The Best and Worst Race-Winning Trophies in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series
Let's have some fun with this. (So don't take too much offense if your favorite track lands on the wrong side of the list.)
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware, this weekend, it's a great time to pay homage to Miles the Monster. Dover is a demanding concrete track one mile in circumference that long ago earned the nickname the "Monster Mile" and started handing out perhaps the most impressive trophy in the sport.
But is it the best? And which tracks sometimes have handed out the worst trophies in recent years?
Read on to find out our take on the best and worst race-winning trophies NASCAR has to offer in Sprint Cup these days.
OK, we get it.
It's Texas, and Texas has cowboys. But a pair of boots on a block of wood is the best you can do?
Eddie Gossage, track president at Texas Motor Speedway, is arguably the most creative promoter in the sport these days and is due lots of credit for that. The time he brought a live monkey to a news conference to promote a race is tough to beat for pure entertainment.
That's why we know he can do better than boots on a block of wood. (And while you're at it, give the cowboy hat and six-shooters a rest in Victory Lane...it just looks, well, kind of goofy and over the top.)
Darlington Raceway is one of the tracks most steeped in NASCAR history.
The trophy for the Southern 500 represents that. It oozes class and tradition, just the way it should.
It's large enough without being too gawdy, and photographs of past winners are etched around the base. Honestly, it's perfect for a historic race at a historic place.
Please take note that even though the latest Southern 500 had a primary sponsor and said sponsor was represented on the top of the trophy, they didn't go crazy with it and kept it classy. That can't be said for some of the other trophies that have been handed out lately.
It seems the trophy given out at Pocono Raceway hasn't changed in years.
Maybe that's not always such a great thing, though.
Basically, it looks like an eagle perched on the top of a long cylindrical aluminum pipe. It's pretty big, but let's be brutally blunt here: It looks sort of like something you might find in your great-grandfather's attic or maybe in a yard sale in an older neighborhood.
We'll go one step further. It's kind of boring, like too many of the races at the track where it's handed out.
Best: New Hampshire
Even though a more traditional trophy is also handed out to race winners at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the giant lobster really has become the star of the Victory Lane show there. Track president Jerry Gappens does a great job finding absolutely the largest lobster around, and yes, it gets shipped to the race winner after the fact.
Provided by Makris Lobster and Steak House in nearby Concord, New Hampshire, Jimmie Johnson was the first to claim one and seemed absolutely stunned when Gappens delivered it during his Victory Lane celebration in 2010.
Ever wonder what exactly happens to it later?
According to BonAppetit.com (via Fox Sports), after posing with the race winner for photographs, people from Makris pressure cook the lobster and take out about six pounds of meat, flash freeze it, package it and send it off to the winning race team's shop. Then a taxidermist "reassembles the shell, repaints it to look like an uncooked lobster, and mounts it as a trophy," which is then shipped to the winning driver as a trophy that is sure to be the talk of the next party at the driver's house.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is absolutely one of the best race tracks in NASCAR. It's fun to watch a race there, and the folks who run it couldn't be nicer.
So it hurts to say this, but the trophy awarded to the winning drivers there is...what, exactly?
It looks like part dumbbell, part World War II-era satellite phone. It certainly does not seem to be an improvement over the older trophy that used to go to winners of what is now the Coca-Cola 600—one that seemed to more accurately reflect the rich history of the track.
For a place also steeped in tradition and located just outside the city that now houses the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it seems logical that perhaps the trophy should be representative of that and at least provoke a response other than "Huh? What is that?"
Everyone in NASCAR wants a Martinsville grandfather clock. That would please the late H. Clay Earles, the founder of Martinsville Speedway and the grandfather of current track president Clay Campbell.
Back in the mid-1960s, Earles wanted to start giving away a unique trophy to winners of the spring and fall races held annually at his track, and he turned to the nearby Ridgeway Clocks company just three miles down the road in Ridgeway, Virginia, to get the job done.
Although the company was acquired by the Howard Miller Corp. in 2004 and the clocks are now actually made in Zeeland, Michigan, they remain among the most coveted of trophies in the sport.
"I don't know how many times I've been in Victory Lane, and the first thing that's out of a driver's mouth when he gets out of the car, he looks at me and says, 'Where's my clock?' They really, really like it," Campbell said, via the Greensboro News & Record's Nick Gueguen in 2013.
The first NASCAR driver to win one was Fred Lorenzen, who was just recently voted into the Hall of Fame, when he was in the midst of a streak of four Martinsville wins in a row from 1963 to 1965. Darrell Waltrip owns 12 of them, and Jimmie Johnson (pictured above with wife Chandra and daughter Genevieve) owns eight.
When Johnson won a special clock celebrating the track's 60th anniversary in 2007, it was valued at more than $11,000.
When race sponsors, which usually vary from year to year at most tracks, are too prominently featured on a trophy, the end result oftentimes is one to forget.
Such was the case with the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in September 2012. Yes, the Geico Gecko is cute and all that, but the little fella looked like a creepy, poor-man's Godzilla trying to stand tall on the trophy race winner Brad Keselowski (pictured above) took home that day.
One can only imagine Keselowski waking up in the middle of the night at his home to find the Geico Gecko staring at him and what that must feel like.
At least the track didn't go with the sponsor's other popular pitchman at the time, the Geico Caveman, even though he was indeed in attendance at the race (and was nearly late because his prosthetic face got lost along with some other luggage during his flight in from the West Coast).
If you'e a NASCAR fan and you've never been to Dover International Speedway, you need to go—if only to see the 46-foot Monster Monument that towers over the main entrance to the track.
It doesn't hurt that Miles the Monster, the track's mascot, also lurks in the vicinity of the outstanding Dover Downs Hotel and Casino that is part of the track facility. Fans—as well as media and even many NASCAR participants—can stay at the hotel and casino and walk to and from the track each day on race weekend.
And when the race is over, a smaller version of Miles the Monster is handed out in trophy form to the race winner. As you can see with Tony Stewart (pictured above), anyone can look good standing next to the Miles the Monster trophy, one of the coolest and most unique in all of NASCAR.
Again, love the track and love the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But when the sponsor gets to run wild with the design of a trophy, this is what you end up with: a giant wrench, or vise grips, or whatever kind of tool it was that loomed over race winner Matt Kenseth's (pictured above) victory celebration in August 2013.
What's next? A giant hammer?
This is yet another track with too much going for it in terms of tradition and great racing to be going away from trophies that fail to reflect all that good stuff.
Best: Daytona 500
Miles the Monster notwithstanding, no winning trophy surpasses the elegant beauty of the Harley J. Earl Trophy handed out to the winner of the Daytona 500 each year.
It is named after Harley Earl, who served as the second commissioner of NASCAR. Earl has long been recognized as the designer of the Firebird I prototype that adorns the top of the trophy. Bill France Sr., who founded NASCAR, named the trophy after Earl as a sign of respect.
And no, the race winner doesn't get to take this hefty piece of hardware home. It is kept on display each year at Daytona International Speedway, while a much smaller replica is given to the winner to take home.
In fact, it generally is removed from its DIS display case only once a year—to be handed out and hoisted in Victory Lane by the winner of the 500. It stands about four feet tall, is five feet wide and is the same triangular tri-oval shape of the 2.5-mile track itself.
Don't feel too bad for the race winners, though. Since 1998, the "miniature" replica trophies they get to take home still stand 18 inches tall, 22 inches wide and 12 inches deep, and they weigh 54 pounds.
Unless otherwise noted, information for all slides was obtained firsthand by the writer.
Joe Menzer has written two books about NASCAR, and now writes about it and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.