Growing up in Columbus, Ohio the closest race track to my home was Mid-Ohio.  I spent most of my summers attending both my father’s races and IndyCar races.  As a result I developed a love for road course racing and became a diehard fan of the drivers that were the best at turning left and right.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a road course elitist, it was just what I was exposed to and what I enjoyed.    It wasn’t until I attended my first Pole Day at Indianapolis in 1988 that I realized how incredible oval racing can be.

Al Unser Jr.

Al Unser Jr

As most people my age who were/are race fans, growing up there was only one driver who kept my attention at every race.  Al Unser Jr.  He was always quick at Mid-Ohio and everywhere else for that matter.  As a youngster you don’t really realize the driving prowess of some of these guys… it’s more like cheering for a team, you pick your driver, he’s your favorite for whatever reason, and very few things can change that.

Al was super friendly with his fans.  I have multiple autographs and pictures with ‘Little Al’ from my days of running around the paddock.  It was only at a later age that I started to realize what a true racer little Al was and is.  The guy was quick… EVERYWHERE… and he drove every lap as hard as ever.

In 1993 a new driver entered the picture.  Nigel Mansel.  I’m not sure what drew my attention to Nigel when I was a kid.  It could have been that he was the reigning Formula 1 champion, it could have been that I loved the Texaco Havoline cars, or maybe it was his helmet design.  One thing was for sure, despite my Dad’s wishes, I was a Nigel Mansel fan.  To this day it’s the only racing shirt from my childhood that only has ONE autograph on it… Nigel’s.  I have a Bobby Rahal Kraco shirt that’s riddled with autographs, some of which I don’t even recognize, but Nigels was reserved for him alone.  One of the stories I’ve heard over and over about Nigel’s first days in an IndyCar is in regards to his famed test at Firebird International Raceway where he broke the track record his first time in the car.  Apparently, Nigel had a special test he liked to perform on new race cars.  The test allowed him to see how the car would handle when he drove it on (and sometimes over) the ragged edge.  Today, I miraculously discovered this famous first test in an IndyCar as well as footage of the famed “Spin Test.”  The entire video is pretty awesome but fast forward to the 5:00 mark if you’d like to skip straight to the “Spin Test.”

In 1997 Dario Franchitti came on the scene and would quickly become my favorite for the foreseeable future.  Dario had his fair share of shunts that season but the very next year he really put it together.  He managed to string together a series of races late in the season (1st, 1st, 4th, 1st, and 2nd) to finish an impressive 3rd in just his second season in an IndyCar.  Quite the improvement from his 22nd place finish in his first season.   Dario may not be the flashiest of drivers but he’s one thing above all else… consistent.  Consistent enough that in 1999 he finished 2nd in series standings after he and Juan Pablo Montoya tied in the championship standings.  (Juan was awarded the championship with his 7 wins compared to Dario’s 3 wins.)  Pretty impressive.  He only finished outside the top 10 in 4 races out of the 20 race schedule that year.  In 2007 Dario continued to show his consistency with his first championship.  Dario only finished outside the top 10 ONCE in 2007 as well as only finishing outside the top 5 four times in 20 races.  The guy is calm, cool, and calculated… and it’s awarded him three championships as a result.  He’s a legend on street courses and as good as anyone on ovals.  A two time Indy 500 winner and to this day, my favorite driver…


There are 15 comments for this post.

  1. KelseyUSA on January 4, 2011 2:30 pm

    I’ve been a Dario Franchitti fan since 1999 … he is my all-time favorite driver :-) Good choice!!

  2. Lee Robison on January 4, 2011 2:32 pm
    Lee Robison

    1. A. J. Foyt
    2. Eddie Sachs
    3. Scott Brayton

  3. Brian on January 4, 2011 2:38 pm
    Brian Simpson

    Great choices Lee! I’ve always been an AJ Foyt fan… Eddie’s quote about Indy is one of my all time favorites and Scott Brayton was a legend at the speedway.

  4. Kathy Baird on January 4, 2011 2:44 pm
    Kathy Baird

    Dario is also my favorite driver of all time, & when he’s back home in scotland he lives only about 20 miles away.
    I have been lucky enough to meet him but had to go to Millwakee to do so!!
    But well worth it…….:)

  5. Leslie Boruff on January 4, 2011 2:50 pm
    Leslie Boruff

    Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Dario Franchitti

  6. Kari Naskinen on January 4, 2011 2:52 pm
    Kari Naskinen

    Anthony Joseph Foyt is the Best All the Time

  7. Mark Miller on January 4, 2011 3:14 pm
    Mark Miller

    Michael Andretti has been and always will be my favorite Indy car driver of all time. He was always just phenomenal to watch, so fast, so precise. Unfortunately the Andretti name brought with it a string of bad luck, as he never won an Indy 500 race as a driver. I keep hoping that he’ll put a helmet on once again as a driver and go for the 500 win (he came close on his last attempt a few years back). In my opinion, he can still win and, no, he’s not too old to drive an Indy car again.

    After Michael stopped driving Indy cars, I did become big fans of other drivers like Dan Wheldon and Danicka Patrick. But then came along Marco, who only has a few wins to his name at this point, and so with Michael no longer driving, Marco has become my favorite. I did like Mario as well but I wasn’t watching Indy car races when Mario was in his prime, and so I didn’t get attached to Mario like I still am with Michael and Marco.

    I have a couple of Andretti autograhed pictures (none signed in person though, as I have yet to go and see a live race), but my favorite autograph I have framed on my wall is a picture of Mario, Michael and Marco, with each of them having signed their name.

    Elvis may be the King of Rock ‘n Roll, but Michael forever shall be (in my opinion) the King of Indy car racing!

    Long live the King!!!

  8. Larry Brickner on January 4, 2011 3:35 pm
    Larry Brickner

    Lil’ Al, Mario, Helio. Al and Roger Penske signed a tear away for me at Nazareth.

  9. Mike Cabage on January 4, 2011 3:42 pm
    Mike Cabage

    Without question,my favorite is Dan Gurney.

  10. Bart Barnes on January 4, 2011 3:56 pm
    Bart Barnes

    1) A. J. Foyt
    2) Parnelli Jones
    3) Al Unser, Jr

  11. glenn miner on January 4, 2011 5:56 pm
    glenn miner

    Man,what about jim clark!Hats off to anyone who has the[you know whats]to get in one of these things and drive it as hard as possible!

  12. kyle on January 4, 2011 6:44 pm

    Mears, Mario, Clark

  13. Scott Tranter on January 5, 2011 3:44 pm
    Scott Tranter

    Clark, Donahue, Mears!!!

  14. Jason Webster on June 26, 2011 7:48 pm
    Jason Webster

    I can agree with what you said about Dario Franchitti. He is one of my favourites due to his record of consistency and humble personality. However, I place Gil DeFerran and Alex Zanardi above him as my top two favourite drivers. This is only due to their respective driving styles and charismatic personalities.

    I also like your choice of Nigel Mansell. I was a fan of his in both Formula 1 and Indy Car racing. He possessed courage, fighting spirit and sheer speed. Records show he only won one Formula 1 world title in 1992. However, I believe he would have been the 1986 F1 world champion as well, if not for tactical error by the Williams team that led to his blown tyre at Adelaide.

    I have an interesting question. Does anybody know if there has been anyone who they believe to be the Ayrton Senna of Champ Cars/IRL – in terms of possessing, dedication and charismatic personality?

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