Top 5 Drag Racers of All Time

If you’ve never been to a top fuel drag race, it’s probably one of the most visceral experiences in the world. When they light the tires up, the earth shakes. I’m sure that as soon as the second car was built, drag racing was born. History says 1930 but I don’t believe it. I find it unbelievable that anyone can get the first position at a light and not think about racing the person beside them. Hell, the other day I saw two work vans drag racing. Drag racing is one of the simplest forms of racing but it still takes incredible skill to win time after time. This got me thinking, who are the top 5 drag racers of all time? There have been some truly great names, and nicknames, in drag racing.

Mickey Thompson

Mickey Thompson in a front engine dragster
Mickey Thompson in his Pontiac dragster – photo by tom-margie

In 5th place is Mickey Thompson because not only was he a great drag racer, he also had land speed records and started a famous tire company. Unfortunately, him and his wife were murdered by a business partner in 1988. Mickey was the first American to break the 400 mph land speed record hitting 406 at Bonneville. Thompson set many records including the first drag racer to hit 120 mph, then 150, then 194. He also set an incredible 295 records at Bonneville. While he is only ranked as the 11th best drag racer, he’s in four separate motorsports hall of fames including the off road hall of fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Not quite as many as Parnelli Jones but still pretty good. Like Vic Edelbrock, Mickey Thompson will live on through his company.

Shirley Muldowney

Muldowney's pink top fuel drag car
Shirley Muldowney’s 1986 Dragster – photo by twm1340

Some people like Bernie Eccelstone think women can’t race. Boy are they wrong! Shirley Muldowney is considered the First Lady of Drag Racing and was the first woman to ever obtain a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) license and she put it to good use. Muldowney didn’t just win races, she won Top Fuel championships in 1977, 1980, and 1982. She suffered a major crash in 1984 that kept her sidelined for 18 months but she would eventually return to drag racing. While she never won another championship, she continued to race professionally well into her 60’s. Seriously, what a badass! People on the street probably see this sweet old lady and have no clue she could smoke them! Brittany Force carries the mantle winning the Top Fuel championship in 2017 and you have to think Muldowney was a big influence on her.

Don Prudhomme

Don Prudhomme’s Pepsi Challenger funny car
Don Prudhomme’s Pepsi Challenger

Any good racing driver has an awesome nickname and Don Prudhomme is no exception. “The Snake” won four funny car championships in a row from 1975 to 1978. He is also one of the few (possibly only) drag racers with a movie made about him. Wayne Holloway wrote and directed Snake & Mongoose, the story about Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. The Snake had an incredible 77% funny car win percentage and a 60% top fuel win percentage. Prudhomme was the first person to hit over 250 mph in a funny car, the first to have a run under 5.2 seconds, and the first to break the 300 mph mark. He not only found success as a driver but also as an owner winning two championships as a team owner. Don still holds four drag racing records.

John Force

John Force launching his Ford funny car
John Force in his Castrol funny car – photo by Ford Racing

For much of my life, John Force has dominated drag racing. He has over 151 career wins and is a 16-time champion. Not only that, he has three drag racing children in Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney. As mentioned above, Brittany already has one championship. John started drag racing in 1978 when legends such as Don Garlits were still racing. He won an incredible 14 out of 17 funny car championships from 1990 to 2016. You will be hard pressed to find a more dominant performance in any form of motor racing. Did I also mentioned that aside from his 16 championships he has another 20 as a car owner? He’s also the first funny car drag racer to ever break the 5 second barrier.

Don Garlits

Garlits int Swamp Rat III
Swamp Rat III driven by Don Garlits – photo by tom-margie

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is widely considered the most important drag racer in history. While John Force has a ton of championships, Garlits really set all the marks in drag racing. He was the first to hit 170 mph, 180, 200, 240, 250, and 270 mph. At age 82 he also hit 184 mph in an electric drag car. His car The Swamp Rat is also in the National Museum of American History. It’s hard to find anyone as instrumental in the formation of motorsports than Garlits. Dan Garlits is still racing deep into his 80’s and is looking for more records to set. Garlits has been one of the most innovative drag racers of all time and it doesn’t look like he is slowing down anytime soon!

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