Commentary

The final five could all have been No. 1, but only Foyt gets the prize

There can be only one No. 1, and there really isn't anybody else like A.J. Foyt, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: May 23, 2008, 11:32 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Michael Schumacher, and Ayrton Senna ESPN.com IllustrationMario Andretti, Ayrton Senna, A.J. Foyt, Michael Schumacher and Dale Earnhardt have many things in common. Among those things? They all got a No. 1 vote from our panel.

Who are the top 25 drivers of all time? ESPN.com asked 19 experts to vote for any driver who piloted something with wheels and a motor. Today's list presents drivers 5-1.

5. Ayrton Senna
Ayrton Senna

Series: Formula One

Without question, Ayrton Senna was the best driver who ever lived.

-- Niki Lauda


Championships: Three (1988, '90 and '91).
Years competed: 1984-94.
Birthdate: March 21, 1960.
Died: May 1, 1994, during the San Marino Grand Prix.
Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Why he made the top 25: Three championships over a four-year span and 41 F1 victories in 161 starts.
Accomplishments: Won 27 races over four seasons from 1988 through 1991. Senna never finished worse than fourth in the F1 standings in his last eight seasons. He won 65 poles and is widely considered the best racer of his era under wet conditions. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone called Senna, "The greatest driver I've ever seen."

4. Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher

Series: Formula One

For what it's worth, I think Schumacher was the world's greatest athlete. It was truly phenomenal to see what he did for so many years.

-- Tiger Woods


Championships: Seven (1994, '95, 2000, '01, '02, '03 and '04).
Years competed: 1991-2006.
Birthdate: Jan. 3, 1969.
Hometown: Hurth Hermulheim, Germany
Why he made the top 25: The only driver to win seven F1 championships.
Accomplishments: He won an incredible 91 races in 249 F1 starts, finishing on the podium 154 times. He is the only driver to win five consecutive F1 championships. Over that period, Schumacher won a staggering 48 of 85 events. He won 13 of 18 races in 2004, including 12 of the first 13 races.

3. Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt

Series: NASCAR

The greatest driver ever has to be Dale Sr. ... Even when he didn't have the fastest car, he could take races away from guys who did have the fastest car. That's what set him apart.

-- Andy Petree


Championships: Seven Cup titles (1980, '86, '87, '90, '91, '93 and '94).
Years competed: 1975-2001.
Birthdate: April 29, 1951.
Died: Feb. 18, 2001, in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500.
Hometown: Kannapolis, N.C.
Why he made the top 25: One of only two drivers (along with Richard Petty) to win seven Cup championships.
Accomplishments: Seventh on NASCAR's all-time wins list with 76 victories. His biggest win was the 1998 Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt after coming close several times. Earnhardt won four IROC titles. Earned the nickname "The Intimidator" for his aggressive driving style. He was considered the greatest restrictor-plate racer of his era. Earnhardt holds the record at Talladega with 10 Cup wins. Sadly, it took the death of NASCAR's biggest star to bring about a revolution in safety advances.

2. Mario Andretti
Mario Andretti

Series: Indy car, Formula One and NASCAR

The only time I was really happy was in a race car. And winning always was the ultimate satisfaction for me. I always thought anything less was just mediocre.

-- Mario Andretti


Championships: Four in Indy car (1965, '66, '69 and '84) and one in F1 (1978).
Years competed: 1965-94.
Birthdate: Feb. 28, 1940.
Hometown: Nazareth, Pa.
Why he made the top 25: The only driver to win an F1 title, the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500, and last American to win an F1 championship.
Accomplishments: Andretti won 109 races in major circuits. He is one of only three drivers to win on road courses, paved ovals and dirt tracks in the same season, which he did four times. Andretti won the 1979 IROC championship. With his final Indy car win at Phoenix in 1993, Andretti became the first driver to win Indy car events in four decades and the first driver to win races in five decades.

1. A.J. Foyt
A.J. Foyt

Series: Indy car and NASCAR

I have to look at someone who has driven all different types of cars and been successful, so A.J. Foyt is my choice as the best. Every type of car he got in, he was able to win. That's what I look at as the key to a great race car driver.

-- Dale Jarrett


Championships: Seven (1960, '61, '63, '64, '67, '75 and '79).
Years competed: 1957-93.
Birthdate: Jan. 16, 1935.
Hometown: Houston.
Why he made the top 25: The first four-time winner of the Indy 500 and the most Indy car victories in history with 67.
Accomplishments: Only driver to win the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Won the IROC championship in 1976 and '77. Foyt raced in 35 consecutive Indy 500s. He is the only driver to win the Indy 500 in both a front-engine and rear-engine car. Raced in Indy car until the age of 60. His final Cup race came in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at age 61.

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

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter