as one of the top ten quickest cars in two different categories, it was impossible to give these racers full credit for these finishes since competing categories had no opportunity to run in separate configurations. Clearly, we had to make adjustments.

Another trend became apparent after our first "pull" of the numbers: those racers who did well for long periods clearly gained more points than their contemporaries who did well for shorter periods did. For a time, I considered dividing each driver's point total by the number of years that he or she competed, but I didn't. Consequently, many of the most dominant racers of their respective periods appear much lower on my list then they most certainly will on others' lists. Just looking at Pro Stock gives us some clear examples of this reality at work. Bob Glidden, until just this year the winningest drag racer of all time, is listed number seven. How many places did he lose by retiring in 1995? That's five years of points not recorded that Warren Johnson has pretty much dominated. Hence, WJ, who has raced consistently since 1972, is our list's top pro stock racer at number three. 

Another dominant Pro Stock racer, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, appears lower on the list (at number 25) than he might otherwise appear because he gave up the driver's seat. When you consider that his drivers Ken Dondero (number 64), Joe Lepone (number 86), and Larry Lombardo (number 150) all scored top ten points in Grumpy's Toys, the Malvern Missile had more of an effect on the sport than his rank on my list shows. Ronnie Sox is an example of a different set of conditions. He finished number 14 on our list. This is because despite the fact that he exited NHRA Pro Stock in about 1980, he continued to earn points as an IHRA Pro Stock and Pro Modified racer through the 1990s. Similar scenarios became apparent throughout all the racing categories. In the end, we decided that we wanted to see which racers had staying power over the entire 50 year span, regardless of the category in which they earned the points.

Based on our observations, we made adjustments to the point totals based on the level of competition, the number of competitors in each category, and the number of similar categories in which each racer competed in a given year. To account for the intense level of competition, professional racers received 100 percent of their initial point totals. Semipro racers (basically the alcohol classes and fuel altereds) received 75 percent of their initial point totals. Sportsman racers received 50 percent of their initial point totals. Finally, exhibition racers received 25 percent of their initial point totals.

To account for the number of entries in each category (which affected, to a great degree, the level of competition within each category), we counted the number of cars in the biggest category and assigned that number a level of 100 percent. Each subsequent category was adjusted accordingly, based on the total number of racers in the category. For instance, there are currently 427 jet dragsters on our lists compared to our largest list, the top alcohol funny cars at 5,515 strong. That means that the best jet dragster driver only got 7.7 percent of his points.

Finally, we adjusted for those Pro Stock and Pro Modified racers who earned points in two different categories (NHRA/IHRA Pro Stock or IHRA legal/outlaw Pro Mod) with basically the same combination. 

Now, we were ready for the Top 50! To recap, our list reflects racers who consistently were one of the ten quickest racers for long periods of time, often in many different classes. I have included the top 200 racers here just for your info. There would have been no way to make some of these calls without the cold, hard numbers.

1. Number one on our list is "Big Daddy" himself, Don Garlits, with 173 points. With top ten performance finishes in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Don Garlits took the top spot by a wide margin. In terms of sheer performance, Don recorded perhaps the best run in drag racing history, his amazing 5.637-second, 250.69-mph blast at the 1975 World Finals at Ontario, California.

2. Number two on our list of performance leaders is the racer for which it was never enough just to win; he wanted to "rip their throats out." Don Prudhomme began earning his 141 points as one of the best fuel dragster drivers of the 1960s, followed by his stint as the sport's most dominant fuel funny car racer of the 1970s. After competing successfully throughout the 1980s in Funny Car, Don climbed back into a Top Fuel dragster in the early 1990s to claim more points. While no longer driving, Prudhomme's cars are still at the forefront of NHRA drag racing.

3. The Professor of Pro Stock comes in at number three on our tally with 136 points. With consistent top ten performances since 1972, Warren Johnson has outlived all his contemporaries in the incredibly competitive world of NHRA Pro Stock racing. The same guy who faced off with the likes of Jenkins, Sox, Glidden, Nicholson, and Shepherd now faces off with the likes of Yates, Coughlin, Krisher, and his own son, Kurt. After 29 straight years as one of the top racers in Pro Stock, Warren Johnson shows no signs of slowing down.

