Spooky skeletons, ghastly ghoulies and menacing monsters are typically what we associate with Halloween. However, there’s a spine-chilling side to NASCAR that people don’t consider.
CLICKON celebrates Halloween by looking at NASCAR’s scariest drivers. We look at temper tantrums, unadulterated aggression and repellent rivalries seen over the years with NASCAR’s very own daunting drivers… and they didn’t even have to dress up!
Let’s start with Darrell Waltrip, also known as “Jaws.” If that’s not a precursor that’s scary enough, then we don’t know what is. He earned this nickname by having an aggressive driving style and an outspoken nature.
It also came off the back of an incident that happened during the 1977 Southern 500 race. Waltrip was racing with Cale Yarborough for the lead and ended up wrecking Yarborough out. Yarborough was all kinds of mad and came out with the following quote when he was asked about the incident:
“Jaws! Jaws! That talky Jaws! That’s what happened.” – Cale Yarborough
Waltrip maintains the notion that he didn’t wreck Yarborough on purpose and actually meant to wreck D.K Ulrich, but Yarborough became an accidental casualty of that move. Either way – you wouldn’t have wanted to cross paths with Jaws, because you might have got into something you couldn’t swim away from.
Next, we look at “The Rushville Rocket,” “The Columbus Comet,” “Big Orange,” “Tony the Tiger” and “Smoke.” No, these aren’t all different people. These are the nicknames of one man: Tony Stewart.
His reputation is so vast and colorful as a result of all the incidents that Stewart has been involved in over the years. He was aggressive, he was angry, and he was an atomic-bomb personified with the way he was often blowing up after on and off-track incidents.
He even earned the nickname “Smoke” because that’s what other drivers saw coming from his tires as he steered through turns on asphalt tracks. His volatile nature definitely makes him scary by anyone’s standards. Here are just a few of Stewart’s incidents over the years:
His rivalry with Jeff Gordon was infamous. It started in the year 2000 at Watkins Glen when he and Jeff Gordon got into an on-track battle and crashed. Stewart made his displeasure extremely obvious when he slung a slurry of curse words towards Gordon.
This continued into 2001 when Jeff Gordon return the favor by pulling a “bump and run” on Stewart so that he could get a better position. This was a bold move by Gordon… And extremely brave of him to provoke Tony the Tiger. Stewart’s disgust was made obvious when he pounced on Gordon on pit road by spinning him out. Stewart was fined and placed on probation like the “bad boy” he was later deemed to be.
Not doing himself any favours, Stewart’s scary reputation gained more momentum during the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. He confronted a NASCAR official after he ignored the black flag that he was given when he made an illegal pass on Dave Blaney. Clearly on a rampage, Stewart then batted a tape recorder out of a reporter’s hand and kicked it under a truck with rage.
Fast forward to 2006 and a new rivalry was born. During the Daytona 500, Stewart was involved in a few incidents involving Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Stewart then chased Kenseth halfway across the track to run into the grass. Commenting on it afterwards, Stewart said with confidence:
“He has no room to complain. He started it, and I finished it.” – Tony Stewart
During the All-Star race, the pair clashed again with each one blaming the other, and it garnered a lot of attention from the media who proclaimed it to be “must-see TV.” Despite this though, that marked the end of that rivalry. On to the next one!
During the Pennsylvania 500, Clint Bowyer accidentally squeezed Stewart against the wall. Stewart waved his hand in anger and wasted no time in hitting Bowyer’s car. This sent Bowyer spinning and he ended up hitting Carl Edwards. NASCAR held him back a lap as though putting him detention on the grounds of “rough driving.”
2007 saw yet another rivalry form. This time with Kurt Busch. During the Autism Speaks 400 race at Dover, Busch passed Stewart on the inside but then slid up, made contact with Stewart and then ploughed into the wall.
Busch was out of the race but Stewart wasn’t. Everyone thought that Stewart had done it intentionally seeing as the pair were rivals and Stewart had built a reputation for being angry and extremely good at holding a grudge.
Stewart was on pit road when an enraged Busch pulled alongside – nearly taking out one of Stewart’s crew members – and gave Stewart a less-than-friendly hand gesture. Kurt Busch was disqualified and Stewart was put on probation – again – but was cleared from further penalties.
Five years later, the old rivalry between Stewart and Kenseth was rekindled. During the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol, they collided and brought out a caution. Furious, Stewart climbed out of his car, removed his helmet, and he waited for Kenseth to exit pit road. When he did, Stewart flung his helmet at Kenseth’s car and then gestured applause to the audience.
In 2014, there was an incident when Brad Keselowski hit Stewart but had actually intended to hit Kenseth instead. Stewart saw red and retaliated by reversing into Keselowski, smashing Keselowski’s front end in. Stewart was fined $25,000 and Keselowski was fined $50,000. Both were sent to NASCAR’s naughty corner by being put on probation.
Tony the Tiger certainly built up a fearsome reputation for being aggressive, retaliatory, hot-headed and wrathful. If you were to place him in a horror-movie scenario, he’d be the perfect evildoer.
Despite Stewart’s fearful track record, the scariest NASCAR driver of all has to be “The Intimidator.” It sounds a lot like a chilling thriller or horror movie, but actually this was the nickname of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Born in 1951, this NASCAR legend started as he meant to go by shoving his way to becoming a NASCAR star. As well as his nickname “The Intimidator,” Dale Sr also answered to the following: “Old Iron Head,” “The Count of Monte Carlo” and “The Man in Black.” He was controversial, highly skilled and feared by all with his “take no prisoners” attitude.
He created a persona for himself, and it meant that he was even in demand by Wrangler Jeans who wanted to sponsor him because he was tough like their jeans. He was the perfect candidate to be horror or thriller movie villain.
Dale Sr. never gave an inch on the track and fellow drivers both feared and respected him equally. It was even said that if Dale couldn’t pass drivers, he’d simply shove them into the wall. An incident occurred in 1986 when he caught the back end of Darrell Waltrip’s car and caused a huge pile-up. Earnhardt was fined $3,000 and Waltrip even accused Earnhardt of trying to kill him. Eeek!
His will to win and finish fueled his aggression and gained him legendary status as a “working class hero.” His death in 2001 was a huge loss to NASCAR. 16 years later and we are still honoring and admiring the man whose reputation and legacy has lived on with aggressive momentum. This scary show of strength reflects the attitude and demeanor that he possessed during his driving days.
Evidently, NASCAR has had its fair share of scary characters over the years. It only seems fitting for a sport that carries so much risk and an array of situations, scenarios, incidents and personalities which can all have bloodcurdling consequences.
From Jaws, to Smoke, to the Intimidator – there are lots of different ways in which NASCAR drivers can be scary. Whether that’s scarily fast, scarily angry, scarily aggressive or scarily talented – NASCAR has it all.
On that note, we at CLICKON wish you a spectacularly spooky Halloween.