Reading the record books for any sport is always a blast. Seeing what the overall records are for things like ERA, touchdown passes, or free throw percentage is a great way to put individual performances into perspective. What’s even more fun is arguing with your friends over what records ever have a chance of being broken. Whether it’s Michael Jordan’s six championships, Tom Brady’s MVPs, or Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record, fans will argue for days over the chances of a record being broken. The same is true in motorsports.
Seemingly unbreakable records are maybe more prominent in motorsports than anywhere else. Whether it’s due to rules changes, different eras of competition, or advancements in technology, auto racing has it’s fair share of unbreakable records. Speed records, career win records, and even records for race duration show up on our list of the 15 most unbreakable records in racing.
15. NASCAR’s Oldest Race Winner
Our list begins with a fairly unbreakable record, but it isn’t a super flashy or ridiculously unthinkable statistical marvel. At first, Harry Gant’s record as the oldest winner in NASCAR Cup Series history doesn’t seem too impressive. Gant was 52 years, seven months, and six days old when he won at Michigan in 1992. But how is this an unbreakable record you say? Well, drivers just don’t have this type of career longevity anymore. There are too many young drivers that enter the sport and find success right away. With the pressure from team owners and sponsors, drivers aren’t given the same type of time to develop that they were 30 years ago.
If drivers don’t come in the sport and start winning right away, they’ll be gone in a few years. Even NASCAR’s senior competitors like Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson likely won’t still be around at age 52 and if they are, they probably won’t be competing at the front of the field for race wins. So it isn’t technically an unbreakable record, but the odds of a driver being older and being competitive enough to win a Cup race is extremely unlikely. Gant’s record will likely never be broken.
14. Bill Elliott’s 212MPH Lap
Bill Elliott, or “Awesome Bill From Dawsonville” as he’s most affectionately known, holds one of NASCAR’s most famous and most dangerous records. At Talladega Superspeedway in April 1987, Bill Elliott broke the all-time NASCAR speed record in his Ford Thunderbird with a lap of 212.809 miles per hour. Elliott reached an average speed that no driver ever had and no driver ever will again.
Immediately after Elliott’s qualifying run, team owners and drivers petitioned NASCAR to do something to lower the speed of the cars as they were reaching life-threatening levels. NASCAR decided not to do anything before the race the next day and the let the drivers race. On lap 21, Bobby Allison’s car got airborne and flew into the catch fence, spraying debris into the grandstand, injuring several fans. This incident prompted NASCAR to restrict the engines at the super speedways of Talladega and Daytona. These restrictions now make it impossible for a driver to ever run a 212 mph lap.
This would be higher on our list but it’s kinda lame to hold an unbreakable record due to a rules change Regardless, Bill Elliott’s 212 mph lap will never be broken.
13. Cale Yarborough’s Birthday Wins
Our next unbreakable record is based solely on chance and circumstance. It’s not unthinkable,but the odds of it being broken are incredibly small. Cale Yarborough pulled of the unique feat of winning a NASCAR Cup Series race on his birthday of March 27, 1977. Pretty cool, right? It was so cool that Yarborough did it again in 1983. He won on his actual birthday twice. The sheer odds of this happening are incredible and the fact that Yarborough did it twice makes it even more rare.
Let’s take a second and examine this. NASCAR’s season runs from February to November and races are always on Saturday or Sunday. So a driver needs to have a birthday during the season (eliminating any driver born in December or January) and have it fall on a Saturday or Sunday race day several times to even have a shot at pulling this record off — then they actually have to win the races too. It just isn’t ever gonna happen again. It really is an anomaly.
The only other driver to have won a Cup race on their birthday is Kyle Busch who did so in 2009. Sure, Busch might win on his birthday again if all the stars align, but he’ll never do it a third time. This record will never be broken.
12. Formula One’s Four-Hour Race
If you’re an avid watcher of Formula One races, you’ll notice they usually last no more than an hour and a half, maybe two hours if there’s safety car period. But in 2011, Formula One fans would be in front of their TVs for over four hours waiting to see who would win. At the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, the race was marred by heavy rain showers and featured several safety car periods. In fact, the race began under the safety car for five laps and then driver were allowed to pass. After just three laps, a collision caused another safety car period. The race would go on for just a few more laps when another safety car period was caused on lap 20 by torrential downpours that made racing impossible.
Rain would pelt the track for two hours before the race could resume. The race would see several more safety car periods and was overall a very slow race due to the rainy and wet conditions. Sebastien Vettel led the vast majority of the race, but on the last lap who would go wide in turn six and Jenson Button would overtake him and hold on for the win.
When it was all said and done, the race took four hours, four minutes, and 39 seconds to complete and was the longest race in Formula One history. Jenson Button also broke the record for most pit stops by a race winner, with six. Due to all the factors affecting the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix including the rain and the various on-track incidents, there will likely never be another Formula One race as long as this one.
11. Richard Petty’s Seven Daytona 500 Wins
Richard Petty is the most dominant driver in NASCAR’s history. His seven series championships have been matched only twice and his career win total (200) will never be reached. But included within his untouchable win total are seven victories in the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premier event. This is an unbreakable record, and it’s almost unthinkable that Petty pulled off these seven victories.
