The 10 Most Influential Car People in Sports
The Drive 50: Auto’s players, owners and tastemakers in the world of sports.
David Beckham, 41; Retired soccer megastar
It may be quicker to list the cars David Beckham doesn't own, given that the tally tops 25. The retired football star is known as much for his pricey collection as for his prowess on the pitch, though his true passion seems to be motorcycles. (He's cited enjoying the anonymity a helmet provides.) He's starred in a short film for Belstaff, and ridden a Triumph Scrambler into the Amazon rainforest with his mates as part of the film "Into the Unknown." His bikes make a number of appearances in his Instagram feed.
Yoenis Cespedes, 30; Outfielder, New York Mets
Yoenis Cespedes made headlines during spring training earlier this year because he found it the perfect time to show off his stable of cars and super cars. When you've got a contract for $75 million and a penchant for the extreme, you end up with a bunch of vehicles that would put any Saudi prince to shame. His recently sold his favorite toy, a Lamborghini Aventador with a flame-spitting exhaust, claiming NYC roads were too crappy to be able to enjoy driving it.
C.J. Wilson, 35; Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels and owner of C.J. Wilson Racing
C.J. Wilson's primary occupation - pitching for the Los Angeles Angels - funds his secondary passion - racing. His team competes in IMSA events with Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports and has entered everything from the Daytona 24 to the Monterey Grand Prix. Wilson doesn't drive in those bigger challenges, though he does personally own a Viper that will eat most Ferraris.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 41; Driver, #88 car, Hendrick Motorsports
He may not be the best driver in NASCAR, but one out of every five marketing dollars spent on NASCAR is spent on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. If that’s not moving the needle, what does? Since the death of his father in 2001, Junior has been the most popular and, arguably, the only ubiquitous race car driver, in the United States. Worship Tony Stewart, respect Jimmie Johnson, and doff your cap to Kyle Busch, but always bow to Junior.
Gene Haas 63; Owner, Stewart-Haas Racing and Haas F1
When Gene Haas and Tony Stewart joined forces and formed Stewart-Haas Racing, it was instantly a top-tier Sprint Cup contender—powered by a Rick Hendrick engine and piloted by a national NASCAR treasure. No so assured is the success of the Haas F1 team, which this year debuted the first American-run cars in decades. Running a two-car F1 team can cost as much as $500 million, and, historically, it’s a story that always ends in epic failure—at least for Yanks. If Haas can pull this off (and so far, he’s exceeding all expectations), it’ll be a massive step forward for America in motorsports.
Brian France, 53; CEO and Chairman of NASCAR
Declaring the death of NASCAR is a popular pastime: ratings are down, attendance is down, no one cares about rednecks and their cars. And yet, there it is every Sunday, creaky old NASCAR pulling 5 million TV viewers on a hot, sports-crowded afternoon. Say what you will about his politics, his integrity, or his sport (we happen to love it), but France—who inherited the family business from his father, who inherited it from his father—still puts cars in front of more eyeballs than just about anyone else in sports.
Alex Vega, 41; Owner of Auto Firm in Miami, Florida
Alex Vega's name is probably mentioned in pro locker rooms across the country nearly as much as Drew Rosenhaus. Vega's responsible for customizing cars for hundreds of top athletes and cites the stadium and arena parking lots as his sole form of advertising. Whenever someone pulls in with one of his creations, his phone rings from teammates wanting something similar.
Floyd Mayweather, 39; Retired boxing champion
Floyd Mayweather collects rare, one-off cars not because he enjoys each individual marque, but because he wants to say he's got the most expensive collection. Right now it's hovering around $20 million and Mayweather is looking to add another $10 million worth of exotic sheet metal. Even his run-of-the-mill vehicles require a six-figure upgrade before entering one of his many garages. His latest Jeep Wrangler underwent a $150,000 overhaul that included custom seats made from crocodile. The cost for the material? $21,000.
Ken Block, 48; Global Rallycross Driver, Hoonigan Racing Division; founder, D.C. Shoes
Is Ken Block a successful professional World Rally and Rallycross Championship driver, a team owner (Hoonigan Racing Division), an apparel executive (Block is a co-founder and chief brand officer of D.C. Shoes), or a marketing genius (his Gymkhana video series has hundreds of millions of views on YouTube)? The answer, of course, is yes. The multi-hyphenate's household-name status and influence over both youth culture and its vast ocean of dollars—name another driver who makes everyday, affordable rides like Ford Fiestas and Focuses look like the coolest cars on the planet—could have easily carved spots for him on a couple other influencer lists, like Business and Celebrity.
Lewis Hamilton, 31; Formula One race car driver
He’s young, he’s rich, he came from nothing and built an empire based on his prickly charisma and unnerving talent at outdriving the world’s racing elite at 200 miles per hour. Hamilton, with 43 F1 wins and three championships, has a net worth of $200 million, more than 3 million Twitter followers, and as many haters as fans. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story: there is no one else in the world of sports—any sport—who can move the needle in automotive like Lewis.
Coming tomorrow, The Drive's top ten most influential celebrities in the world of cars.