Quote Quest Story and photos by Dwight Drum Web work by Larsen & Drum
Drivers Today, Drivers Past.
Sources: Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR, NHRA, ANd IndyCar teleconferences and the Internet
Motorsports has evolved over the past six decades in tandem with technological advances in the business world, but in popularity one speed segment has eclipsed all other forms of motors with wheels for various reasons. NASCAR snatched the lead in spectators and TV viewers with hard work and skilled management over time by aggressively elevating a Southern sport to national presence.
The number identity of drivers on every race car helped to create favorites and was one important cause of increased ticket sales besides the excitement of fast cars banging their way to win in fierce traffic. Routine crashes only propelled the thrill of each event as the visual package endeared a huge following that continued to grow.
Along the way brave pioneers of stock car racing applied skills learned in mountain moonshine road operations. Others grew up in those shadows to blend in and form a growing roster of even more spirited drivers. When sponsors discovered this type of racing was an effective way to maximize advertising dollars, the road to the top was far beyond back road beginnings.
The entire stock car history is only about seven decades in the making, but those who dared to slide behind the wheel and tame the roar of engines share some of the same traits and characteristics who dare to do the same in the present decade.Motorsports popularity on TV has also lifted the high speeds of drag racing in the NHRA POWERade Series where crowds and viewers have grown briskly in the past decade. About the same time the thrill of racing sports cars found a popular following the the Grand Am Series. All forms of motorsports have a rich history decades back but changes in coverage and technology have impacted those who dare to compete.
So is there a big difference between drivers now and those who forged the past?
We asked a dozen plus drivers, including Richard Petty.
Do drivers today need more skills than drivers decades ago?
“Turning that steering wheel and being able to get the most out of the car, that part has not changed.”
Richard Petty (NASCAR)
“We would find it quite a challenge to keep up with 'em back in the '60s and '70s if they were to put us in those cars.” Dale Earnhardt Jr. (NASCAR)
“Talent is something that's always been an important part of racing, and you either have it or you don't.”
Jeff Gordon (NASCAR)
“If they were in our cars it would be very similar. If we were in their cars it would be very similar.”
Kasey Kahne (NASCAR)
“There are attributes that previous drivers can bring that would make us better. On the other hand I think there are some attributes that this generation could bring too.”
Jeff Burton (NASCAR)
“We probably don’t have as many reservations as drivers in the past have.”
John Fogarty (Grand Am)
“Today a lot of the drivers are just that, drivers.”
Jack Beckman (NHRA)
Do drivers today need more skills than drivers decades ago?
Richard Petty (NASCAR Legend)
"No, no, I don't think the skill level or the things that it took to get around the racetrack and all of this kind of stuff, I think that probably looking back that maybe the drivers of the older age, maybe adjusted to track conditions and stuff a little bit better maybe than they do today, because on the radios they keep talking to the crew chiefs that it's not loose or not sticking and no traction and the guys, say, okay, we'll fix it when you can make the next pit stop.
"When we started the race, that was it. If you was in a 500-mile race, there was nothing you could do to the car. So the driver had to adapt to whatever circumstances his car was. And these guys today, they fix it before they really adapt, because there's no need to adapt to what I've got, because we're going to make a pit stop and change it and it's going to be different anyway.
"Plus, a lot of these drivers now while listening to their spotters. We didn't have spotters. We didn't have radios. We had a blackboard, and you had to run down the Speedway at Daytona and try to figure out which blackboard was yours. Those were the skills that we had at that particular time. Those guys have skills to find their spotters and find out what the competition is doing. That part of it is a little bit doing.
"But as far as turning that steering wheel and being able to get the most out of the car, that part has not changed."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.(NASCAR's Most Popular Driver)
“No, I don't think so. I think the cars, from the '70s and even before that, were more difficult to drive, for sure, more challenging to drive. So I think it took quite a unique person to be able to make that work, so... I would say that David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, those guys would be able to give us one hell of a run for our money today, and we would find it quite a challenge to keep up with 'em back in the '60s and '70s if they were to put us in those cars.”
