Selecting the top 25 drivers of all time no easy task

Let the debate begin.

With the help of a distinguished voting panel, ESPN.com has produced a stellar list of the top 25 race car drivers in history.

Positions 21 through 25 are revealed today, the first of a five-day countdown on the way to No. 1.

Who earned the coveted top spot? Well, you'll just have to wait until Friday when we pull up the curtain on our top five drivers of all time.

But enjoy the process with five new names each day. Or feel free to get riled up about the selections.

Oh, we know it's coming. Anytime you rank drivers, especially across racing disciplines as this list does, readers get testy. But that's part of the fun.

Racing fans tend to be an opinionated lot when you start listing one driver ahead of another. But somebody has to do it, so here we go.

First, a brief explanation about our methodology: It's pretty simple.

We asked the voters to list their top 25 drivers in order, considering any type of racer -- NASCAR, Formula One, Indy car, motorcycles, drag racing, sprint cars, etc.

Any person they felt deserved top-25 recognition for their racing accomplishments in any series, put them on the list.

The difficulty of that task is obvious. It's hard enough to list the top 25 in one series, much less across every type of racing discipline.

But we selected voters with some major street cred. The list includes writers and broadcasters who have spent the majority of their distinguished careers covering racing.

And we were fortunate to find some big-name racing stars who graciously were willing to help us. The résumé for our panel of 19 voters includes these accomplishments:

• Twenty NASCAR Cup championships among seven voters (five drivers and two crew chiefs)
• Thirteen Daytona 500 victories among three voters
• Five Indy 500 victories among two voters
• Six NHRA titles for one drag racing legend
• Seven Formula One victories for one voter
• One CART championship
• One IRL championship

All the voters and their credentials are listed today in an accompanying story, but the panel includes Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon and Kenny Bernstein, to name a few.

The votes were cast anonymously, so voters weren't required to reveal their selections. A few wanted readers to know which driver they ranked No. 1. Tony Stewart is quite proud of his top pick.

A couple of voters listed their No. 1 choice but didn't want to place the other 24 names in any particular order. We respected their wishes.

We also understood that some of the top names we asked to participate didn't want to vote.

Mario Andretti said he has been asked many times to rank drivers but always has politely refused because he just isn't comfortable rating drivers he competed against over the years.

We'll give you a sneak preview that won't shock anyone: Mario made our list. Here's another little hint about our list. Four of the voters also made the Top 25.

It's an exceptional group of racing greatness. Here are a few accomplishments and details from our 25 names as a collective:

• Ten F1 champions
• Eight Daytona 500 winners
• Eight IndyCar/Champ Car champions
• Seven Indy 500 winners
• Seven Cup champions
• Seven IROC champions
• Three NHRA champions
• One World of Outlaws champion

We'll pit our 25 against any other 25 racers you can name and take our chances.

But some incredible racers didn't make our list when all the votes were tallied. Check out these 20 names that came up short of our Top 25:

Bobby Allison, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr., Nelson Piquet, Kenny Bernstein, Jacky Ickx, Stirling Moss, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Graham Hill, Bobby Rahal, Jack Brabham, Lee Petty, Sebastien Bourdais, Rusty Wallace, Don Prudhomme, Ricky Carmichael, Junior Johnson, Ted Horn and Michael Andretti.

That list alone shows what an impossible task it was to pick only 25 names. All those outstanding racers received votes from our selectors, but not enough votes to crack the Top 25.

And there are some current drivers with championship credentials who could make this list in the future -- Jimmie Johnson, Helio Castroneves, Fernando Alonso and Tony Schumacher, to name four.

The five we reveal Monday beat them out, and these five have made motorsports history.

They include a sprint car driver who has no peers, the only man to hold the F1 and CART titles simultaneously, a three-time F1 champ, the first person to race a dragster at more than 200 mph and the first woman to win a major racing championship.

Hard to argue with those facts, but we know you will. It's all in the eyes of the beholder.

So check the record books, do the research, compile the statistics and make your own list.

Let the debate begin.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.