Hooniverse Asks- Who is History’s Most Versatile Race Driver?

Something – or someone – only good at a single task is often referred to as a one-trick pony. Racing is such a specialized advocation that many drivers who have had great success have done so by limiting their skill-honing to only one series. That’s not always the case however, and just like that annoying kid in school when you were growing up, who was both good at sports AND smart, there have been racers who could seemingly do it all. Think back on the many who were able not only to shift from one series to another but also to have success in more than one. Of those, who do you think is history’s most versatile race car driver?
Image: Scotsman

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  1. OA5599 Avatar


  2. OA5599 Avatar

    Serious answer: A. J. Foyt
    Foyt drove in the Indianapolis 500 for 35 consecutive years, winning it four times (the first of only three to do so).
    Foyt is the only driver to win the Indy 500 in both front and rear-engined cars, winning twice with both configurations.
    Foyt is the only driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 the same year (1967).
    He is the only person to record victories in the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 stock car race, the 24 Hours of Daytona (twice, with co-driver Bob Wollek), the 24 Hours of Le Mans international sports car endurance race in Le Mans, France, as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring (his last major professional win, in 1985, with co-driver Bob Wollek).
    He is one of only 12 drivers to have completed the Triple Crown of endurance racing (victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans).
    He also has 41 USAC Stock Car wins and 50 Sprint Car, Midget, and Dirt Champ Car wins.
    He won the 1975 and 1976 Australian Speedcar Grand Prix at the Liverpool International Speedway in Sydney (in Australia midgets are called Speedcars).
    He has won 12 total major driving championships in various categories.
    His USAC wins tally is a record 138 (The late Rich Vogler is second with 132.)
    Foyt won the 1976 and 1977 IROC championships.
    Foyt won seven NASCAR races.
    Foyt, along with Mario Andretti, are the only men to win both the Indianapolis and Daytona 500s.
    Foyt holds the closed course speed record driving the Oldsmobile Aerotech at an average speed of 257.123 miles per hour (413.799 km/h). He set the record on 27 August 1987 at a 7.712-mile (12.411 km) test track near Fort Stockton, Texas.

    1. JayP2112 Avatar

      Hard to argue with that.

    2. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      He's a tremendous old bastard, too. I don't really love when bad things happen to his cars in IndyCar, but when they do, I love listening to him read the riot act to the pitlane reporter like it's the reporter's fault. Fantastic and the kind of guy it's great to see still around the IndyCar paddock.

    3. fred Avatar

      As long as I live in Texas I'm voting for AJ. But I'm partial to F1 so I'm inclined to give him favor. His kids were pretty fast as well.

  3. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    My vote goes to Travis Pastrana.

  4. GTXcellent Avatar

    All the big names are the correct answer: Foyt, Gurney, Donohue, etc. so I'll name someone with not quite as much success, but competed in just about every form of motorsport – Parnelli Jones.
    Sprint cars, Indy cars, stock cars, hill climb, off-road, Trans-Am… he probably races shopping carts at the grocery store.
    Plus, the madman drove one of the most innovative Indy cars ever – the Paxton-Turbocar
    <img src="http://s.petrolicious.com/2013/history/ford/gtr1-4.jpg"&gt;

  5. lesscubes Avatar

    Most of the really great drivers of the 60's-70's ran in everything they could. Phil Hill, Foyt, Gurney, Parnelli, Donohue on our side of the pond.
    Denny Hulme was champion in both Can-Am and F1, his boss MacLaren was a force in both sports cars and F1.
    Black Jack Brabham started out in hill climb and midgets.
    Jackie Stewart drove for Chapparral too and would've dominated CanAm if the 2J was reliable/not banned.
    Jim Clark was a absolute hero in anything he drove. (Ever see a Galaxie on three wheels?) Jackie Ickx drove sports cars. Surtees was champion both on GP Bikes and Cars.
    I'm missing lots here, but you get the idea.

