How did our state of Florida earn the title ‘World Center of Racing?’ Since 1902, when racing began on the hard-packed sands of Ormond Beach, the east coast of our state has hosted speedsters from all over the world.
At the very center of the racing world exists the giant and world famous Daytona International Speedway complex, one of our state’s crown jewels since 1959. But, of course, with so many racing tracks around, the lot of asphalt, dirt, and drag strips have created generations of racers, born right here in the Sunshine State.
Here are just some of the all-time great IndyCar and NASCAR drivers from Florida:
A native of Jacksonville, LeeRoy Yarbrough started his career on the Grand National series in 1960. Over his decade-plus career with NASCAR, Yarbrough somehow never found funding. Still, he managed to cross the finish line several times throughout each season.
In total, he won 14 NASCAR Cup races, including his first two in 1964. His 1969 season stood out as his best, winning seven races in the 30 that he started.
Unfortunately, a year later, Yarbrough was involved in a crash while testing at Texas World Speedway in College Station. It’s strongly believed to have given him a life-altering concussion. A year later, Yarbrough crashed again while practicing for the Indianapolis 500. Headaches ailed him for the next decade and numerous times, he claimed he could only remember events prior to the decade.
His problematic mental health eventually led to an incident where he attempted to kill his mother. A nephew came to the woman’s aid and clobbered Yarbrough on the head. Yarbrough was committed to the Florida State hospital where his life was later cut short. Four years after being institutionalized, he suffered a violent seizure and succumbed to brain bleeding.
Born in Miami in 1937, Allison is considered by many as one of the most successful NASCAR drivers of all time. A charter member of the “Alabama Gang,” Allison grew up in Hueytown, and accounted for a total of 84 NASCAR Cup races.
His impressive trophy case includes three Daytona 500 victories, two NASCAR Modified Division championships, and one championship season (1983). Most notably, 50 years ago, Allison led at least one lap in 39 consecutive NASCAR Cup races, establishing a record that held throughout his career; it hasn’t been touched since his retirement in 1988.
Allison inspired a family affair. Both his brother Donnie and his two sons (Clifford and Davey) competed at racing’s highest level. Specifically, Bobby and Davey are the first one-two father/son to finish in the Daytona 500.
Allison is also the oldest driver to ever win the Daytona 500 (50 years old).
Tony Stewart was born in Columbus, Indiana, but grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida. For years, he drove a Home Depot vehicle and was featured in numerous in-store and televised advertisements for the company.
Long considered one of the most versatile drivers in motorsports history, Stewart has claimed championships in NASCAR, Indy car, and Sprint car racing. When he started in the early ’90s, Stewart became the first driver to win USAC’s version of the Triple Crown, earning championships in the National Midget, Sprint, and Silver Crown.
In his rookie season, he managed three victories. In total, he tallied 49 wins in the Cup Series.
He now owns the Stewart-Haas Racing team, which competes in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Although he seemingly retired, Stewart recently announced he would compete full-time in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. Joining Stewart on his quest for victory will be longtime partner Mobil 1.
Although Dallas is his place of origin, Ryan Hunter-Reay grew up in Boca Raton, Florida. Since 2007, he has been a regular in the IndyCar series. That season, he was voted as the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. Four years after his debut, Hunter-Reay won the series championship in 2012. The following two years were also prosperous, picking up Best Driver ESPY Awards from 2013-14.
Over the last decade-plus, Hunter-Reay spent his NTT IndyCar Series run at Andretti Autosport. Ryan claims more race wins than all of the other current American Indycar drivers combined; he is the only driver to have earned wins in IndyCar Cart, ChampCar, Alms, and Grandam.
In 2021, Hunter-Reay exited Andretti Autosport. Since, he has joined Chip Ganassi Racing. He has been signed to assist with developing the 2023 Cadillac LMDh/GTP prototype; he can also sub for any IndyCar Series drivers on the team in case of illness or injury.
Edward Glenn “Fireball” Roberts Jr. was born in Tavares, Florida in 1929. Throughout his prime in the ’50s-’60s, Roberts was one of the most popular drivers in the entirety of the sport.
In 1958, Roberts raced only a dozen times, but unfathomably won six of them — finishing 11th in the final NASCAR premier series standings. In total, he won 33 races in his career, including the 1962 Daytona 500.
After a stellar career, Roberts planned to put driving in his rearview mirror and become a full-time public relations representative and brand ambassador for Falstaff Brewing Company. His final race was meant to be the World 600, on May 24, 1964, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But, unfortunately, his name proved an ominous forewarning of Roberts’ eventual fate; Roberts died from injuries sustained in a fiery crash during the seventh lap of the race.
Posthumously, Roberts was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
Scott Lagasse Jr.
Son of former NASCAR driver Scott Lagasse Sr., Scott Lagasse Jr. was born in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1981. Taking inspiration from his racing father, he has competed in various forms of motorsports, including NASCAR, IndyCar, and various other sports car racing.
Lagasse Jr. got his start on dirt and asphalt in modifieds, Sportsman, and late models, compiling 25 races until 2002. Lagasse Jr. made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2005, had six top-ten finishes, and competed in the 2015 Indianapolis 500.
A colon cancer scare that same year was a setback, but Lagasse Jr. continues to race to this day.