Commentary

Kinser, Mansell, Garlits, Lauda, and Muldowney set high standards

Who are the top 25 drivers of all time? ESPN.com asked 19 experts to vote for any driver that piloted something with wheels and a motor. Steve Kinser, Nigel Mansell, Don Garlits, Niki Lauda and Shirley Muldowney kick off the list from 25 to 21.

Updated: May 20, 2008, 1:02 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Top 25 Drivers of All TimeESPN.com IllustrationDon Garlits, from left, Niki Lauda, Steve Kinser, Nigel Mansell and Shirley Muldowney all created their own legends.

Who are the top 25 drivers of all time? ESPN.com asked 19 experts to vote for any driver that piloted something with wheels and a motor. Steve Kinser, Nigel Mansell, Don Garlits, Niki Lauda and Shirley Muldowney kick off the list from 25 to 21.

25. Steve Kinser
Steve Kinser

Series: World of Outlaws winged sprint cars

Steve is one of the toughest guys to race against in any series.

-- Tony Stewart


Championships: 20 WoO titles.
Years competed: Now in his 29th season.
Birthdate: June 2, 1954
Hometown: Bloomington, Ind.
Why he made the top 25: Kinser is the Michael Jordan of sprint car racing. From 1978 through 2005, the man known as "King of the Outlaws" won 20 championships. He has an incredible 543 A-Features victories.
Accomplishments: Kinser is the master of the dirt, but he also has enjoyed success on pavement. He finished 14th as a 42-year-old rookie in the 1997 Indy 500, and he won an IROC race at Talladega in 1994. Kinser was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2005.

24. Nigel Mansell
Nigel Mansell

Series: Formula One and CART

He was great because he always managed to dig a little deeper and find something inside himself when he really needed it. That made him stand out. He was a little better when a race was on the line.

-- Tim Brewer


Championships: One in Formula One and one in CART
Years competed: 1980-95
Birthdate: Aug. 8, 1953
Hometown: Worchestershire, England
Why he made the top 25: The only person to hold the F1 and CART titles simultaneously, winning the F1 crown in 1992 before adding he CART championship in 1993. He was the first driver to win a CART title in his first season.
Accomplishments: Mansell won 31 F1 races and earned 32 poles. He won five CART events and 11 poles in his championship season. Mansell finished third in the 1993 Indy 500, his first start on an oval track.

23. Don Garlits
Don Garlits

Series: NHRA Top Fuel dragsters

Garlits was the first star of the sport. ... he beat everyone. And he kept beating them until he was at an age most guys had already been retired for years.

-- John Force


Championships: Three (1975, '85 and '86)
Years competed: 1959-86
Birthdate: Jan. 14, 1932
Hometown: Ocala, Fla.
Why he made the top 25: "Big Daddy" is known as the father of drag racing. He was the first man to win three NHRA Top Fuel titles and the first to surpass numerous speed milestones, including 200, 250 and 270 mph.
Accomplishments: Garlits won 144 national events, including the NHRA U.S. Nationals eight times. He was voted No. 1 on the NHRA's list of top 50 drivers. He also was instrumental in improving the safety of the sport. Garlits was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997.

22. Niki Lauda
Niki Lauda

Series: Formula One

You appreciate that it is very easy to die and you have to arrange your life to cope with that reality.

-- Niki Lauda


Championships: Three (1975, '77 and '84)
Years competed: 1971-79 and 1982-85
Birthdate: Feb. 22, 1949
Hometown: Vienna, Austria
Why he made the top 25: Winning two of his three championships after suffering severe burns and near-fatal injuries in a fiery 1976 crash.
Accomplishments: Lauda won 25 races and 24 poles in his career, but showing the determination to overcome his disfiguring injuries and continue to race up front is what sets him apart. Lauda suffered serious facial burns and lung damage in the 1976 crash, lapsing briefly into a coma. Incredibly, he was back racing six weeks later after having surgery on his eyelids so they would open properly. He won the title the next season, retired for two seasons at the start of the 1980s, then won his final championship in 1984.

21. Shirley Muldowney
Shirley Muldowney

Series: NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car

... you can't argue with what she accomplished on the race track. When you raced her, you always knew she'd do whatever she had to do to win.

-- Don Garlits


Championships: Three in Top Fuel dragsters (1977, '80 and '82)
Years competed: 1965-2003
Birthdate: June 19, 1940
Hometown: Schenectady, N.Y.
Why she made the top 25: The first woman to win a major racing championship.
Accomplishments: Muldowney overcame enormous obstacles at a time when women were not accepted in professional drag racing. She broke those barriers to become one of the most successful Top Fuel racers of her era. Muldowney won 18 national events and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter