In order to get into racing, you typically need two things: time and money. Celebrities have both, so it’s no wonder they choose to use it to get themselves on to the racetrack. Some even manage to become serious competitors, to the point where they may become better-known for their racing careers than what they did to actually make their money. Check out our list below of the best celebrity race car drivers.
10. Walter Cronkite
The famous newsman wasn’t just known for telling America the way it is, but also for his extensive amateur racing career. He raced a Volvo on tracks throughout the Northeast, and in 1959 managed to both race in and report on the Sebring 12 Hours in a Zagato-bodied Lancia Appia. Despite his double duties, Cronkite’s team actually managed to take fifth place in their class during the race.
9. Adam Carolla
The comedian and podcast host Adam Carolla has made a name for himself as a celebrity racer. He was a regular participant in the annual Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race, winning it in both the “Pro” and “Celebrity” categories. He has also competed regularly in vintage racing events, often behind the wheel of classic race cars owned by Paul Newman. Last year, Carolla competed in the Goodwood Festival of Speed Hillclimb in a Nissan 300X, and last March made his pro racing debut behind the wheel of an 850 horsepower Corvette in a Trans Am event.
8. Rowan Atkinson
Rowan Atkinson (better-known as Mr. Bean) may be clumsy and goofy onscreen, but get him behind the wheel and he’s got some serious skills. In the 1980’s, Atkinson raced a Renault 5 Turbo in a manufacturer spec series. He also regularly races at the Goodwood Historic races and other enthusiast events around Britain.
7. Bruce Jenner (Caitlyn Jenner)
After an incredible Olympic career but before the Kardashians and his transition to become Caitlyn, Bruce Jenner had a pretty fantastic racing career. During the 1980’s, Jenner competed with Roush Racing in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. In 1986, Jenner won his class at Sebring and finished fifth overall.
6. Patrick Dempsey
Patrick Dempsey may be best-known for playing a dreamy doctor on Grey’s Anatomy, but he’s made waves in the racing community as well. He raced in a total of 68 races, including four starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as the World Endurance Championship, Grand-Am, ALMS, and its successor, the IMSA SportsCar Championship before stepping back from the sport. In that time he won nine podiums, including races like the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Sebring 12 Hours, and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. While he now rarely competes, he still runs his Dempsey-Proton team. \
5. Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman was well known for his raw driving talent. He raced in Formula Ford in the 1970’s, and managed to secure a seat in a Toyota Celica run by Dan Gurney. His driving abilities translated to the screen as well; in the French Connection, Hackman performed 60% of the stunts during the famous chase scene.
4. James Garner
While filming Grand Prix in 1966, James Garner realized that not only did he enjoy driving, but he was actually quite good at it. The story goes that racing legend Graham Hill told Garner that he was good enough to race full-time, and Garner took it to heart. Garner formed the American International Racers team, which competed at Le Mans, Daytona, and Sebring. Later, he got heavily involved with off-road racing, and was inducted into the Off-Road Racing Hall of Fame in its inaugural year.
3. James Dean
By all accounts, James Dean was a complete natural behind the wheel of a racing car. While his career was cut short by a famously tragic accident, he showed incredible promise. He placed first in his class at in his first-ever professional event, and second overall. A month later he came in first in his class again and third overall. His dream was to compete in the Indianapolis 500, but his busy acting schedule came first.
2. Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen was well known as the King of Cool, but he was a serious racer as well. He once said, “I’m not sure whether I am an actor who races or a racer who acts.” McQueen competed in a number of events like Sebring behind the wheel of a car, but his true love was motorcycle racing. McQueen competed in off-road races like the prestigious 1964 6-Day International Motorcycle Enduro in East Germany, the Baja 1000, and Mint 400.
1. Paul Newman
Paul Newman was hands-down the best celebrity racing driver of all time. Newman competed in countless SCCA races, winning a total of four national championships, as well as at Le Mans in 1979, where he placed first in his class and second overall in a Porsche 935. Through the 1980s, he drove a variety of Nissans and Datsuns for Bob Sharpe Racing in Trans Am. He also started a Can-Am team that saw a good amount of success. Age didn’t stop Newman either; he managed to win in his class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona at the age of 70, making him the oldest person to win the event. In 2005 he raced Daytona again, and at the age of 81 took the pole at his last professional race.