The Most Famous

RACING DRIVERS from United States

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This page contains a list of the greatest American Racing Drivers. The pantheon dataset contains 1,080 Racing Drivers, 104 of which were born in United States. This makes United States the birth place of the 3rd most number of Racing Drivers behind United Kingdom, and Italy.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Racing Drivers of all time. This list of famous American Racing Drivers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Racing Drivers.

Photo of Carroll Shelby

1. Carroll Shelby (1923 - 2012)

With an HPI of 66.64, Carroll Shelby is the most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 29 different languages on wikipedia.

Carroll Hall Shelby (January 11, 1923 – May 10, 2012) was an American automotive designer, racing driver and entrepreneur. Shelby is best known for his involvement with the AC Cobra and Mustang for Ford Motor Company, which he modified during the late 1960s and early 2000s. He established Shelby American in 1962 to manufacture and market performance vehicles. His autobiography, The Carroll Shelby Story, was published in 1967. As a race car driver, his highlight was as a co-driver of the winning 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans entry driving an Aston Martin DBR1. He then went on to win the SCCA USAC Road Racing Sports Car Championship in 1960 driving a Maserati Tipo 61 "Birdcage" and a Chevrolet Scarab Mark II. As an automotive designer, he is known for developing the Ford GT40 along with racing legend Ken Miles, which won at Le Mans in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. As of 2024, it remains the only American built car ever to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His and Miles's efforts at Le Mans were dramatized in the 2019 Oscar-winning film Ford v Ferrari.

Photo of Phil Hill

2. Phil Hill (1927 - 2008)

With an HPI of 61.14, Phil Hill is the 2nd most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 43 different languages.

Philip Toll Hill Jr. (April 20, 1927 – August 28, 2008) was an American racing driver. He was one of two American drivers to win the Formula One World Drivers' Championship, and the only one who was born in the United States (the other, Mario Andretti, was born in Italy and later became an American citizen). He also scored three wins at each of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring sports car races. Hill was described as a "thoughtful, gentle man" and once said, "I'm in the wrong business. I don't want to beat anybody, I don't want to be the big hero. I'm a peace-loving man, basically."

Photo of Ken Block

3. Ken Block (1967 - 2023)

With an HPI of 56.52, Ken Block is the 3rd most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 31 different languages.

Kenneth Paul Block (November 21, 1967 – January 2, 2023) was an American professional rally driver with the Hoonigan Racing Division, formerly known as the Monster World Rally Team. Block was also one of the co-founders of DC Shoes. He also competed in many action sports events, including skateboarding, snowboarding, and motocross. After selling his ownership of DC Shoes, Block shifted his business focus to Hoonigan Industries, an apparel brand for auto enthusiasts. He was the co-owner and "Head Hoonigan In Charge" (HHIC) at the company before his death in a snowmobile accident in January 2023.

Photo of Dan Gurney

4. Dan Gurney (1931 - 2018)

With an HPI of 55.74, Dan Gurney is the 4th most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 29 different languages.

Daniel Sexton Gurney (April 13, 1931 – January 14, 2018) was an American racing driver, race car constructor, and team owner who reached racing's highest levels starting in 1958. Gurney won races in the Formula One, Indy Car, NASCAR, Can-Am, and Trans-Am Series. Gurney is the first of three drivers to have won races in sports cars (1958), Formula One (1962), NASCAR (1963), and Indy cars (1967), the other two being Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya. In 1967, after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans together with A. J. Foyt, Gurney spontaneously sprayed champagne while celebrating on the podium, which thereafter became a custom at many motorsports events. As owner of All American Racers, he was the first to put a simple right-angle extension on the upper trailing edge of the rear wing. This device, called a Gurney flap, increases downforce and, if well designed, imposes only a relatively small increase in aerodynamic drag. At the 1968 German Grand Prix, he became the first driver ever to use a full face helmet in Grand Prix racing.

Photo of Richie Ginther

5. Richie Ginther (1930 - 1989)

With an HPI of 53.79, Richie Ginther is the 5th most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.

Paul Richard "Richie" Ginther (Hollywood, California, August 5, 1930 – September 20, 1989 in France) was a racecar driver from the United States. During a varied career, the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix saw Ginther take Honda's first Grand Prix victory, a victory which would also prove to be Ginther's only win in Formula One. Ginther competed in 54 World Championship Formula One Grand Prix races and numerous other non-Championship F1 events.