4. Despite taking a "hit" for not being a professional racer during his most dominant years, Dale Armstrong finished a strong number four at 133 points. That was easy to do because in nearly every year he competed in an alcohol dragster or funny car, Dale Armstrong finished as the quickest car in the sport. On a few occasions, he finished second quickest. Add to that his fuel funny car debut, where he made the Speed Racer machine the second quickest car in the sport, and Dale Armstrong soared to the top easily. If Kenny Bernstein hadn't figured it was easier to race with Armstrong than against him, Dale might have gone to the absolute top of our list.

5. Number five at 123 points was one of the most feared Top Fuel racer of the 1970s and 1980s, Gary Beck. First with his own machines, where he shocked the world with US Nationals wins in 1972 and 1973, and then with Larry Minor, where he often was two tenths ahead of his competitors, Gary Beck tore a path through Top Fuel racing for over 20 years.

6. People either love or hate our number six racer, and remarkably, it's for the same reason: Kenny Bernstein almost single-handedly ushered in the era of corporate big money professionalism in drag racing. With Dale Armstrong turning the wrenches, Bernstein dominated funny car racing in the 1980s. He then set his sights on Top Fuel racing, where he continues to win until this day. King Kenny scored 114 points on our tally.

7. Until John Force surpassed him in 2001, racer number seven Bob Glidden owned more NHRA national event victories than any other racer in the history of the sport. Bob grabbed 111 points in our contest, and almost certainly would have finished higher had he not retired in 1995. At times in the 1980s, Glidden had his fellow Pro Stock competitors covered by a tenth, even when SHUTTING OFF his Fairmont so he wouldn't adversely affect the weight breaks assigned to his dominant 351 Cleveland Ford.

8. Our number eight finisher is one of the sport's most beloved drivers, Eddie Hill. From his twin engined Pontiac dragsters of the mid 1960s, to his first-in-the-fours 4.99 machine in 1988, to his 4.52-second, 323 mph monster in 1999, Eddie Hill has always been at the performance forefront. Had he not taken a break to race drag boats for a time, Eddie might have scored more than 110 points in our poll.

9. After a distinguished career in alcohol funny cars and dragsters, Joe Amato hit the Top Fuel scene in 1983 and never looked back. Joe exploded onto the scene with the sport's first 260 mph pass in 1984 and followed it up with a 5.08 in 1987 that was the first pass in the 5.0 zone. With 108 points in our tally, Joe called it quits. As he turned the cockpit over to Darrell Russell in 2001, he still held the fifth quickest elapsed time in the history of the sport.

10. Our number ten finisher was as big a surprise to me as it must be to everyone else. It's none other than the first man over 200 mph in a doorslammer, Bill Kuhlmann. Since 1987, when he stunned the world with the sport's first 200 in IHRA Top Sportsman, through the United States Super Circuit years, when he and other stalwarts proved that Pro Mod was a viable professional class, to Pro Modified years, when Kuhlmann traded shots with Scotty Cannon for years, to the Super Chevy Show circuit, where Kuhlmann has taken his supercharged doorslammer to an amazing 6.00 elapsed time, Bill Kuhlmann has set the pace in quick doorslammer racing. As evidenced by his odd number of points (102.75), Bill Kuhlmann was hit by a penalty for running his car in two different categories. Nonetheless, Bill Kuhlmann's Summit Racing Chevrolets used 13 consistent years in the top ten to nail a surprising, but well-deserved top ten spot.

Here is a total list of the racers on the Draglist Top 50 list:

The Drag Racing List Top 50 Drag Racers by Consistent Top Performance Spanning Several Years

Listed by Position, Points, Racer

Draglist TOP 50

1. 173.00 Don Garlits
2. 141.00 Don Prudhomme
3. 136.00 Warren Johnson
4. 133.00 Dale Armstrong
5. 123.00 Gary Beck
6. 114.00 Kenny Bernstein
7. 111.00 Bob Glidden
8. 110.00 Eddie Hill
9. 108.00 Joe Amato
10. 102.75 Bill Kuhlmann
11. 102.00 Roy Hill
12. 97.00 Pat Austin
13. 95.00 Tommy Ivo, Ronnie Sox (tie)
15. 92.00 Frank Manzo
16. 90.00 John Force, Dale Pulde (tie)
18. 86.00 Brian Raymer
19. 85.00 Bob Newberry
20. 84.00 Scotty Cannon
21. 78.00 Don Nicholson
22. 75.75 Fred Hahn
23. 75.00 Cruz Pedregon, Gene Snow (tie)
25. 74.00 Bill Jenkins, Tom McEwen, KS Pittman, Lee Shepherd (tie)
29. 73.00 Shirley Muldowney
30. 72.00 Mark Oswald
31. 70.00 Brad Anderson, Doug Cook, Keith Stark (tie)
34. 67.00 Kurt Johnson
35. 66.00 Junior Thompson
36. 65.00 Jack Chrisman
37. 64.75 Tommy Mauney
38. 64.00 Tony Bartone, Scott Geoffrion, Darrell Gwynn (tie)
41. 62.00 Mike Dunn
42. 61.00 Ray Beadle, Butch Leal (tie)
44. 57.00 Johnny West
45. 56.00 Darrell Alderman, Tony Nancy (tie)
47. 55.00 Chuck Etchells
48. 54.00 Gary Ormsby, Gary Scelzi (tie)
50. 52.00 Jerry Haas

