Top 5 NHRA Champions of All Time

We can all agree that all those who fall in the realm of motorsports entertainment are truly worth the slot in your bucket list, and when we talk about auto racing as a sport, there is no doubt that drag racing often steals the spotlight.

Badass fire-breathing machines – that’s only one of the many oddly entertaining things that you can see in drag racing series, especially if the one’s organizing is the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series is among those organized drag racing schedules that made us believe in the power of the machine and man’s capabilities once he puts his mind to it.

Throughout decades since its birth in the dried-out lake beds in the California desserts, drag racing had become a venue of man’s lust for speed and the ultimate test of it. In its foundation in 1951 by a man named Wally Parks, NHRA had solidified and organized the popular sport of drag racing that we know today and produced some of the world’s greatest champions in motorsports, specifically in drag racing. Who are these champions, you ask? Let’s go meet them.


John Force

John Force is arguably the most popular drag racer in the history of NHRA. As a 16-time NHRA champion driver and an AHRA Funny Car winner, Force is a force to be reckoned with, having a reputation of 151 career victories and securing 21 championships as a car owner throughout his drag racing journey.

Force is also the first drag racer to clear the 320 mph mark. He holds the record of “the only driver who secured 13 wins in a single season. In 1996, he became the first drag racer to be awarded the Driver of the Year for all of American motor racing.


Don Garlits, 1987

Don Garlits was considered the ‘Father of Drag Racing’ for his accomplishments and contribution to drag racing history. This American drag racer and automotive engineer perfected the rear-engine Top Fuel dragster, which led to a safer speed race for everyone ever since in the drag racing discipline. 

Known as the “Big Daddy,” Garlits broke several speed records throughout his career and became the first drag racer to pass the 270 mph mark. He had made three victories in the NHRA championships and had won 144 national events all in all. ESPN ranked him 23rd in the top drivers of all time in 1998.


Armstrong (left) working on Kenny Bernstein's car.

Canadian drag racer and crew chief Dale Armstrong is both a 12-time NHRA and 12-time American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) champion. In his career during the 1970s, Armstrong had proven himself worthy of being called one of the drag race’s legends. He’s teaming up with the former NASCAR and IndyCar team owner, Kenny Bernstein, as the man’s crew chief was one made from heaven – together, they bagged four consecutive national championships in the Funny Car division from 1985 to 1988. Armstrong tuned the engine, which Bernstein became the first racer to go 300 miles per hour mark.

Armstrong’s innovations in drag racing proved to leave a legacy to the motorsport as well. He was the first to test Funny Cars in a wind tunnel and idealized equipping dragsters with data recorders, among all other stuff, all in the name of speed racing.


Shirley Muldowney

The “First Lady of Drag Racing,” Shirley Muldowney, deserves her spot in this list not only for being the first woman to be licensed by the NHRA to drive a Top Fuel dragster but also for becoming the first woman to win the NHRA Winston world points championship (the sport’s most prestigious title) in 1997 and the first person to claim it for three times (the second was in 1980 and the third in1982).

She held a total of 18 NHRA national events championships in her career and was ranked fifth on the NHRA’s 50th-Anniversary list of Top 50 Drivers from 1951 to 2000 in 2001.


Joe Amato

This drag racing legend, who hailed from Exeter, Pennsylvania, won five times in the NHRA Top Fuel championship and held 52 event wins. Amato is the first person to zoom past the 280 mph mark and race through the quarter-mile under 4.6 seconds.

Amato held his five-time championship in the Top Fuel division record until 2008 when Tony Schumacher won his sixth that same year.