NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers: Masters of Modifications

NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary throughout the 2023 season.

In 1998, NASCAR had a board select a list of its 50 greatest drivers to celebrate its golden anniversary.

Likewise, we are in expansion We decided to compile our list of the 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers in honor of this year’s milestone. 17 of our writers participated in the selection of the 75 drivers, and we will release four to seven drivers from that list each weekday for the next three weeks.

Similar to the list in 1998, this list is not a ranking of the top 75 drivers. Instead, we’ve broken the list down into categories, with a new category released each day (see full list below). Within these categories, drivers are listed in alphabetical order.

NASCAR’s legacy isn’t just limited to the NASCAR Cup Series—or even another National Series, for that matter. Some of the greatest sports have made tweaks to their racing names.

Jerry Cook

Not enough people are familiar with the incredibly talented and fascinating world of NASCAR Modified Racing. Some may know names like Richie Evans or Mike Stefanik, or even remember that Ryan Brees was a powerhouse when he led the Mods.

Then there’s Evans’ main rival in the ’70s.

Jerry Cook, who hails from the same hometown as Evans, was born in Rome, New York, in 1943. Cook built his first modified car at the age of 13, eventually hopping his own when he was 18. Utica-Rome Highway. The following season, Cook took his talents to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 1970.

In order to win a championship in a Whelen Modified Tour, a driver must have an incredible focus on endurance, as it often takes over 100 starts in a season to win it. Cook claimed his first title in 1971 and followed it up with another in 1972.

After a year without a title, Cook completely dominated the tour from 1974-1978, winning the championship every season until Evans ended his reign and began his path to nine championships.

When Cook retired in 1982, he had 342 wins and six titles to display in his 26-year career.

He transitioned into a role with NASCAR as an official, and over that 34-year period he oversaw the Busch North Series and Modified Tour, as well as the K&N Pro Series. Additionally, he was the guy who wrote the first Craftsman Series rulebook in 1995.

Cook joined Stefanik, longtime friend, and Evans’ rival in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Garrett Cook

Richie Evans

The nickname Goat is often given with reckless abandon.

However, there is no question of who the GOAT is for modified racing.

Richie Evans put Rome, New York, on the map while touring the Northeast, winning modified races wherever they were competitors.

He won nine titles, including eight straight from 1978 through 1985. In terms of racing, he has scored nearly every major Asphalt Modifications race, many of them multiple times. He even won the Elite Race of Champions three times.

Evans’ first modified victory came in 1965. In 1973, he claimed his first modified title, and five years later began his historic eight-year run.

His main rival during his heyday was Jerry Cook, another NASCAR Hall of Famer
fame member. When Evans and Cook routinely mixed it up
In the Northeast, both had multiple trailers. They often send a trailer to different tracks to try to trick their competitor into going to a different track.

In 1985, having already clinched that season’s title, Evans was testing at Martinsville Speedway when his throttle seemed to hang in turn three. Evans died in the resulting accident.

Evans was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012. He was the first driver from outside the NASCAR Cup Series to be inducted. – Mike Neff

Ray Hendrick

It is impossible to include the Modified Drivers section on this list without highlighting the man known as Mr. Mods.

Ray Hendrick and his iconic Flying 11 Chevrolet dominated racetracks up and down the East Coast throughout the 60’s and 70’s.

Despite the title of Mr. Modified, Hendrick was almost equally successful in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series (a precursor to the NASCAR Xfinity Series). Between that and the modifications, Hendrick is estimated to have won more than 700 races. He is the only person with more wins at Martinsville Speedway than Richard Petty, winning there 20 times in just 12 years.

Although known as a prolific short track racer, he also won Sports Late Model races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

Hendrick chased the races with the biggest racing bags, not the championships. As a result, he never won a national championship, is believed to have won five titles on the track at South Boston Speedway (four in modifications, one in late models) and was a two-time Race of Champions winner in modifications.

The Richmond, Virginia native has never attempted a full NASCAR Cup Series season. He competed in only 17 races from 1956 to 1974, but scored two top-fives and six top-10s in those starts.

Hendrick died in 1990 at the age of 61 after a four-year battle with cancer. But his son Roy continued the Flying 11’s legacy, winning track titles throughout Virginia and even winning at their home track Southside Speedway just hours after his father’s death.

Hendrick was one of the drivers named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998 and remains only one of 14 entrants on that list yet to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. – Michael Massey

Mike Stefanik

For many younger racing fans, the first thing they will think of when you mention Mike Stefanik’s name is Scowl Seen ‘Round the World from UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona in 2013.

But there was so much more to Stefanek than that. Early in life, he was a tough customer and a contender to beat whenever he showed up.

He has 74 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career victories, the most since Modifieds became a touring series in 1985. The next highest driver in total wins is Reggie Ruggiero with a comparatively 44.

He is also a seven-time (1989, 1991, 1997-1998, 2001-2002 and 2006) Touring Series Champion with a lot of strong players.

Stefanik is the only driver to win multiple NASCAR series championships in the same year. In 1997 and 1998, Stefanik won the Modified Championship and the Busch North Series title in Burnham Boilers sponsored cars. The revised titles coincided with years of work on the series. He won 10 of 23 races in 1997 and 13 of 22 in 1998. The 1998 season saw Stefanik fall out of the top five only twice all season. At North Bush, he beats veterans like Jerry Marquez, Brad Layton, Andy Santeri and Dave Dionne.

Stefanik quietly retired after the 2014 season and has spent his time working for his own company in Coventry, RI. He died of injuries in a single-engine plane crash in 2019 near Providence, leaving behind a legacy of excellence. – Phil Alloy

expansionNASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers

Dale Earnhardt
Jeff Gordon
Jimmy Johnson
David Pearson
Richard Petty

Bobby Allison
Ned Jarrett
Rusty Wallace
Darrell Waltrip
Cal Yarborough

The tenth generation
Greg Biffle
Carl Edwards
Denny Hamlin
Casey Kahne
Ryan Newman

Heroes of the 2000s and beyond
Brad Keselowski
Kyle Larson
Joey Logano
Martin Truex Jr

next generation
Buddy Baker
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Chase Elliott
Dale Jarrett

Buck Baker
Reed Byron
me my home
Herb Thomas
Curtis Turner

Brotherly love
Kurt Busch
Kyle Bush
Fonty Flock
Tim Fluke
Bobby Labonte
Terry Labonte

Masters of modifications
Jerry Cook
Richie Evans
Ray Hendrick
Mike Stefanik

Bottom chain hoist
??? (2 February)

Exceptional longevity
??? (3 February)

He left early
??? (6 February)

Stars of the sixties and seventies
??? (7 February)

Stars of the eighties and nineties
??? (8 February)

Stars from 1949-1960
??? (9 February)

Cranes of all trades
??? (10 February)

What does Mike Neff not do? Writer, radio contributor, and racetrack announcer coordinates local short track coverage for the site, and accesses Saturday Night specials around the country while tracking future racing stars in the sport. Post-race columnist Thinkin’ Out Loud (Monday) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. It also appears everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He’s advertised at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. Also advertised at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Phil Alloway has three primary roles in Frontstretch. It is the admin of the site’s free email newsletter which is published Monday through Friday and sometimes on weekends. He keeps TV anchors honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site’s sports car racing editor.

Outside Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Motorcycle Road in West Lebanon, New York. It covers all the action on the high banked dirt track from regular modified DIRTcar racing to occasional hits from touring series like the Super DIRTcar series.

Michael Massey is a writer at Frontstretch. A native of Richmond, Virginia, Massey has been a NASCAR fan since childhood, when he frequented the races at Richmond International Raceway. Massey is a fan of short track racing and travels to the areas in his area. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech graduate can be seen cheering on his beloved hockey.

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