    1. pursang Avatar

      How about John Surtees; won championships on motorcycles (56/58/59 and 1960) and formula 1 (1964)?

  6. dukeisduke Avatar

    I can put Foyt there, and as for modern drivers, I would add Tony Stewart, and Sebastian Loeb.

    1. GTXcellent Avatar

      I'd add Juan Pablo Montoya to the modern drivers list.
      Another driver who's shown he's very versatile (unfortunately not all that successful) is Mario's nephew John Andretti. Open wheel – in all the various configurations , NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA and sports car racing.

    2. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Loeb is untouchable in that regard today;he showed that at Monte Carlo a couple weeks ago. I think if Tony Stewart did a little sports car racing or even some rally/rallycross, he could be in the discussion.
      Jacques Villeneuve comes to mind, too. While he's struggled in the last decade, he is still an Indy 500 winner and a Formula One champion. I find it odd that he somehow never won a NASCAR race, though. He did finish 2nd at Le Mans in a Peugeot 908 and he won at Spa in the same car, too. He raced in World RallyCross last year to little avail and seems destined to spend his time driving NASCAR on road courses.
      Juan Pablo Montoya has a similar resume to Villenueve's: Indy 500 win (in his first try), several F1 race wins (no championship, though), three Rolex 24 wins, a CART championship, and he even won a couple of NASCAR races.
      To be honest, the nature of modern racing is fragmented enough that there's just little chance of crossover like there was for Andretti and Foyt and Unser 50 years ago.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        The issue with the question is that one gets to drive in a top class only after showing some quality in lesser ones. I can imagine that after a decade of F1 press conferences you really enjoy talking about cars and racing in the paddock again-somewhere else. .

  7. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    <img src="https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2345/2233606855_00e3df743a_z.jpg&quot; width="500/">
    Hard to argue with Dan Gurney taking this title. He and Mario Andretti and JPM are the only drivers ever to win in Sports cars, F1, NASCAR, and Indy Car. Add to that that Dan Gurney had a 24h Le Mans win (One that started the spraying of Champagne tradition.)
    I would be the champion behind Mark Donohue typically, and I have said before that Donohue was incredible for his achievements and advancements in the sport, but Gurney had more wins in international series and F1. Plus Gurney designed the Eagle that probably would have held up well against F1 competition had there ever been that duel.
    Also I'm going to put George Follmer on the list because his name needs to be somewhere on a list of versatile drivers.

  8. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    The every-day-of-the-week-including-Tuesday answer: John Surtees.
    <img src="http://fc03.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2012/273/9/e/john_surtees__germany_1963__by_f1_history-d5gcnc0.jpg&quot; height="500">

    1. Rover_1 Avatar

      My guess too. World Grand Prix Motorcycle Champion(4 times ), then World F1 Champion. Came 2nd in his first ever F1 race.
      Honorary mention to 'Mike the Bike' Hailwood who wasn't quite as successful in cars.

  9. Eric Rood Avatar
    Eric Rood

    Not necessarily in the same league as Gurney, Andretti, Foyt, and Surtees, but worthy of mentions:
    Emerson Fittipaldi (2 F1 championships, 2 Indy 500 wins, epic sideburns)
    <img src="http://wtf1.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Chops.png&quot; width="400">
    Jacky Ickx (6 Le Mans wins, a bunch of F1 race wins but no championship)
    <img src="http://i.luxury-insider.com/uploads/features/2012/01/interview-jacky-ickx_11.jpg&quot; width="400">
    Sir Jackie Stewart (3 F1 titles and, to take a different tact, an incredible force for safety change along with Ickx. Also, a quality commentator)
    <img src="http://f1drivers.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/jackie-stewart.jpg&quot; width="400">
    Nigel Mansell (Won F1 title, then came to the U.S. to win the CART championship the next year. Also, that mustache)
    <img src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Eb1gnKSjKRc/UhUdUSsBOBI/AAAAAAAAAdE/U_jBiGMO8-k/s640/Il_Leone_Nigel_Mansell.jpg&quot; width="400">

