Race car drivers are pretty cool. They drive really fast for a living in cars so advanced, they’d put you in prison for selling one to China. But that’s the public part of their lives when the cameras are on, and the business they run is picking up the tab for their rides. Also, the cars we watch dramatically turning left on the track are all built to crazily exacting standards for weight and performance. Those rules go out the window when the competition is over, however, when racers are off the clock, and it’s time to start fighting the traffic on the road home.
So, what do race car drivers drive when they aren’t driving race cars? What kind of conversations takes place when a Daytona hopeful goes car shopping for himself? Do F1 drivers go grocery shopping at 150 mph? Are they tricking out their wives’ minivans with spoilers and nitro blowers? Or are they spending that prize money on what are basically civilian versions of their work vehicles?
Turns out it’s mostly the last one. Here are the coolest ones we could find.
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Let’s start strong, with racing legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. Not only has the Earnhardt family practically defined racing sports for decades, they also defined the approved off-track lifestyle of being a down-home good ol’ boy with a need for speed that threatens the local wildlife. Now semi-retired from being a warp speed badass, Dale Jr. is almost a relic of an earlier age. So it’s fitting that his car should also be a relic of an older, more elegant age.
As befits a straight shooter, Dale drives the same make off the track as he does on it. After a hard run in one of his team’s state-of-the-art Chevy Camaros, Junior drives home in his end-of-the-world orange ’73 Camaro LS2 with a V8 that pushes 400 hp for the racing king. In case you’re not jealous enough, you should know he sometimes gets bored and switches to the other Camaro – a 2002 Z28 with a custom-lengthened frame and aftermarket 7.0-liter LS7 V8 powerplant that throws a crazy 610 hp against the road like it’s nothing.
You know the drill for stories about Danica Patrick: Blah, blah, blah – she’s a girl. Blah, blah, she’s mighty pretty. Blah, she’s a durn good li’l driver too, for a girl, amirite fellas? So let’s get that out of the way right up front: Danica Patrick is much prettier than every other race car driver except Jimmy Johnson, she actually does drive like a pro who was born on the track, and rumor has it that she is, in fact, technically a girl, which would probably be a good working title for her autobiography.
On the track, Patrick finished her NASCAR career in a No. 7 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, which is a good enough car to get smashed up in, which was happening enough in her last couple of seasons before she – perhaps wisely – stepped away from full-time racing. But on the public roads she’s driving now, Danica takes a more chill approach by driving a 2012 Mercedes Benz ML63 AMG light SUV. These supes have plenty of leather in the interior, and probably some nice heated seats as well. Danica used to own a Lamborghini, as well as a few other flashy prowlers, but she told interviewers she gave most of her small fleet away to relatives over the years. These days she only has the Merc, so it’s probably too late to marry into her family and get a free supercar.
Felipe Massa worked his way up into racing, starting out as a speed-demon soapbox racer on the heart-stoppingly steep roads Brazil insists on not flattening out. Later on, he got into maintenance and crew service with Scuderia Ferrari’s F1 team. Eventually, he got behind the driver’s seat for keeps and made a name for himself in various European and American circuit races, all for Ferrari. At home, Massa parked a Ferrari 599 in the garage for his own use. Massa is retired now, but he’s still got the 599, in case he ever needs to get down the driveway from 0 to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds for some reason.
Lewis Hamilton is one of those guys you’re supposed to look up to. Taking the F1 world by storm for his Mercedes AMG Petronas team, the five-time Formula One World Champion keeps getting called “the best driver of his generation” by the sort of journalists who call people that sort of thing. The hype isn’t fake though; Hamilton has turned out to be the Tiger Woods of racing, if Tiger Woods had been a race car driver and had better taste in women (not to mention corporate sponsors).
You’d expect an upper-crust pro like Hamilton to drive something amazing, and in this case, you would be correct. His connection to Mercedes, and the ungodly prize and sponsorship money he’s been earning, have made it possible for Hamilton to buy one of the handmade 2019 Mercedes Project Ones. In fact, he bought the first one, out of a total run of 275, for $2.7 million.
