The Importance Of Doing Your Homework

Whenever anyone attempts to compile a “Greatest of All-Time” list (I refuse to use the GOAT acronym), it is begging to be scrutinized and questioned. I learned that early on in my blogging career. I’ve received nasty e-mails from family members of drivers I left off of some good lists, and an even nastier e-mail from the son of a driver who I included in my Top-Twenty worst Indianapolis 500 drivers of all time. To avoid Google alerts, I’ll not mention the driver’s name – but his car once landed on top of the defending CART champion during a yellow, if that tells you anything.

Anyway, the other day I came across an article from a website I’ve never heard of. It was actually written back in February, but it seems to be just now making the rounds. Either that or I live under a rock and am just now seeing it.

For not being a well-known racing site, they tackled a pretty big topic. Perhaps they knew it would draw scrutiny and therefore lots of hits. It worked for me, because I took the bait and clicked on it.

Their topic and title was “The 10 Greatest Race Car Drivers of All Time”. Their list consisted of drivers from NASCAR, Formula One and American Open-Wheel. Most lists such as this one usually place AJ Foyt and/or Mario Andretti at the top, since both drivers won so much in so many different types of cars. Personally, I think AJ Foyt belongs at the top and Mario second; but if they swap the two it really doesn’t bother me. I consider it more a matter of taste than anything else.

Mario topped this list, so I would have assumed that Foyt would be second. Wrong! Foyt was ranked eighth. So that is my first problem. My second problem was who was ranked just above Foyt on the list – Jimmie Johnson. Please. I’m not sure Johnson would’ve even made my Top-Twenty-Five list; much less ranked seventh, ahead of Foyt. Any credibility this list might have had was lost when I saw that.

Johnson was ranked as the third greatest NASCAR driver of all-time on this list, behind Dale Earnhardt (third) and Richard Petty (sixth) and ahead of Jeff Gordon (tenth). If they want to stay with drivers from the last couple of decades, where was Tony Stewart on the list?

And that is another problem with this list, they didn’t include anyone that retired before the nineties – from any discipline. I would think that David Pearson or Cale Yarborough might warrant a spot in the Top-Ten.

There were many of the same issues with Formula One. Michael Schumacher was ranked second on the list and the highest ranked Formula One driver of all-time. While there is no denying Schumacher’s greatness, I’ve always considered the late Ayrton Senna as the greatest Formula One driver ever. I would even be tempted to rate him as high as Foyt and Andretti, had he ever raced and succeeded on ovals. In my opinion, Senna could race circles around Schumacher. Yet they ranked Senna fourth on the all-time list behind Andretti, Schumacher and Earnhardt.

Their fifth-ranked driver also raised eyebrows for me – Nigel Mansell. Granted, Mansell holds the distinction of winning the 1992 F1 title and the 1993 CART title as a (sort of) rookie. The article also reminds us that Mansell is the only driver to simultaneously hold both titles – but that is only because the 1993 F1 season ended after he already had won the CART title. That’s more a bit of trivia than a major accomplishment.

Mansell only won one Formula One title in fifteen seasons in Formula One. Yet, he was ranked above ninth-ranked Alain Prost who won four F1 championships and a host of other Formula One champions that went completely unmentioned. Drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda to name just a few; were completely ignored by this list. It seems they committed the crime of racing before the nineties, which apparently eliminates anyone from being considered the greatest of all-time.

If you don’t count Mansell (which I don’t), then Indy car racing really has only two representatives on this list – Andretti and Foyt. Indy car racing has been around much longer than NASCAR or Formula One, yet they could only come up with those two great champions that both retired in the nineties. I would think Al Unser, Bill Vukovich or Wilbur Shaw is much more deserving of a spot on this greatest ever list than Jimmie Johnson.

My point is, if you are going to tackle the topic of greatest ever – you’d better do your homework. Yes, these lists are all for fun and are simply someone’s opinion – no matter how flawed. They are also meant to encourage debate – preferably on their site in order to get the hits to show potential advertisers. I get that. I also know that I shouldn’t waste the energy it takes to get riled up over something like this, but I also hate for anyone to read this and consider it to be true.