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      'elcahhm to ah life caverage o' th' Spaneesh Grand Prix at Haaa-rhama. It's ah greeet dee fer racin' a spaaahts cah…

  10. engineerd™ Avatar

    Since all the really great greats have been mentioned already, I'll throw Robby Gordon in the mix.
    <img width="500" src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d0/Robert_W._Robbie_Gordon_photo_D_Ramey_Logan.jpg/1024px-Robert_W._Robbie_Gordon_photo_D_Ramey_Logan.jpg"&gt;
    Sure, he can be a complete jerk, but he's a modern equivalent of the "I'll race anything" guys of the past. He's raced in NASCAR, CART, IndyCar, Trans-Am, IMSA, IROC and Dakar Rally. He's raced Baja in both 500 and 1000 formats. With IMSA he's raced in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring scoring multiple class wins in both. Overlooking his volcanic personality, he's a damn fine racer.

    1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
      PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

      Many times (like fighter pilots) that personality and that ability go hand in hand. You have to be borderline unlikeably self-assured to be willing to command a piece of metal to do things with the guts others don't. Some guys can take that personality off once they are out of the car, others can't.

      1. engineerd™ Avatar

        Very true.

        1. Eddystone Avatar

          But I remember him primarily for being a complete jerk. I met his uncle once, and he was a jerk, too.

  11. Dutch Avatar

    Danny Ongais "The Flyin' Hawaiian".
    He started out on motorcycles on the island, then raced sports cars.
    In the '60s he ran dragsters in the AHRA and NHRA.
    He drove in F-1 in 1977 and 1978.
    Indy was a 10+ year ride starting in 1976.
    USAC, PPG Indycar, IRL.
    #39 on the list of Top 50 NHRA Drivers.

  12. mac350 Avatar

    I must be getting old because my choice would have to be Stirling Moss, my boyhood hero. He was successful in rallies, F1, endurance racing, sports car racing, speed records and saloon car racing. I only got to see him race once in 1961 at Le Mans in Rob Walker's 250GT SWB Ferrari with Graham Hill co-driving. He was faster than many of the sports-racing cars. Smooth and relaxed he was known for getting the most out of a machine.
    <img src="http://cdn.classiccars.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Stirling-Moss-at-British-Grand-Prix-1955-courtesy-of-Mercedes-Benz-Classic.jpg&quot; width="500">

  13. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

    Walter Röhrl is worth an honorable mention since he had a very successful side career in road racing, Also Paul Frere drove just about everything with wheels including the Opel Rekordwagen

    1. mac350 Avatar

      I agree with you about Paul Frere – a very under rated driver and a great automobile journalist.

  14. windbüchse Avatar

    Bernd Rosemyer: Motorcycle jockey, Grand Prix champion, Land Speed record holder – he died trying to regain his record.
    <img src="http://www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au/images/page_headers/Drivers/Bernd_Rosemeyer_1.jpg&quot; width="600">

  15. Eddystone Avatar

    Most versatile? Mario always comes first to mind. Then AJ. Then Dan.
    I'll also throw in a vote for Mark Donohue because he was a prince.

  16. steex Avatar

    A completely different kind of versatility, but I'd give an honorable mention to Alex Zanardi. He had varying levels of success in multiple series, and now continues to find competitive racing success in handcycling. It's awfully impressive even if not an exact fit for this thread.

    1. FЯeeMan Avatar

      He definitely shows the "never quit" attitude that takes you to the top.

  17. scroggzilla Avatar

    Since most of the greats have already been recognized, I'll mention the rather obvious one that's been omitted.
    <img src="http://www.chromjuwelen.com/images/cache/616×408-http—farm7.static.flickr.com-6001-5992109806_34882e5a96_z.jpg"&gt;