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Bad-Ass Alert! Rare Photos of NASCAR Drivers from the Past

With every passing year, the machines that power NASCAR drivers to victory have slowly parted ways from their real counterparts. Cars that even a blind person could identify by the shape of a fender or the angle of the tumblehome are now amorphous, homogenous shapes that bear little resemblance to their street-going counterparts. Notwithstanding, NASCAR, its sponsors, and fans have evolved over the years to embrace the cult of the driver rather than the cars themselves.

As the 1960s progressed, the popularity of stock-car racing exploded. Manufacturers and sponsors took notice, and in those short 10 years, the sport progressed from unknown amateurs racing part-time on regional circuits of short tracks—many of them dirt—to state-of-the-art, high-banked superspeedways and sponsorships from internationally recognized companies. Through it all, the technology of racing advanced at breakneck speed but one important thing never wavered: the personalities behind the wheel.

1972 Miller 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: Driver and owner Richard Petty of STP/Petty Enterprises smokes a cigar by the paddock. Photo by Gerry Stiles.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, NASCAR didn't have the same dominance in stock-car racing it has today; other sanctioning organizations—for instance the ARCA and USAC—as well as independent track promoters, did their best to lure top drivers to their races, putting them in high demand. Adding to this was a travel schedule with far more dates per season than today (for instance, the 1970 NASCAR season featured 48 events versus the 41 of the 2019 season). All this combined to put the drivers in high demand; one can imagine the huge impact on a regional dirt track's gate receipts when it could advertise the appearance of an A.J. Foyt or Richard Petty.

Even though today NASCAR is synonymous with stock-car racing, it wasn't always the case. Drivers were the draw, and fans were aware of the driving styles and personalities of each wheelman just as they are today. Due to advances in technology and safety, the brand and model of car is understandably less relatable to fans, but the foresight of NASCAR has meant that drivers remain in the spotlight. Let's take a look at some of the sport's biggest personalities from the Golden Era of stock-car racing.

1970 California 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: Al Unser of the (Vel Miletich) Vel's Parnelli Jones team stands around by the pits. Unser would qualify for the race fourth on the grid and lead for 166 of 200 laps. Nevertheless, on lap 186, a failed transmission would result in his DNF, but he still managed a ninth-place result due to other retirements before him. Photo by Fred Enke.

1972 Yankee 400, NASCAR, at Michigan International Speedway: Glen Wood (right) co-founder and owner of the Wood Brothers team stands in the garage talking to driver Wendell Scott. Photo by John Lamm.

1968 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Funny Car and Super Stock/Pro Stock driver Don Nicholson aka "Dyno-Don" hangs out by the paddock. Photo by Pat Brollier.

1968 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Mario Andretti sits in a dune buggy used as a run-about car around the track. Photo by Pat Brollier.

Atlanta 500, NASCAR, at Atlanta International Raceway: Curtis Turner (driver) talking to Smokey Yunick in his Chevrolet Chevelle. His controversial Chevelle was the first car to brake the 180-mph mark. Turner crashed the car soon after taking the pole, and the car would not start the race. Photo by Eric Rickman.

1967 Daytona 500, NASCAR: Team co-owner (Petty Enterprises) and driver Richard Petty sits in his 1967 Plymouth Belvedere. Petty would start the race second on the grid, but on lap 193 Petty would be forced to retire due to engine problems. Petty would still come away with an eighth-place result. Photo by Bob D'Olivo.

1967 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Race winner Parnelli Jones of Bill Stroppe's team stands by the podium celebrating his victory. After starting the race sixth on the grid Jones went on to lead 126 of the 185-lap race. Photo by Bob D'Olivo.

1967 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Driver Dan Gurney stands around by the pits. Gurney would start the race third on the grid and lead for 36 laps, but an engine problem would force him out of the race on lap 143. Photo by Gerry Stiles.

1974 NASCAR Los Angeles Times 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway: Bobby Allison, driver of the Penske AMC Matador, moved from fourth position on the grid to win the 1974 LA Times 500. Photo by Mike Brenner.

George Follmer at the NASCAR Tuborg 400 at Riverside International Raceway. Photo by Mike Brenner.

Jimmy Insolo at the NASCAR Tuborg 400 at Riverside International Raceway. Photo by Mike Brenner.

NASCAR Tuborg 400 at Riverside International Raceway: Richard Petty gives an interview by the paddock. Photo by Mike Brenner.

1972 Miller 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: Race winner A.J. Foyt of the Wood Brothers team celebrates with a Miller High Life and Miss Ontario Speedway (right) after the race. Photo by Bob D'Olivo.

1972 Miller 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: Bobby Allison sits around by the paddock. Allison will go on to finish the race in second place in the Richard Howard owned Coca-Cola Chevrolet. Photo by Gerry Stiles.

1972 Miller 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: Mark Donohue (left) of Penske Racing sits by the pits next to team owner (Petty Enterprises) and driver Richard Petty (right). Photo by Gerry Stiles.

1972 Miller 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: Driver Buddy Baker of STP/Petty Enterprises. Photo by Gerry Stiles.

1972 Miller 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: ABC broadcaster Chris Economaki (right) interviews driver Bobby Allison (left) on the grid. Economaki was a longtime American motor sports commentator known for his pit reporting. Photo by Pat Brollier.

1971 Miller 500, NASCAR, at Ontario Motor Speedway: DeWayne Lund, better known as "Tiny Lund," stand by the pits talking to a NASCAR official. Photo by Henry Thomas.

1970 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Roger McCluskey getting into his Plymouth Superbird.

Roger McCluskey at the 1970 Motor Trend 500 NASCAR race at Riverside International Raceway.

1970 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Parnelli Jones (right) talking with Donnie Allison (left).

LeeRoy Yarbrough at the 1970 Motor Trend 500 NASCAR race at Riverside International Raceway.

1970 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Feet hang out the window of David Pearson's Ford Torino.

1970 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Bobby Allison talks to other drivers in the paddock. Bobby Allison's Dodge Daytona sits to the left (22).

1970 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Unidentified driver checking out the newspaper. Any idea who it is?? Email us at HOTROD@HotRod.com. Photo by Fred Enke.

1968 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Darel Dieringer sits in his 1968 Plymouth by the paddock. Photo by Pat Brollier.

1968 Prematex 100, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Race winner Jerry Titus takes a swig from his bottle of Champagne. Photo by Gerry Stiles.

1967 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: NASCAR Hall of Fame member, team owner, and crew chief Bud Moore stands around by the paddock. Photo by Bob D'Olivo.

1969 Motor Trend 500, NASCAR, at Riverside International Raceway: Richard Petty and Petty Enterprises shocked their long-time Chrysler faithful by switching to Ford for the NASCAR Cup season. Petty wasted little time getting accustomed to his new ride, putting his Torino Cobra into victory lane. Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images.

1971 California 500, Qualification, Riverside International Raceway: AAR (All American Racers) founder Dan Gurney (left) talks to driver Bobby Unser. Unser drives one of Gurney's Eagle race cars. Photo by John Lamm.

Can anyone help us identify this driver from the 1972 Miller 500 NASCAR race at Ontario Motor Speedway?? Email us at HOTROD@HotRod.com. Photo by Gerry Stiles.