Petty, Earnhardt and Allison. These are just three of the most famous last names in the history of NASCAR. Since its beginning, NASCAR has an extensive history of families racing on their various circuits. However in the past 15 years, the trend has almost come to a complete stop. The only driver with a family connection to NASCAR’s past is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Why has this happened?
Perhaps the main reason why famous last names have become extinct in NASCAR is due to the nationalization of the series. From NASCAR’s beginnings in 1949 all the way to the early 2000s, NASCAR was primarily a south eastern sport. Nearly all of the races on the schedule were run in the southern states and nearly all of the drivers were from the southern states. Racing has always been a family sport and through racing drivers like Lee Petty and Buck Baker passed the racing gene down to their sons. This was true for families such as the Pettys, Earnhardts and Allisons.
Unfortunately, tragedy has played a role as to why established names are no longer around in the sport. Davey Allison was destined for championship glory until his death in a helicopter crash in 1993. Had his crash not happened, Allison would likely still be racing in NASCAR. Adam Petty also seemed destined for greatness until he died in a practice accident at New Hampshire in 2000. Although Allison was already an established driver and a bona fide star in NASCAR, Petty was quickly rising as well and he most definitely would have been a regular in the Cup Series if not for his death.
It does appear as though there will be a resurgence of family names in NASCAR in the very near future. Though they aren’t names like Petty, Allison and Earnhardt they are names most NASCAR fans are familiar with like Elliott, Blaney and Lajoie. It definitely will be interesting to see how the next generation of racers will do.