You might argue that this feat could be accomplished again if the same driver is in the right place at the right time, but you’d be wrong. Petty raced in a different era with different rules. Due to the advent of restrictor plates to the cars at Daytona that began in the late 1980s, there has been a massive leveling of the playing field. Restrictor plates have led to large drafting packs and even the slower, underfunded teams can steal a win by drafting up to the front. Due to the current rules enforced by NASCAR at Daytona, it is especially unlikely that another driver will ever win seven Daytona 500s.
10. Michael Schumacher’s Seven Formula One Titles
Michael Schumacher spent 20 years as the king of Formula One. He dominated the F1 circuit from the time he showed up in 1991 to his retirement after the 2006 season. The German icon is widely touted as the greatest driver in the history of Formula One, and he holds nearly every F1 record. But his record of career championships is the most untouchable. Schumacher won SEVEN Formula One World Championships… SEVEN! Let’s all take a quick moment to let that set in. The guy took home seven title, including five consecutively from 2000 to 2004.
Now, you can argue that a lot of a driver’s success in Formula One can be linked to the team they drive for. There are several examples of teams switching to a new type of car or to a new manufacturer and instantly becoming more competitive. But regardless of what car he drove, Michael Schumacher still had to wheel the car around the track and he did that incredibly well for a very long time. In today’s Formula One, there are many more competitive teams and drivers that the chances of another driver winning seven titles is slim. Schumacher’s record for career championships is unbreakable. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel each have four, and are the only active racers with even a small chance of getting to eight and setting a new record. It’s unlikely though.
9. Mario Andretti’s Open-Wheel Pole Positions
I’ll argue to the day I die that Mario Andretti is the greatest racing driver of all time. The guy won in every type of car he drove. He won in Indy, he won in CART, he won in F1, he won in NASCAR, and he won at Le Mans. Andretti was just a well-oiled, thoroughbred winning machine. He holds dozens of records across motorsports but perhaps his most unbreakable record is his run of pole positions in American open-wheel racing.
Throughout his time in USAC and CART, Andretti won a staggering 67 pole positions. He was even winnings poles into the final years of his career. In 1966 he won the pole for the first six races of the season. We just aren’t ever gonna see another driver dominate qualifying day like Andretti did. Andretti was a once-in-a-generation type talent and many of his poles came in a different era of open-wheel racing. Like many records on this list, they are simply impossible to break due to the reality of motorsports today and the restrictive rules that teams compete under. We’ll still be talking about Mario Andretti’s pole record 100 years from now.
8. A.J. Foyt’s Seven Open-Wheel Titles
A.J. Foyt’s name is synonymous with American open-wheel racing. He’s won the Indianapolis 500 four times and holds the record for career victories. Throughout his time in USAC, CART, and Champ Car, Foyt racked up dozens of podium finishes and and was the usually the class of the field. Foyt also owns most of the open-wheel racing record books. One of the most glaring of Foyt’s records is his seven career USAC titles. Between 1960 and 1979, Foyt was the USAC series champion an astounding seven times. No other driver has come close to winning seven titles in any American open-wheel racing series. The closest active drivers to Foyt’s record are Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais, who both have four titles, but are each in the autumn of their careers.
You can make the argument that it isn’t impossible for a driver to win seven titles in today’s open-wheel racing, but it’s very unlikely. Foyt raced in a different era, without the parity that we see in IndyCar today. Now we see surprise winners and unlikely champions more often that not due to the equalization of the car and chassis by the sanctioning body. It’s pretty safe to say that Foyt’s record of seven championships will never be broken.
7. Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One Pole Positions
Lewis Hamilton is likely the only driver with a shot to unseat Michael Schumacher as the Formula One’s all-time greatest driver. The 33-year-old British driver has been tearing up racetracks in an F1 car since his debut in 2007. Where Hamilton particularly shines is on qualifying day – he holds the certifiably unbreakable record of 72 pole positions. That is just a staggering number of pole positions for any one driver to win. Also consider the fact that the guy is still racing and will likely win several more before his career is over.
The closest active driver to catching Hamilton’s record is Sebastien Vettel who has 50. Considering that Vettel has won just five poles in his last four seasons, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be catching Hamilton any time soon. When it’s all said and done, Lewis Hamilton could very well be the first driver to reach the triple digits in pole positions and will have himself an even more unbreakable record.
6. Tom Kristensen’s Nine Overall Le Mans Victories
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most prestigious events in all of motorsports. Winning at Le Mans puts a driver among motorsports’ elite, but winning at Le Mans nine times makes you the GOAT. Tom Kristensen has claimed the overall victory at Le Mans nine times. Yeah, NINE TIMES. Oh, and he won six of them consecutively between 2000 and 2005.