Photo of Wayne Rainey

6. Wayne Rainey (b. 1960)

With an HPI of 52.79, Wayne Rainey is the 6th most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Wayne Wesley Rainey (born October 23, 1960) is an American former Grand Prix motorcycle road racer. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he won the 500cc World Championship three times and the Daytona 200 once. He was characterized by his smooth, calculating riding style, and for his intense rivalry with compatriot Kevin Schwantz, between 1987 and 1993.

Photo of Brett Lunger

7. Brett Lunger (b. 1945)

With an HPI of 52.49, Brett Lunger is the 7th most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Robert Brett Lunger (born November 14, 1945, in Wilmington, Delaware) is an American racecar driver. Lunger was educated at the Holderness School, and Princeton University. He dropped out of Princeton after three years to enlist for service in Vietnam. He was a political science major. At the time he was preparing a thesis on U.S. policy on Southeast Asia. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident refuted much of what Lunger contended in his writing. A former US Marine lieutenant who served in the Vietnam war, his racing career was mostly spent in privateer cars, paid for by his family wealth, as Lunger's mother, Jane du Pont Lunger, was an heiress to the Du Pont family fortune and a prominent racehorse breeder. Lunger participated in 43 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, debuting in 1975, without scoring any championship points during his four seasons in Formula One. Lunger's Formula One career started alongside James Hunt in the Hesketh team, followed by a season with Surtees in 1976. For 1977, he started the season with a year-old March 761 run by Bob Sparshott and entered under the name of his sponsor, Chesterfield Racing, but switched to a McLaren M23 after three races. In 1978, he stayed with the McLaren M23 and also tried an M26, but now entered by Sparshott's racing outfit, BS Fabrications. After a one-off drive for Ensign at the end of the season, Lunger moved on to sports car racing. He is also known for helping to rescue Niki Lauda from his burning Ferrari in 1976 at the Nürburgring.

Photo of Kenny Roberts

8. Kenny Roberts (b. 1951)

With an HPI of 52.17, Kenny Roberts is the 8th most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Kenneth Leroy Roberts (born December 31, 1951) is an American former professional motorcycle racer and racing team owner. In 1978, he became the first American to win a Grand Prix motorcycle racing world championship. He was also a two-time winner of the A.M.A. Grand National Championship. Roberts is one of only four riders in American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) racing history to win the AMA Grand Slam, representing Grand National wins at a mile, half-mile, short-track, TT Steeplechase and road race events. Roberts left his mark on Grand Prix motorcycle racing as a world championship winning rider, a safety advocate, a racing team owner, and as a motorcycle engine and chassis constructor. His dirt track-based riding style changed the way Grand Prix motorcycles were ridden. Roberts' proposal to create a rival motorcycle championship in 1979 broke the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) hegemony and increased the political clout of Grand Prix racers, which subsequently led to improved safety standards and a new era of professionalism in the sport. In 2000, Roberts was named a Grand Prix Legend by the FIM. He is also the father of 2000 Grand Prix world champion Kenny Roberts Jr.

Photo of Lee Wallard

9. Lee Wallard (1910 - 1963)

With an HPI of 51.89, Lee Wallard is the 9th most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 20 different languages.

Leland Wallard (September 7, 1910 – November 29, 1963) was an American racing driver. After a slow start to his career, the unheralded Wallard scored a "Cinderella" victory, authoring a dominating performance in the 1951 Indianapolis 500. Days later, Wallard's career ended as he suffered severe burns when his car caught fire during a promotional event.

Photo of Rikky von Opel

10. Rikky von Opel (b. 1947)

With an HPI of 51.45, Rikky von Opel is the 10th most famous American Racing Driver.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

Frederick "Rikky" von Opel (born October 14, 1947) is a former racing driver who represented Liechtenstein in the Formula One World Championship, the only driver to have done so. He won the Lombard North British Formula 3 Championship in 1972. He participated in 14 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix for the Ensign and Brabham teams, debuting on July 1, 1973. He scored no championship points.

People

Pantheon has 121 people classified as American racing drivers born between 1902 and 2000. Of these 121, 50 (41.32%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living American racing drivers include Wayne Rainey, Brett Lunger, and Kenny Roberts. The most famous deceased American racing drivers include Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, and Ken Block. As of April 2024, 16 new American racing drivers have been added to Pantheon including Chet Miller, Cecil Green, and Frank Armi.

Living American Racing Drivers

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Deceased American Racing Drivers

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Newly Added American Racing Drivers (2024)

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Overlapping Lives

Which Racing Drivers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Racing Drivers since 1700.