If you are going to put this stuff out there, you’d better be prepared to take the criticism and defend your stance. Some of the e-mails I got from family members were justified in their criticism for omitting their father or grandfather from some of my greatest ever list. Those that were justified received an e-mail back from me acknowledging my mistake and an apology. The son of the bad driver had no defense for his father’s poor driving and he resorted to nothing but name-calling in his e-mail. He got nothing from me but facts to back up my argument.

But something tells me that the nameless person or persons associated with this article aren’t interested in facts. Had that been the case, their list would look a lot different. If you have nothing better to do with your day, you can read their atrocity here.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “The Importance Of Doing Your Homework”

  1. Well, being from the UK, I’m a bit biased towards Mansell. His style was always the attraction whereas “The Professor” Prost would happily win the Championship by coming second all season. Nigel would rather get it upside down than lose. Nigel and Senna side by side at 200mph, sparking everywhere at the Barcelona GP was just heart stopping. He also introduced Indy car to the greater UK audience through his Texaco sponsorship and meant the races were covered on TV regularly for the first time. He gets my vote for that alone!

  2. That 20 worst Indy drivers article is how I found your page! Rolling Stones does these God-awful lists as well about the GOAT bands and players. Inevitably someone is left off and someone else has their own plan and bias so I consider the source and move on.

    I think Mario, AJ and Tony Stewart are considered greats because of their diverse resume, which I find important. Dale Earnhardt is elevated because he died (people act like he wasn’t even in his prime yet and had 100’s of races yet to win). Richard Petty is the king of stock car racing but didn’t have the diversity of AJ and Mario, Jimmie Johnson is the same. Seabass won CART races in a weak field. Kyle Busch has won plenty of minor league races against weak competition so I hardly call him great (not to mention winning a meaningless Sprint Cup that is based on luck rather than being good). Also anyone who wins one of these playoff titles in any form of racing these days, those all get dinged also by me.

    So, I consider the source, think about it in my way and move on. But, for me Mario is tops over AJ….

    • Racing Acid Says:

      That’s the same way I found this brilliant blog! Would love to see George attempt a Top 20 Indycar Drivers Since 1979 list considering it’s been 20 years since CART-IRL split. My personal list is:

      1) Rick Mears
      2) Michael Andretti
      3) Scott Dixon
      4) Dario Franchitti
      5) Al Unser Jr.
      6) Alex Zanardi
      7) Bobby Rahal
      8) Gil de Ferran
      9) Mario Andretti
      10) Will Power
      11) Emerson Fittipaldi
      12) Simon Pagenaud
      13) Al Unser Sr.
      14) Kenny Brack
      15) Greg Moore
      16) Tony Kanaan
      17) Danny Sullivan
      18) Sam Hornish Jr.
      19) Dan Wheldon
      20) Raul Boesel

  3. Google is a wonderful thing but I couldn’t find your “Top Twenty Worst Indianapolis Drivers Of All Time”. I did, however, find your “Indy’s Worst For The Past Twenty Years” (10 of them). No arguments here and I did find out who landed on Mansell. In these parts Mansell is remembered as the F1 driver who, with a commanding lead in the Canadian GP, accidentally shut his engine off while waving to the crowd on the final lap and lost the race.

    Google also gave me your worst racing movie of all time. No argument here except that I worked on that movie for 2 days and stood shoulder to shoulder with Stalone against the wall during some of the real race. He flinched a lot. I don’t actually go around telling people about this movie involvement.

    Nostalgia is fun as we age………

  4. Debating these sorts of top-10 lists is kind of silly, due to the entirely subjective and personal criteria that people use to put them together, but putting the all-time IndyCar wins leader, who also won the top stock car race in the world, along with all three of the top sports car races of the world, below several guys who only won races in their own main genre, and one guy who only won races in his own genre plus one “lightning in a bottle” season elsewhere…that’s absurd. There’s literally no modern day equivalent for the likes of AJ and Mario. Both have to be in the top-5 of any serious conversation like this.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Several years back, I bought a book ranking the greatest basketball players in history. The author placed Shaquille O’Neal first, ahead of Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, etc. Did he do this in hopes of having people disagree with him to generate attention and book sales? I don’t know for certain, but I’d bet on it. So it often is with these lists when it comes to racing and other sports.

