Use the words “iconic photo” and “North Wilkesboro” in the same breath, and most drivers know the one you’re talking about.
Dale Jarrett certainly does.
It’s the one that captures the fronstretch of a bittersweet day at North Wilkesboro Speedway. It features a young Jeff Gordon kneeling at the start-finish line. Dale Earnhardt is pictured sitting in the row behind him. Every other driver in the entry list of that September 1996 race — the last time the NASCAR Cup Series visited North Wilkesboro Speedway before leaving and almost never coming back — was photographed, too.
“You know, I haven’t looked at the picture recently,” Jarrett told The Charlotte Observer earlier this month. “I came across it, it’s probably been a year and a half ago.”
Jarrett found it cleaning out his office, he said, and felt a few questions surface about competitors he hadn’t seen in a while:
I haven’t seen Hut Stricklin in forever. What’s he up to?
Is Matt Kenseth still running marathons?
When was the last time I saw Bobby Hillin?
He’s thought about those questions more recently, just as the NASCAR All-Star Race is just days away from descending on North Wilkesboro Speedway on Sunday.
“We’re all different in what we do and what we chose to do after all of that,” Jarrett said. “I was fortunate. I had a job right there waiting and ready, and I’m still in that side of it with the broadcasting. But it’s not for everybody. So you wonder what they do and what’s keeping them busy.”
The Observer did some digging to figure out what those drivers in that iconic picture have been up to since they’ve left NASCAR. Some ended up becoming racing legends. Other have since passed away. And some are living new lives across the country.
Here is a look at where all the drivers from that last NASCAR Cup Series race at North Wilkesboro Speedway are today — or close to today, at least. The drivers are ordered by their finishing position from that Sept. 1996 race.
The Last 37 From North Wilkesboro: Where are they now?
P1, Jeff Gordon. Since his North Wilkesboro win, Gordon has been everywhere — from hosting Saturday Night Live, to working for Fox Sports as a racing analyst, to assuming the role of vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, where he currently works. He wrapped up his NASCAR Cup Series career with 93 wins (third-most all-time) and four Cup championships, and his star power helped thrust NASCAR into its golden years in the late 90s and early 2000s before retiring in 2015.
P2, Dale Earnhardt. He might’ve finished P2 at North Wilkesboro in 1996, but many would say Earnhardt is the most transcendent driver to ever live. “The Intimidator” won seven Cup championships and 76 Cup Series wins with Richard Childress Racing. He tragically died after an accident at the 2001 Daytona 500 — a moment that will never fade from NASCAR lore. The Earnhardt name is still very much present in NASCAR. His son, Dale Jr., is a NASCAR Hall of Famer in his own right (and might have been the single-biggest influencer in bringing NASCAR back to North Wilkesboro Speedway), and his daughter, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, is the CEO of JR Motorsports.
P3, Dale Jarrett. Like Gordon and Earnhardt, Jarrett is a Hall of Famer, too. He was inducted in 2014 thanks to his 32 NASCAR Cup victories, his three Daytona 500 wins and his 1999 Cup Series championship. He is now a racing analyst for NBC, where he has been since 2015. Jarrett’s son, Ned, is also a Cup Series champion — making the Jarretts one of the few father-son combinations to win NASCAR’s highest honor.
P4, Jeff Burton. An NBC analyst, a part of NASCAR’s all-time 75 best drivers — Burton won’t soon be forgotten in NASCAR. “The Mayor” earned 21 Cup victories and has been an important figure in the ongoing conversation about driver safety in the sport. Burton’s son, Harrison, is currently running full-time in the Cup Series.
P5, Terry Labonte. They called him both “Iceman” and “Iron Man” — yes, NASCAR had a ton of nicknames back in the day — and for good reason: Labonte recroded 655 consecutive starts in NASCAR’s top series and won Cup championships in 1984 and 1996. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. His brother, Bobby, is also a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and is also a Cup Series champion. According to a 2022 story in Autoweek, Labonte toggles living between his native Texas and North Carolina, where he co-owns a Chevrolet dealership in Greensboro. He also runs a marketing company.
P6, Rick Mast. Mast never earned a Cup win, but he ran in 364 races over 15 years and was a popular figure in NASCAR for years before an illness cut his driving career short. He did some announcing after he retired from racing in 2002, but after that he wanted to devote time to being a father of his daughters, Kaitie and Sarah, and son, Ricky. He still regularly comments on NASCAR races on Twitter and maintains a sharp sense of humor.
P7, Ricky Rudd. 33 years. 906 Cup races. 23 Cup wins. And over $44.5 million in earnings. Rudd won the 1977 Cup Series Rookie of the Year award and earned a best points finish of second in 1991. Per a story on NASCAR.com from 2021, Rudd is enjoying his days with his wife of nearly 50 years, Linda, and is putting his pilot’s license to good use.
P8, Bobby Hamilton. When Kevin Harvick announced his retirement earlier this year, one of the first stories he told was about a run-in he had with Bobby Hamilton. That “little spat,” Harvick said, turned the two into “great friends.” Safe to say: Hamilton is still well-known in NASCAR. Hamilton finished his career with four Cup Series wins before retiring in 2005. He passed away in January 2007 in his home in Tennessee.
P9, Mark Martin. Kyle Busch invoked Martin’s name not too long ago when calling out the younger generation of drivers who drive “without respect.” Ushering in an era of clean, respectful racing is his lasting — and honorable — legacy. (That and him being the best driver to never win a championship.) Martin was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017 after notching 96 wins across NASCAR’s three national series, which is seventh on the all-time list. He’s now living a luxurious retired life, he told Speed Sport in November 2022, and he considers “getting out in my motorcoach and seeing the country” the “biggest thing that I have done” since retiring from racing in 2013.
P10, Rusty Wallace. He snuck into the Top 10 in North Wilkesboro’s last Cup race in 1996, but he was triumphantly inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013. He was the 1989 Cup Series champion and won 55 Cup races and was the older brother of Cup drivers Mike and Kenny. Wallace serves as Lead Analyst for MRN (Motorsports Radio Network) and is a board member of The NASCAR Foundation, according to his personal website.
P11, Sterling Marlin. Marlin was honored as one of NASCAR’s greatest 75 drivers last month. He made 748 Cup starts between 1976 and his final season of 2009 and notched 10 Cup wins, including two Daytona 500 titles (in back-to-back years). Marlin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012 but still finds ways to race when he can. In 2019, he was supposed to run in a Late Model at Nashville Fairgrounds before he broke his foot jumping off a tractor on the farm he manages in Columbia, Tennessee.
P12, Michael Waltrip. You’ve probably seen his segment on Fox — the Gridwalk with Michael Waltrip — on Cup race days. If you haven’t, you need to. Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 champion and 33-year NASCAR Cup Series driver who now helps out with Fox’s NASCAR coverage. He last raced in the 2017 Daytona 500.
P13, Bobby Labonte. He got his first break as a full-time Cup driver at 28 — and then went on to have a legendary career. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020 thanks to 21 Cup Series wins and a Cup championship in 2000. According to an Autoweek story that ran in April, Labonte has battled kidney cancer and suffered a ruptured appendix in the last two years, but he’s still deeply involved with racing: He’s competing in the Tony Stewart-founded Superstar Racing Experience series this summer and also drives a Modified. He also owns a marketing company and a speedway in Salisbury.
P14, Morgan Shepherd. Shepherd notched four Cup Series wins and 15 Xfinity Series victories in a career that saw over 1,000 national series starts. Three of his four Cup wins came at Atlanta. Shepherd, 81, was diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease in 2020 and attended his first race in-person for the first time in years at Martinsville Speedway in April.
P15, Kenny Wallace. If you’ve run into Wallace at all in recent years, you’ve seen his huge smile and probably heard him say something to the effect of “I love life.” The effervescent retired driver, who has 344 Cup Series starts and 27 Top 10s to his name, is still heavily involved in NASCAR and racing in general. He has his own podcast. He has a large following on social media. He is competing in the Tony Stewart-founded Superstar Racing Experience series this summer — and he was integral in reviving Race Day Live, a beloved prerace show that will air during six races ahead on the 2023 NASCAR schedule.
