Commentary

On nearly every great man (in NASCAR), there used to be a great 'stache

Cookie duster, soup strainer, call them what you will, but mustaches used to play a major part in the pageantry of NASCAR. Matthew Willis wants to know, where has the sport's spiritual connection to Magnum P.I. gone?

Updated: March 20, 2008, 12:49 PM ET
By Matthew Willis | ESPN.com

Watching classic NASCAR races -- especially the Daytona 500s shown earlier this season on ESPN Classic -- you see some of the greatest of the Great American Races.

Mustaches In NASCAR

From The King to The Intimidator to The Kid to Paul Menard today, facial hair has always been a part of of NASCAR. Take a look at the history of mustachioed (or not) rogues of the raceway. Zoom Gallery

You may be introduced for the first time to drivers like the Allisons, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt, some of the racers who laid the framework for what NASCAR and the Daytona 500 have become. You see the classic paint schemes running out on the track like the black No. 3, the STP No. 43 and the Spam car.

One thing is a little troubling, however. Where have all the great mustaches gone?

Many of the great drivers had mustaches.

Petty, Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte. All these drivers got their cookie dusters in Victory Lane multiple times and their kisses on championship trophies were cushioned by a luxurious layer of lip hair.

Even Jeff Gordon sported one of the most fantastically cheesy mustaches during his days in the Nationwide Series.

What was it about the mustache? Did it somehow lower wind resistance as the drivers sailed around superspeedways? Would a mustache give a driver the confidence and nerve to make a three-wide pass in the waning laps? Could mustache hair be the secret illegal additive that was put in Michael Waltrip's intake manifold last year?

Gordon's career didn't take off until he shaved his mustache, but some stars' careers faded only when they lost their spiritual connection with Tom Selleck and other mustachioed soulmates.

Labonte's face was the only thing smooth about him at the end of his career. He won just one race after the turn of the millennium.

In 1999, Dale Jarrett won the Cup series championship. In 2000, he showed up at Daytona without his nose neighbor. Laughing superstition and mustache power in the face, Jarrett finished fourth in points, then fifth the next year, ninth in 2002 and then 26th in 2003.

I'm not going to get into the story of Samson right now, but the dude's gotta keep his mustache.

Dale Earnhardt showed up at the Brickyard in 1999 sans soup strainer, the first time in 17 years he had shaved it off.

He didn't win that race. A respectable 10th was all he could pull off. Earnhardt had to shave his mustache to help him snorkel with Waltrip. I couldn't make that story up, it's just not possible. Maybe I should say it again for added emphasis and bold it with italics … Dale Earnhardt shaved his mustache to help him snorkel alongside Michael Waltrip.

Is the mustache doomed, or will today's aspiring drivers see the light of growing a misplaced eyebrow? If not a mustache, then what's next in line for trendy facial hair in the Sprint Cup Series?

What about the Boris Said-ish goatee, maybe minus some of the salt-and-pepper look.

You wouldn't have to have the dedication to replicate the whole Said look, complete with the 'fro, but a goatee is always pretty cool-looking. However, a driver can earn the undying affection of fans if he goes the distance and goes for the Alexi Lalas look.

Many of our heroes sport goatees of some sort: Uncle Sam, Pat Morita, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Count Von Count, Colonel Sanders. I could go on, but I probably shouldn't.

Long sideburns could be the next hot look. Sam Hornish Jr. will challenge Paul Menard this season for the best, most well-maintained sideburns in the series. Not only do you have to trim and shape, but you have to be symmetrical. I love that dedication.

Menard can throw in the soul patch with his as well, which earns him bonus points on my scale. Can somebody take it to the next level in 2008 and go all-out mutton chops?

A look that's gained steam is the 48-hour stubble. Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled into some news conferences last season looking like a college student walking into an 8 a.m. class. Not quite a beard, but far from clean-shaven.

Tony Stewart can sport a 425-grit stubble, which is perfect for smoothing out some Home Depot lumber. Stewart could grow a 48-hour stubble in about 10 hours, or, the approximate length of time it takes to run 500 miles at Pocono.

Perhaps the clean-cut, baby-smooth look will continue to prevail. We have drivers sponsored by Gillette, and very few sponsored by companies that sell mustache wax.

And besides, it can get itchy in those helmets.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.