    On Jimmie Johnson himself, I would argue that his accomplishments are remarkable and worth considering for a “top XX race car drivers of all-time” list. That his success has come in only one discipline of racing, and almost entirely with the same team, crew chief, and manufacturer, would likely hurt his position of said list. Which reminds me of another pointless anecdote…

    A good friend of mine who covers sports for a mid-size city newspaper wrote a column back in 2009 about how absurd it was that “Jimmy” Johnson was voted AP athlete of the year over “the greatest sprinter of all-time”. I told him I didn’t think Rich Vogler was eligible this year. He didn’t get it.

  6. Several years ago I tackled such a topic, only to an even greater measure. I ranked the 50 greatest open-wheel drivers of all-time, which seems drastic but it kept me busy during the off-season.

    George, your point about doing your research is spot on. You could imagine how much research and analysis I had to do for something like this. I spent months looking at statistics, videos, driver interviews, etc before I could even determine who made the actual list. Then came the ranking part…

    As you could imagine, I received an enormous amount of feedback, both positive and negative, but much more of the latter. I expected this, so I wasn’t shell-shocked, but you have to know going into it that almost nobody is going to agree, as lists and rankings are all opinion-based, nothing more.

    I’ve always said, if you’re looking to start a debate or argument, all you have to do is put together a list/ranking of something (really, it could be about anything) and put it out there. People often take it as a be-all-end-all concrete fact, instead of what it is – just the author’s opinion.

    Having said that, AJ at #8 is absurd.

  7. I have noticed, when lists like the greatest player or the greatest team come out, they are always dominated by people or teams the writer was able to see in their lifetime. Great drivers, great teams, great players unfortunately tend to be forgotten, or their status reduced, as their contemporaries pass on and new generations appear.

    In baseball, its easy to ask how anyone could place any player ahead of Babe Ruth. But now it seems he is rarely at the top of the list. Not only was he perhaps the greatest hitter, but he was also one of the best left handing starting pitchers. He has world series records for pitching that lasted half a century. How many people even know that. Nobody else could possibly be ranked ahead of him.

    I have to put A.J. at the top of the list for greatest race drivers of all time.

  8. With racing in particular a top X list is difficult because there is often not as much information about the topic generally available. Other sports were televised earlier and more often than racing, and on top of that some of the early records are not that great. Now there are other sports which have that difficulty as well, but it seems like early era racing is very difficult to measure.

    I don’t have a strong opinion on who is the greatest driver of all time, nor do I have any idea how to make that list. The difficulty is earlier drivers had more danger, were multidisciplinary drivers, and had interesting experiences modern drivers couldn’t dream of, but modern drivers are better athletes and face more consistently good competition at a high level. There is also often, though not always, a little more parity in modern racing. How do you judge who is better? While all sports have that to a point, it really feels different to me when thinking about racing vs. baseball, college football, or basketball. AJ and Andretti are both interesting and have the advantage of racing for a very long time, as did Petty. But it is interesting… of the three Andretti was the only one who managed to win a race in the 1990’s.

    I do have a strong view Jimmie Johnson isn’t the greatest of all time, or even close. That’s because he has always had the same team (which was great when he arrived), same crew chief, same automaker, and until this year at least one teammate the same his entire career. Some say the stability is admirable, but there’s very little adversity there. Jeff Gordon was at the same team his whole career but he won titles with two crew chiefs and should have won a couple more with others as well. He also built the team from a good team to a super team. Even comparing Schumacker or Hamilton or Vettel to JJ, they all were at teams that weren’t good and helped make them better. Dixon kinda feels similar to me, though I realize he did some racing pre-Ganassi and won, so maybe that’s just the hater in me.

  9. hello George. I agree with you on how stupid people can be with these kind of lists.

    I would have 1thru as foyt, Andretti and jimmy clark . followed by senna, vukovich, petty and prost.

    and some would still scream and carry on. oh well.

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