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It's A Family Thing: NASCAR's Most Legendary Last Names
From the Earnhardts to the Jarretts, greatness in NASCAR unfolds across the generations.
Whether it’s bonding in the stands, watching at home or competing on the track, NASCAR is a family sport. Since its inception in the 1940s, generations of professional racers have come and gone, some leaving their family name on the sport forever.
“Life In The Fast Lane” star Austin Dillon, for example, is currently racing his way through the NASCAR Cup Series for his grandfather’s team, Richard Childress Racing. Not only was his grandfather a big name in the racing game, but his father, Mike Dillon, was also a pretty impressive stock car driver. He currently drives in the same series as his brother, Ty Dillon.
They’re not the only brothers currently trading placement on the track. The Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, are also racing in the 2022 NASCAR Cup series and their journey is being chronicled on “Race For The Championship.”
In short, there’s no shortage of family members competing either at the same time or across generations in NASCAR. So, we thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the most historic families who have dominated the sport in no particular order.
Although the family reign was tragically cut short, Bobby Allison kicked things off in the early 1980s with some impressive wins that included the coveted 1983 Cup Series championship. He also earned three Daytona 500s, three Coca-Cola 600s, four Southern 500s, and four at Talladega.
Meanwhile, his brother, Donnie, was earning impressive accolades in the sport as well, according to Autoweek. Both drivers were part of the 1979 Daytona 500 race that many credit with ushering in a new era of NASCAR fandom.
Years later, Bobby’s son, Davey, came onto the scene with an impressive Rookie of the Year season in 1987. He won 19 races and 14 poles including the 1992 Daytona 500. Unfortunately, he died in a helicopter crash the following year, cutting his NASCAR career and the Allison family legacy short.
Lee Petty got things started in the now legendary NASCAR family almost immediately after the organization came about in the 1940s. Lee was a dynamic racer who took home many of NASCAR’s early championships. According to his entry in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he won the first-ever Daytona 500 in 1959, becoming one of the earliest photo finish winners of the sport.
Years later, his son would leap off his dad’s shoulders and become known as The King, Richard Petty. Not only was he one of (if not the) best racers of all time, but he helped bring widespread attention to the sport with his signature look and charisma with the media.
Richard’s son, Kyle, continued the family legacy until 2008. Although he never won a championship and only clocked in eight victories, he kept the family legacy alive and continues to do so as a NASCAR television personality.
Obviously, the most notable current NASCAR driver is 21-year-old prodigy Harrison Burton who is currently doing his best in the 2022 Cup Series. However, he comes from a long line of Burton racers that includes brothers, uncles and cousins.
Current NBC Sports analyst and former NASCAR legend Jeff Burton is Harrison’s father. His uncle, War Burton, is a former driver in the sport as well who was voted the most popular driver in 1989, according to MotorSport.
His son, and Harrison’s cousin, Jeb, is also a professional NASCAR driver who has been racing since 2008 professionally, but since the age of 16 on the amateur circuit. All in all, it seems if you’re a member of the Burton family, it’s hard to avoid a lucrative career in NASCAR.
Ned Jarrett dominated NASCAR in the late 1960s with two Cup Series titles and wins across more than 50 other races, according to Autoweek. Despite being at the top of his game, he decided to retire at just 33 after Ford pulled out of NASCAR. Still, he remained close to the sport.
Close enough for his son, Dale, to get bitten by the racing bug when he was old enough. Dale would go on to be one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt.
Dale’s son, Jason, also did some low-level racing but ultimately called it quits to pursue other endeavors in 2005. Regardless, the original father-son duo made their mark on the sport and still enjoy a respectable legacy to this day.
Even people with just a cursory understanding of NASCAR have likely heard the Earnhardt name.
The family driving legacy got its start with Ralph Earnhardt, who was a championship stock car racer in his own right. However, the person who made NASCAR the popular sport it is today is his son, Dale Earnhardt.
The man won three consecutive titles on three separate occasions (1986-1987, 1990-1991 and 1993-1994) and had a total of 76 victories in total, making him the all-time leader in race victories at Daytona International Speedway with 34.
Unfortunately, he met a tragic end during a race in 2001, but not before he helped usher in his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a lucrative career in racing. Although he never quite met his father’s NASCAR standing, he was still one of the most successful drivers and an absolute fan-favorite. He won 13 races and back-to-back Xfinity Series titles. He would go on to be a fierce competitor in the Cup Series as well before finally retiring in 2017.
Can't get enough NASCAR action? Tune into "Race for the Championship," which tracks the lives of the sports' most compelling stars on and off the track, premiering on USA Network Thursday, Sept. 1 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. And you can catch up on all things NASCAR on Peacock.
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