Jarno Trulli is a retired Italian racer who earned a reputation for smart driving – as opposed to raw power and brute force – during his 2011 to 2017 racing career. Trulli did okay during his career, but when he hung up his accelerator, he drove home in one of the goofiest Italian golf cars you’re likely to see on a public road. The Fiat 500 Trulli opted for sports a fun little 1.4 L 4-cylinder engine that’s good for up to 160 hp and delivers a boutique 33 mpg on normal highways, and maybe half that on the tangled ribbons of gravel Italy calls roads. In case you want to steal his look, the 2019 Fiat 500 has an MSRP of $16,245.
Stirling Moss was easily the greatest also-ran in the history of the sport. Almost-winner of multiple championships over his career, Moss retired in 1961 with 16 wins and zero championships. Despite the championship issue, Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss, OBE, has been inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Like the loyal lad he is, Sir Stirling drives one of the bizarre little coupes Britain kept producing back when it had an auto industry. The Ogle SX1000 is a cozy little four-cylinder 997 cc coupe that looks like a swift little sea turtle that was personally designed by David Ogle and sold to Moss for $715 in 1961, Moss’ last year racing.
NASCAR lunatic and on-again/off-again Wheaties enthusiast Tony Stewart is notable for the joy he’s always showed for trading paint with the other greats of his generation. His generation being the one that saw Top Gun in the theater, Stewart stood out even in a crowded field of Mavericks. More than one driver has climbed out of a shattered chassis on the track to wonder if Stewart had actually been trying to kill him. If they saw Stewart’s personal ride, they wouldn’t ask questions like that.
Like the Original Ghostbusters, Tony Stewart drives a vast 1984 Cadillac Hearse. His doesn’t have lights and sirens like theirs, but it is painted funereal black and looks identical to the corpse taxi parked in front of your neighborhood mortician’s building. There’s nothing resembling performance coming out of a GM cruise ship from the downtuned early smog check era, but hey – it weighs 5,000 pounds and really gives people the creeps, so mission accomplished.
NASCAR great Jeff Gordon blew the hell out of his sport’s records during his career. Chalking up an amazing 93 wins in a very competitive field, Gordon’s stock car career is the exact thing young drivers dream of doing when they’re just starting out. Away from the track, Jeff lives and acts like a regular guy, albeit maybe a regular guy who’s living a life that’s a little better than yours in every way. Gordon’s family vehicle is a pretty big Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid with room for a wife, several kids, lots of cargo, another wife, your kids’ friends from school, and the kids’ wives, if applicable. When the truck gets boring, regular-guy-plus-awesome Jeff Gordon also has a kickass set of classic muscle cars including a Dodge Charger and Chevy Camaro, which are also a lot cooler than anything we own, probably.
James Hunt was a hardworking F1 driver in the ‘70s, at the peak of the creepy mustache era of high-performance sports. He was kind of a big deal back in the day, having won the World Drivers' Championship in 1976. If you’re old enough to remember his style, you know he was a tail-happy and very aggressive challenger who wasn’t afraid of his rivals’ side panels. After retiring, Hunt became a racing commentator and independent businessman. He wasn’t any good at those things, apparently, since these days he’s got a Mercedes Benz 450 SEL in his yard on blocks, which he admits he can’t afford tires for. Unless he’s holding out for extra-expensive racing tires on the diesel chugger, we’re going to slowly let the curtain slide into place here and walk back to the kitchen by ourselves.
Yes, Lewis Hamilton gets on the list twice. If you had half the garage (or career) he does, you’d probably be in here three times. But he put in the effort to make us all drool, so he gets the top slot, which he’s probably used to anyway.
In addition to a special-run Mercedes Benz SLS AMG that cost more than some school districts have for books, Lewis Hamilton has also parked the LaFarrari and McLaren P1 in the ol’ supercar garage. If you’re feeling small and weak now, you can come out of the shell, because he only has one more car to talk about.
In a totally uncharacteristic display of bad judgment, Lewis Hamilton is apparently a sucker for fast-talking car salesmen with in-house financing. Like your humble author, Hamilton slipped, fell backward and wound up owning a Smart car. Granted, the Smart Lewis Kickass Hamilton, Esq. owns is the pretty good on a good day Smart 'Brabus' Roadster, while I own a 5-year-old Fortwo, but the thought of Mr. Modern Racing lurching around on the same nutcase transmission I’m living with somehow makes it all better. Good show, old man.