First of all, Le Mans is considered one of the hardest races to win considering its 24-hour format can take a toll on a driver mentally and physically. Second, you share the car with two other drivers who may or may not have your own racing talent, and finally the car has to be able to run competitively for 24 straight hours without mechanical failure. Despite all of these factors, Kristensen has been able to win at Le Mans nine times. The next closest competitor to Kristensen’s record is Jacky Ickx, who won six. With more and more parity in sports car racing and new, younger drivers coming to Le Mans each year, it is all but assured that Tom Kristensen’s record is unbreakable.
5. Jimmie Johnson’s Five Consecutive NASCAR Titles
It’s almost completely forgotten that Jimmie Johnson has the same number of championships as NASCAR greats Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — all with seven. But Johnson did something that neither of the other two ever could, win five consecutive titles. Johnson won the Cup Series championship every year from 2006 to 2010. The sheer dominance and consistency that Johnson showed over those five season is truly remarkable. Johnson even managed to outlast several changes to the series’ points structure and playoff format during his title stretch.
Now yes, you might say that it isn’t impossible for a driver to win six (or even five) titles in a row again. But actually it is impossible. Or at least it’s very unlikely. NASCAR has made several changes to its playoff format over the past few years. There are new rules for qualifying for the playoffs and drivers are eliminated from contention based on finishing order during the last ten races of the season.
The title is now decided between four drivers at the final race of the season. Whoever finishes highest in the race wins the title. When Johnson had his stretch of championships, the playoffs were entirely points based and there was much more strategy involved and less emphasis on winning. He just needed to get a decent finish and avoid issues in each of the last ten races of the season and he would coast to the title. In today’s NASCAR, with the rules the way they are, no one will ever break Johnson’s record, there are just too many variables at play.
4. A.J. Foyt’s Career Open-Wheel Wins
A.J. Foyt is one of American open-wheel racing’s greatest drivers. His seven USAC championships is a mark that still has yet to be matched. Foyt holds several records in open-wheel racing, but perhaps the most remarkable is his 67 career victories. Foyt won his first race in 1960 and his final race in 1982, which shows remarkable consistency and career longevity.
The closest active driver to Foyt’s mark is 37-year-old Scott Dixon with 41 wins. Even if Dixon races for 10 more years, he’d have to average three wins per year to match Foyt and that just isn’t going to happen. Few drivers these days race past the age of 40 and those that do are rarely competitive in their later years. Combine that with the parity of manufacturers and teams in modern-day open-wheel racing, and you’ve got a recipe for an unbreakable record. Unless a 16-year-old driver shows up in open-wheel racing and starts winning races at an alarming rate, Foyt’s career win record will never be touched.
3. Richard Petty’s Career NASCAR Wins
Richard Petty is widely considered NASCAR’s greatest driver and is known in community simply as “The King.” Petty’s career accolades speak for themselves. He won seven NASCAR Cup Series championships and competed in 1,184 races in his career. Petty holds several all-time NASCAR records but his most unbreakable record is his mark of 200 career wins. Yes, Richard Petty won 200 Cup Series races in his career. This doesn’t even need to be argued, it’s untouchable.
With the level of parity in today’s NASCAR, it is rare for one driver to win more than three or four races in a season. Even if a driver were to average five wins per season, they would need to race for 40 years to match Richard Petty’s win total. This is never going to happen again. Petty raced at a time in NASCAR’s history when only a few of the cars in the field were competitive enough to win, so he dominated. No driver in today’s NASCAR will ever come close to reaching Petty’s career wins record.
2. Richard Petty’s NASCAR Wins in a Single Season
Richard Petty finds himself on this list several times, which makes sense considering he holds pretty much every NASCAR record that you can have. The King was the best driver in NASCAR for over 25 years from the 1960s to the 1980s. In 1967, Petty would accomplish something that no other driver will ever be able to — win 27 races in a single season. Yeah, he won 27 races in one calendar year on his second of seven championships.
Winning 27 races in one season is remarkable on its own, regardless how many races there are in a single season. When The King won his 27, there were 49 races on the NASCAR schedule. Nowadays there are just 36, making this record 100% unbreakable. There is no way that a driver in today’s NASCAR will ever win 27 races in a single year. The only driver to come close recently has been Jimmie Johnson, who won 10 races in 2007. There is far too much parity in NASCAR and too many talented drivers for anyone to win 27 of the 36 races in a modern season. Petty’s record will stand forever.
1. Michael Schumacher’s 17-Podium Season
If you simply look at the statistics and records, it’s clear that Michael Schumacher is Formula One’s greatest ever driver. He has several records that you could argue are unbreakable but one of the most poignant is his perfect season in 2002. Now by perfect season, we don’t mean he won every race. That would be ridiculous. But Schumacher did finish on the podium in all 17 races of the 2002 season en route to winning his fifth World Championship. To put it simply, it was nothing short of remarkable.
Even with the best car in the field and the most talented driver at the wheel, there are so many variable that can affect the finishing order of a race. Things like a bad pitstop, on-track incidents, tire failure, and mechanical issues can all come into play in any race and ruin a driver’s chance at the podium. Somehow, Schumacher was able to avoid any of the aforementioned scenarios and finish every single race on the podium. He got to spray champagne on the podium for 17 straight race weekends. This is something that Formula One will never see again, this record is certified unbreakable.