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Remember the legends

By Anthony Rhoads

There's a definite youth movement in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

You just have to look at the season points standings to realize that.

The top five drivers in the championship standings are all drivers who have been competing in Winston for four years or less. Seven of the top 10 drivers have been competing in NASCAR's elite division for five years or less.

It's a new generation and that's good for the sport. Racing needs to bring in and develop new talent for it to stay vibrant and competitive.

But as exciting and entertaining as the new guys are, you can't forget the drivers who laid the groundwork for NASCAR's success today.

Here is a glance at some of those drivers:

One driver you can't overlook is Rex White, who lives in Forest Park. White competed in the NASCAR Grand National (Winston Cup) Series in the mid-1950s to the early 1960s.

His best year was in 1960 when he won the points championship. The following year, he was the runner-up.

"I grew up watching him," Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark said. "Guys like Rex got me into racing?Guys like Rex made this sport what it is so that guys today can have it. He did it out of a love for the sport and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Rex."

Buck Baker, the father of Buddy Baker, won points championships in 1956-57, the first driver to win consecutive Grand National titles. He also was runner-up twice, in 1955 and 1958.

He later founded high-performance driving schools at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway and North Carolina Speedway.

Red Byron, from Anniston, Ala.; was one of the pioneers in NASCAR and won the first NASCAR-sanctioned race in 1948 on the Daytona Beach road-beach course.

Tim Flock won 18 races in 1955, a single-season record until Richard Petty won 27 in 1967. Flock's winning percentage of 21.2 percent, 40 wins in 189 starts, is the highest in NASCAR Winston Cup history.

His brothers, Bob and Fonty and sister Ethel, also raced in the 1950s.

Bill Rexford won the championship in 1950 and at age 23, was the youngest driver to win the title. He retired from racing at 26.

Herb Thomas won two championships in 1951 and 1953 and was runner-up in 1952 and '54.

In 1956, he survived a near-fatal racing accident and after several come-back attempts, he started a trucking company and owned a sawmill.

Junior Johnson never won a season championship but the legendary driver won 50 races from 1953-66. He was the subject of the Esquire article ?The Last American Hero,' which was written by Tom Wolfe. In 1973, the story was made into a movie with Jeff Bridges in the starring role.

Fireball Roberts also never won a title but is generally considered as one of the greatest drivers of all time. He won 33 races from 1950-64 and was one of the first drivers to utilize a fitness program. He was a great all-around athlete; his nickname came from his days as a pitcher on his high school team.

He died July 2, 1964, 39 days after a crash in the World 600 at Charlotte.

Anthony Rhoads is a sports writer for The Daily and his column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at arhoads@news-daily.com or sports@news-daily.com.