In two sentences or less…
P16, Hut Stricklin. The member of the vaunted “Alabama Gang” was diagnosed with a rare medical condition at 46 and thus had to step away from racing early. That said, as of 2020, he was still involved in racing as a warehouse manager for Stock Car Steel & Aluminum in Mooresville, N.C.
P17, Johnny Benson Jr. Benson occasionally still races Super Modified events.
P18, Ken Schrader. Schrader drove in the Cup Series for 30 seasons before retiring in 2013. He now runs Ken Schrader Racing and as recently as 2022 ran in SRX.
P19, Ted Musgrave. The 2005 NASCAR Truck Series champion is the owner of Ted Musgrave Motorsports.
P20, Jimmy Spencer. The former driver and team owner was nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” and still persists as one of the few drivers who have won a race in all three NASCAR national series. A 2017 story from NBC Sports said he was settling into life as a grandfather, and a 2021 podcast appearance on the Dale Jr. Download shows that his sense of humor and memory from his racing days is still ripe.
P21, Bill Elliott. NASCAR’s most popular driver 16 times in a row is a father to Chase — now the series’ most popular driver, go figure — and was in the broadcast booth in Darlington to help FOX call the race. He also ran in two races in the SRX 2022 season.
P22, Ricky Craven. After an 11-year career in the Cup Series, Craven went the broadcasting route, first for ESPN then for FOX, where he still works. He narrated this past weekend’s hype video ahead of the Goodyear 400 at Darlington.
P23, Brett Bodine. Bodine saw one win in his 18 years racing in the Cup Series. A 2022 story says he remains involved in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program.
P24, John Andretti. Andretti raced in all sorts of series, and his first Cup race was at North Wilkesboro in 1993. He died on Jan. 30, 2020.
P25, Lake Speed. According to his personal website, Speed is running Lake Speed Inc., which is headquartered out of his back yard in North Carolina.
P26, Joe Nemechek. The father of Xfinity Series driver John Hunter Nemechek, Joe is currently a driver and owner of NEMCO Motorsports.
P27, Darrell Waltrip. One of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen spent a lot of time after retiring from driving in the broadcast booth, famously coining the phrase, “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, Let’s Go Racin’ Boys.’” He retired from broadcasting in 2019, but occasionally rejoins the venture, including when he returned to the FOX broadcast booth ahead of the April 2022 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
P28, Jeremy Mayfield. Mayfield operates a car cleaning business and still races in various series, including in the Grand National Super Series. He won a race in that series in April.
P29, Dave Marcis. The Wisconsin native who ran in 883 races before retiring in 2002 now lives in Asheville, N.C., with his wife, per a 2020 NBC Sports story.
P30, Geoff Bodine. Bodine is a vital part of the dynasty Rick Hendrick built at Hendrick Motorsports. (Just ask Kyle Larson.) He now resides in Malabar, Fla., and visited Darlington last weekend after being named one of the sport’s best 75 drivers.
P31, Kyle Petty. The son of the winningest Cup driver in NASCAR history works as a commentator for NBC Sports. He recently wrote a memoir.
P32, Jeff Green. The 2000 Busch Series champion announced his retirement in 2021.
P33, Robert Pressley. After his racing career, Pressley turned into a restaurateur — owner of Celebrity’s Hot Dogs in Buncombe, N.C. — and he was elected to his native city’s Board of Commissioners. He lost the seat in November.
P34, Wally Dallenbach Jr. The driver now runs a foundation called the Wally Dallenbach Jr. Foundation, which gives children who have lost a parent the opportunity to learn about the outdoors, per the foundation’s website. He still races as well.
P35, Bobby Hillin Jr. After retiring from full-time racing, Hillin went to work in the oil business. As of 2021 he was the principal co-founder of Marea Energy Partners.
P36, Ernie Irvan. After a Cup career that could’ve been longer but wasn’t due to injuries, Irvan now resides in Florida, per NASCAR.com.
P37, Derrike Cope. The 1990 Daytona 500 winner is interested in getting in a new form of racing even all these years later, according to a 2022 NASCAR.com story.