NASCAR Nicknames

What’s In A Name?


“Smoke” ~ Tony Stewart 3-Time Sprint Cup Champion

If you’re a new NASCAR fan you might hear some names thrown around on broadcasts of races, or on social media networks, that you can’t figure out. Who is Smoke? What’s The Monster Mile? Why do they call that guy by that name?

This is something that recently happened between some posts I made on FB for the #SmokeWillRise countdown to Daytona 2014.

My brother-in-law went looking for a driver named Smoke and couldn’t find one. So he assumed it was a nickname, but wasn’t sure.

That made me think about the Nicknames we’ve become used to in NASCAR as fans and where they came from.

How did Matt Kenseth get his nickname Matt The Brat? Why is Hollywood Hammond called Hollywood and who called him that? Do you know why Roger Penske is called The Captain?

Now being a Smoke fan, I of course know that Smoke refers to 3-Time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart. And I know where his nickname comes from.

Stewart told of his nickname: “I wasn’t very good about not slipping the right-rear tire, initially. So it started as ‘Smoker,’ then it got shortened to ‘Smoke.’ Then when I got in the Indy Racing League it was ‘Smoke’ because one of the guys on the crew who was my roommate, and knew the nickname, carried it over to the IndyCar team. But then when I started blowing engines, ‘Smoke’ really stuck. I’ve had it ever since.”

During his NASCAR career, Stewart once was told by No. 20 team owner Joe Gibbs that he could no longer compete in races outside of his Sprint Cup obligations. Stewart worked around this by entering a USAC National Midget race under the pseudonym “Smoke Johnson” with the crowd at the track none the wiser. After winning the feature, “Smoke Johnson” got out of his car and revealed himself to the crowd as Stewart. He also once entered himself in a race, driving the infamous “Munchkin” midget chassis, as “Mikey Fedorcak Jr.” after buying the Munchkin from Mike Fedorcak during a card game. In 2010 he raced several Modified races under the name Smoke Johnson. – from Wikipedia

Ok, for those of you who don’t follow NASCAR, but know someone who watches; or if you’re a new NASCAR fan here’s a couple of lists for Drivers, Owners and Tracks that you might hear. This isn’t ALL of the industries nicknames. But these are the ones you might hear the most during a broadcast or on social media.  (Nicknames are listed in the order they’re most often used.)

Drivers, Crew Chiefs & Commentators:

    • A.J. Allmendinger –
      • Dinger : Homage to a shortened version of his last name
    • Marcos Ambrose –
      • Tasmanian Devil : In honor of his home Country, Australia. He’s from Tasmania.
    • Greg Biffle
      • The Biff : A play on his name
    • Kurt Busch –
      • Outlaw : He game himself this nickname for being a renegade in the Cup Series.
      • KB2 : Though he’s the older brother to Kyle, Kurt’s struggles in racing were overshadowed by his successful brother. Kyle became KB1 because of his success, while Kurt was regulated to 2nd fiddle as KB2.
    • Kyle Busch –
      • Wild Thing : From his wild driving style early in his cup career
      • Rowdy : A homage to Rowdy Burns from “Days of Thunder”
      • KB1 : Kurt and Kyle Busch share initials and well as a last name, making it difficult for commentators to talk about the Busch Brothers. Because Kyle was having the better season when he entered the Cup series, he became known as KB1, while his struggling brother was called KB2. 
      • Shrub : as the younger brother of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, a small bush being called a shrub
    • Jeff Burton –
      • The Mayor : Many reporters credit him with having the communication skills of a politician.
Dale Jr. and Dale Sr.

Dale Jr. and Dale Sr.

    • Dale Earnhardt –
      • The Intimidator : In 1987 season, Earnhardt earned his nickname after spinning out Bill Elliott in the final segment of the non-points race, known then as “The Winston”. The monicker stuck as it best described his overall driving style.
      • Big E : As name he earned by being a father, especially of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
      • Man in Black : Made famous by driving the primary color of his car, the Black #3.
    • Dale Earnhardt Jr. –
      • Little E : Earned by being the son of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
      • June Bug : There are two stories I’ve heard about this. First it came from his father Dale Sr, and second from his Uncle Tony Eury Jr. It is generally thought of as a family nickname.
      • Junior : Most of the time he’s called Junior, as that’s his name.
    • Carl Edwards –
      • Cousin Carl : Given to him by Ken Schrader, but I can’t find a reliable resource for why it was given.
      • Concrete Carl : He acquired this nickname for his strong performances on concrete race tracks.
    • Jeff Gordon

      • Rainbow Warrior : In honor of his sponsor DuPont Paint
      • Wonder Boy : Originally it was a derisive nickname, and referred to his early success at a young age.
      • Four Time : In honor of his four championships
    • Jeff Hammond –
      • Hollywood: A name he acquired by appearing as an actor in several TV/Movies after his crew chief career.
      • Hollywood Hammond : Darrell Waltrip utilized Hammond’s old nickname “Hollywood” during a broadcast and remarked “There’s Hollywood Hammond inside the Hollywood Hotel”. The name stuck.
    • Kevin Harvick –
      • The Closer : Goes hand in hand with “Where Did He Come from”, Harvick developed a reputation for being up front at the end of a race challenging for the win.
      • Happy or Happy Harvick : A play on words to reflect the fact that early in his career he had a wee bit of a temper.
      • Mr. Where Did He Come From: See the Closer
      • Tony Stewart & his Spotter call him Cupcake : I’m trying to find the story behind this.
    • Jimmie Johnson –
      • Champ : In honor of his 6 Sprint Cup Championships
      • 5-Time : In honor of his 5 consecutive championship titles
      • Six-Pack : In honor of his 6 championship titles
      • Unofficial nickname changes. Currently it’s 6-time.
    • Matt Kenseth –
      • Matt The Brat : Earned as a teenage racecar driver blazing around the short-tracks of his home state of Wisconsin
    • Brad Keselowski
      • Brad K : A shortened play on his name.
    • Joey Logano –
      • Sliced Bread : Earned as he moved into Cup racing. Another driver called him “the best thing since sliced bread”
    • Mark Martin
      • Old Man : In 2009 Martin turned 50. He earned the affectionate nickname “Old Man,” from his fellow, and younger Sprint Cup drivers.
      • Epic Swag : In 2012 Martin became a Twitter addict. But unfortunately his account was hacked and taken over. The Hacker messed with a number of things, from deleting tweets, making inappropriate tweets and even changing the display name to “Epic Swag”. Martin embraced the name and put it on his car for the Fontana Race in 2012.

