In 2008 Sporting News put together a special magazine called the “60 Most Beautiful People” in NASCAR, to help commemorate the 60th anniversary of the sport. This was a strange time in NASCAR history as the Brian France regime was trying a lot of new corporate synergy to get the brand into the mainstream (for better or worse). I remember thumbing through the magazine at a Walmart back in 2008 but not purchasing it, and wholly not thinking about it until now. After Deb Broadwater’s article on NASCAR’s attempt at romance novels, the memory of that WalMart evening came flooding back. I took to eBay and got myself a copy.
This won’t be the usual type of article and going into it I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be. Let’s just thumb through the pages and see what the world of 2008 NASCAR tried to tell us about beauty and sex appeal compared to today.
Most of the magazine is the list of 60 personalities, but it starts with some weird articles about driver’s personal lives. It’s a New Yorker stylization that would never have fit NASCAR’s personality, but it fits the very brief moment when we tried to view certain drivers as cosmopolitan power brokers. We didn’t need to see Casey Mears lounging around his pad in expensively casual attire, and yet we get it for multiple pages.
The biggest theme when looking at this magazine is the paradox of how to address the “rankings.” This isn’t an objectifying FHM style hottest babe/dude magazine, or at least it’s trying really hard not to be. For the traditional skin mags, they have an advantage with their old-world piggishness. Being unapologetically objective about someone’s gender, age, muscles, waistline, and other physical attributes makes ranking in a countdown list much easier. NASCAR, however, can’t afford to do such things in this context. These won’t be the 60 most attractive human bodies ranked in order in the world of NASCAR, or at least it better not be from I’m seeing. The choice for number 1 on the list however, was the slam dunk.
Kasey Kahne was the sex symbol of his era in racing, there’s no denying it. The turn of the century was the hottest time in NASCAR’s history. But hardly any of that “hotness” was due to mass physical appeal of the drivers. The “young gun” era which came about after the loss of Dale Earnhardt provided something different. Kahne was not only viewed as a handsome lad in our world but was in mainstream publications as well as one of America’s most eligible bachelors. Hell, Dodge even made a bunch of commercials with a group of horny soccer moms chasing after Kahne in their premium minivan. Kasey Kahne walked so that Ryan Blaney could fly, and while we have a bevy of handsome young drivers in 2021, such a thing was a scarcity in 2008. I mean JESUS, look at his best competition in the looks department, the second driver on the list.
As you might expect, 60 NASCAR “personalities” requires us to dig deeper than just the drivers. Rightfully so, it takes more than the wheelmen and wheelwomen to put on a race. That said, Sporting News took some liberties with their definition of someone who is “in NASCAR.” By my count nine wives of drivers made this list. Behind most great drivers is a great spouse, and in most cases their work with charity foundations or their own professional interests are to be commended. That said, in this magazine it’s a bit lazy and frankly too easy to simply make Ingrid Vandebosch the number 2 most beautiful person in NASCAR.
She’s a beautiful person and seems to do a lot of good, but I’m quite sure Ms. Vandebosch is/was a high ranker on actual supermodel lists too, and it feels like Barry Bonds playing t-ball if you think about it too hard. Danica Patrick was still in IndyCar at the time and we’re a decade away from widespread grassroots female driver talent, so this is where the gender line was drawn. Anyway, let’s focus more on the direct NASCAR personalities from here on out.
Another interesting note about the era of this magazine was the invasion of non-stockcar drivers to our world of NASCAR. JP Montoya as well as his wife made the list of course, but the highest-ranking driver of that ilk was one of the less remembered. Patrick Carpentier had a distinguished racing career overall, but is a good representation that the formula wasn’t always going to work in NASCAR. Still, a man that once ran naked at Mid-Ohio after winning a CART race can certainly be granted a spot on this list.
Let’s not beat around the bush, diversity was a struggle at the top level in 2008. We weren’t where we needed to be, and other forms of motorsport were making NASCAR look even more exclusive than our reputation had been in years past. This magazine can serve as a monument to that when compared to the state of NASCAR in 2021. David Cropps, a mechanic on the 10 car at the time, was more than deserving in the looks and accomplishment departments, but even then was relatively unknown, and is the first member of a minority on this list that actually works in racing. (Cropps is with RPM currently and worked several seasons alongside Bubba Wallace). Today, it’d be so much easier, and that’s a wonderful thing. Drivers, crew, media people, officials…there’s far better representation of the real world in our racing world these days. I’m not here to wax a lecture on the subject, but we can maybe let this list serve as a progress report to where we’ve come since. But now, a bit of objectification…
Once we get beyond the halfway mark of the list and the traditionally handsome/pretty people that have the mainstream success to be recognized are taken care of, the magazine starts to get funky with the choices. I’m not the sole arbiter of beauty, nor is anyone for that matter but I simply cannot live in a society that would agree that Tony friggin’ Stewart is the 34th most beautiful ANYTHING. Anyone 35-60 on the list should have frankly considered a lawsuit. Smoke is an all time’s all-timer in racing history, but for the love of all that’s holy there’s no way the Rushville Neanderthal should be anywhere near the word beautiful…..GEEZ!
As we get closer to 60 the other boxes of inclusion start needing to get checked, and the barrel is starting to get scraped. There’s a couple of body building crew members, and anyone that’s ever held a microphone and spoke in the name of racing is starting to come through as well. Age is the big factor in this portion of the list however, and 44-45 show the magazine’s contempt for anything objective. Rankings don’t make sense at this point. Darrell Waltrip, the oldest member of this list, wasn’t even viewed as handsome when he was 20. Attractive perhaps historically in a bad boy motormouth sense, DW beats out genuine “older guy handsome” candidates like Dale Jarrett based on metrics that are far above my head.
Still, it’s all in good fun. There’s no need to get all upset about a list and magazine that was meant to show the world that NASCAR can perhaps become mainstream to the coming generations. I’m quite sure this list will end with some good NASCAR personalities that properly show the mix of lasting integrity and identifiable inner and outer beauty that keeps its hardcore fan base coming back week after week…
OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE! GET THE BLOWTORCH!
How would you have done the list, and who would be number 1 in your 2021 edition? Drop Matt a line on Twitter or just scream into the void of our comments section! But for now, let’s leave you with the best picture they could find of Aric Almirola in 2008.