Alternates... (and man, oh, man, WHAT alternates!)


106. 34.50 Bob Smith
107. 34.00 Bill Alexander, Jim Liberman, Fred Sibley, Richard Tharp, Dick Titsworth (tie)
112. 33.20 Dave Benjamin
113. 33.00 Troy Buff, Lee Edwards, Dave Mack, Pete Robinson, Richie Stevens (tie)
118. 32.00 Angelo Alesci, Willie Borsch, Tommy Grove, Reid Whisnant (tie)
122. 31.00 Gene Altizer, Bill Barney, Gary Dyer, Dale Emery, Jim Head, Richard Langson, George Montgomery, Jerry Ruth, John Scialpi, Rickie Smith (tie)
132. 30.00 Troy Critchley, Tim McAmis, Calvin Rice, Jimmy Scott (tie)
136. 29.00 Lyle Fisher, Dick LaHaie, Walt Rhoades (tie)
139. 28.60 Bruce Abbott
140. 28.00 Sonny Bryant, Pat Foster, Bruce Larson, Jim Nelson, Tom Ridings, Steve Schmidt (tie)
146. 27.30 Steve San Paolo
147. 27.00 Don Carlton, Skip Hess, Tom Lee, Larry Lombardo, Bob Muravez, Bob Panella Jr, Mark Pawuk (tie)

Draglist TOP 200

154. 26.00 Joaquin Arnett, Ken Delco, Ben Griffin, Steve McGee, Ernie Nicholson, Galen Roggie, Gary Southern, Bob Vandergriff (tie)
162. 25.00 Whit Bazemore, Jeg Coughlin, Don Ewald, Gordon Mineo, Ron Nunes, Dave Sebring (tie) 
168. 24.75 Art Arfons
169. 24.00 Chuck Finders, Marvin Graham, Ed Hoover, Charlie Hutson, Mickey Thompson, Jon Yoak (tie)
175. 23.65 Dennis Geisler
176. 23.00 Chuck Baird, Bob Brissette, Ron Capps, Wayne Clapp, Dal Denton, Tom Ferraro, Dale Hall, Jack Holsey, Buddy Ingersoll, Bobby Langley, Ken Lowe, Herb McCandless, John Mulligan, KC Spurlock, Mark Woods (tie)
191. 22.75 Brad Jeter
192. 22.20 Bruce Litton
193. 22.00 David Baca, Mike Burns, Jeg Coughlin Jr, Ted Cyr, Don Gerardot, Manuel Herrera, John Lingenfelter (tie)
200. 21.45 Denver Schutz

Well, there you have it. Lots of surprises. In fact, I was surprised at every turn. This is what we submitted to the NHRA list, and while we admit we didn't limit it to the NHRA as we probably should have, our list represents a wide swath of racers that cover all organizations, classes, and eras over the past 50 years. Is it subjective? You bet it is! Even the premise that the top guys and gals are the big numbers cars is a personal choice. Then you have all that points manipulation with regard to class size and relative worth for class type (pro versus semipro versus sportsman versus exhibition). All subjective. I hope you were pleasantly surprised if you or one of your heroes made our list. If not, you can blame it on our wacky method of devising the list! Either way, I hope our Draglist Top 200 brought back some fun memories for you. It sure was fun for me to pull it together. 

While I'm at it, thanks again to Phil Burgess, National Dragster, and the NHRA for asking Danny and me to submit our choices. It is quite an honor to be included with the list of sport experts they put together.

I hope to find and publish Danny's Top 50 picks soon. That old email is around here somewhere...

Bill Pratt


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