Ryan “Rocketman” Newman

  • Ryan Newman –
    • Rocketman : Earned for his tremendous prowess in qualifying. Early in his career he won more Pole start positions and broke speed records more than any active driver.
  • Richard Petty –
    • The King : Petty won 27 of the 48 races he entered, including a record 10 wins in a row (between August 12 and October 1, 1967). His dominance in this season earned him the nickname “King Richard”.
  • Tony Stewart
    • Smoke : Check the first part of this article for that.     
    • Rushville Rocket : Earned when he was a teenager racing in southern Indiana, near the town Rushville.
    • Columbus Comet : Another early racing name from his dirt track success.
    • Double Duty : In 2001, Tony raced in the Indianapolis 500 in May in an IRL car and the Brickyard 400 in August, which earned him the nickname Double Duty. That same year in May he also drove in the IROC race. The only driver to ever compete in 3 different race cars at the speedway in the same year.
    • 3:00 – I can’t find a resource for this one.
  • Brian Vickers –
    • The Sheriff – Jimmie Johnson gave him this nickname, when he showed up at a shooting party in Texas with a humongous magnum revolver.
  • Darrell Waltrip –
    • DW / D-Dubya : His preferred nickname that’s obviously a play on his initials.
    • Jaws : Given to DW by rival Cale Yarborough in an interview after Waltrip crashed him out of a race, referring to DW’s excessive “jawing” about racing and other racers.

Even owners have their nicknames:

    • Joe Gibbs
      • Coach : In honor of his Hall of Fame NFL Coaching career.
Jack Roush

Jack Roush

  • Roger Penske
    • The Captain :  Before he became well known in the auto racing world, Penske was big in boat racing. Specifically Sailing. He Captained several winning teams and it carried over into his other professional and personal worlds. It’s a name his crews used when talking to him on the radio at race tracks.
  • Jack Roush
    • Cat In The Hat : Roush is famous for his straw hats.

Tracks get their name from their location, difficulty or a feature or characteristic.

  • Bristol Motor Speedway
    • “Thunder Valley” : Bristol sits in small valley in East Tennessee. It is part of the Smokey Mountains section of the Appalachian Trail.
  • Charlotte Motor Speedway
    • “The Beast of the Southeast” : The track has a reputation for catching the drivers off their game, often sending them spinning into a wall. Some say that the track as a “mean spirit” and it’s haunted. Crews say it’s hard to set the car up to race evenly on both sides of the track.
  • Darlington Raceway
    • “The Lady in Black” : Named for the dark colored asphalt.
    • “The Track Too Tough To Tame” : Described by Richard Petty “It’s just been a very, very demanding race track. It’s probably the toughest track to run on a consistent basis”. Nuff said.
  • Daytona International Speedway
    • “The Big D” : The Track is a tri-oval, also known as a D shape to non-racers. Soon after it’s opening, the track became known as the “Big D” in honor of that shape.
    • “The World Center of Racing” : Comes from marketing promotions that define the track as having the most diverse schedule of racing on the globe.
  • Dover International Speedway
    • “The Monster Mile” : It has been described by drivers and race teams as one of the most demanding mile long tracks on the race circuit.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
    • “The Brickyard” : From the early days when the track was made of bricks. As the track grew and evolved, it was paved except for a 1 yard section of the original bricks that span the lane of the track.
Indianapolis Speedway and Tony Stewart Kissing the Bricks

Indianapolis Speedway and Tony Stewart Kissing the Bricks

  • New Hampshire Motor Speedway
    • “The Magic Mile” : The original oval that is used in a lot of NASCAR racing events measures a little above a mile; however, for some events, the track is modified into a road course measuring 1.6 miles that makes use of most of the oval. For this reason it is often called “The Magic Mile.”
  • Pocono Raceway
    • “The Tricky Triangle” & “The Bermuda Triangle” – Another 2.5 mile tri-oval racetrack with each corner being unique. Turn 1 is banked at 14 degrees, Turn 2 is banked at 8 degrees and Turn 3 is banked 6 degrees; making it one of the trickiest tracks to navigate.
  • Rockingham Speedway
    • “The Rock” : Commonly called The Rock, after its location.
  • Talladega Superspeedway
    • “Dega” : Commonly called Dega, after its location.
    • “The Big One” : The longest race track with a length of 2.66 miles it holds the record for the fastest recorded time set by a NASCAR stock car in a closed oval course, with the record of 216.309 mph set by Rusty Wallace on June 9, 2004. The high speeds required NASCAR to limit the power of engines with Restrictor Plates. The plates changed the style of racing at the track, creating opportunities for very close racing that can sometimes result in accidents that take out the whole field.
  • Texas Motor Speedway
    • “The Great American Speedway” : A name created by marketing promotions for the region. That’s it. Wish it was more exciting, but it’s not.

© This material is the intellectual property of Author Springwolf
 © 2006-2014 All Rights Reserved, Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D.