Jeff Gordon (NASCAR Champion)
"No. I mean, you had guys that, you know, didn't have power steering and didn't have a lot of the safety features that we have today. You know, I think you've always had to have talent. I think that today you don't have to have the brut strength that you maybe had to have, you know, years ago. But talent is something that's always been an important part of racing, and you either have it or you don't."
Kurt Busch (NASCAR Champion)
“I think it's just whatever era that you're in, it takes a great driver of course to win. And it takes a balance of team, and it takes a balance of crew. And you have to have the whole package to win.
“And so I wouldn't say the drivers today are necessarily more talented then drivers of years past. They didn't have power steering. They didn't have all the types of engineering support that we have today.
“And so, but then again the competition might not have been as fierce. But I wouldn't want to say that and have to go up against a Buddy Baker or a Richard Petty and have to do it like they did.
“I mean it's just the era that you grow up in.”
Jeff Burton (NASCAR)
“No I don’t think that at all. I think the field is just different. I think that a driver today – The great question is the best driver of today how would he go against the best driver of the past? – and I don’t have that answer. I think the racing is so different than it used to be. The cars are so different than they used to be. I think that there are attributes that previous drivers can bring that would make us better. On the other hand I think there are some attributes that this generation could bring too. But in no way do I believe we possess skills that they didn’t possess. I don’t believe that at all. I believe that Richard Petty in his prime or Cale Yarborough in his prime or David Pearson in his prime in one of these cars would be extremely competitive. I also believe if you put Tony Stewart, Mark Martin or Jeff Gordon in their cars and they would be extremely competitive as well.“
Kasey Kahne (NASCAR)
“I don’t think so. I think the driver’s today are very good at what they do but the drivers 50 years ago area big part of why we get to do today because they were so good back then. They put on such a good show. I would say it’s probably very similar as far as who does what. And the great drivers and the good drivers would be very similar. If they were in our cars it would be very similar. If we were in their cars it would be very similar. I don’t actually know how that would work but I know they were very good and there are a lot of very good drivers right now.”
Ryan Newman (NASCAR)
“I think with the addition of technology, engineering, components, different kinds of metals and all the things that go along with carbon fiber and things like that. This technology in general has created a common denominator or a leveling device to be able to give people who weren’t as much as a good driver or a man-handler from a non-sexist standpoint to be able to hustle the car around the race track. Be it power steering. Be it lighter components. Be it things like that have made it better and easier for drivers who maybe wouldn’t have been successful.
“If you look at the drivers from the 50’s and 60’s they were big guys with big arms, just tough – front-teeth-missing-on-occasion-from-a-rock-type-guys. I don’t think you would have that today. It’s not even necessary today to be that big or that tough. I think drivers used to be a lot tougher and were probably better because of that 30, 40 years ago.”
Clint Bowyer (NASCAR)
“I think technology and the R&D that has come into the sport. It takes so much knowledge to do the car. My boss has won six championships with the man. You’ve got to keep up with the competition. Keep up with the changes.”
David Ragan (NASCAR)
“I think that the winners of the last 50 years have all been great. I think the guys that were running thirtieth years ago weren’t that competitive as the winners. The competition is more diverse and spread out now. I think the winners, the top-five, the great drivers are just as good as the great drivers now. But now you have to be great running twentieth, because the cars are so equal. All the teams are good. We all have manufacturer support. We all have great sponsors. The competition is just tighter now, but the great drivers of the 60’s and the 70’s are the guys that really made this sport. I think they are always going to be just great drivers.”
Sam Hornish Jr. (NASCAR)
“I don’t know if you have to have more skills. I think there are just more drivers that are on that level. I think the competition level has been brought up. It’s so high. Not really do you see anybody dominate. Of course Kyle Busch has been good this year, but the level of the competition has been very tight so far this year. You might see one guy stand out a little bit but it’s not the same guy from year to year to year. It often switches who has a little bit of an upper hand. If you look at the guy that starts first verse the guy who starts 30th, I’d say that’s probably the closest it’s ever been as far as the difference in qualifying. The more money that’s spent over here that’s just more competition there is going to be.”PAGE TWO: MORE COMMENTS
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