(Note: This release is part of a series in advance of the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, N.C. on Feb. 8, broadcast live at 7:30 p.m. ET on SPEED, Motor Racing Network Radio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood are the five 2013 inductees. This installment spotlights two-time premier series champion driver Herb Thomas. Click here to download and listen to a special NASCAR Hall of Fame podcast on Herb Thomas with historian Buz McKim.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 28, 2013) – Take it from the King. Herb Thomas stood tall in an era when the stock in stock car truly defined what NASCAR’s pioneers raced.
“He was as good as they come,” said Richard Petty. “There have been very few guys who had more confidence in what he could do than Herb. He was so strong-minded that he ‘willed’ his wins and what he was doing on the track.
“He was going to beat the guys on the track no matter what was going on. That was his mind set.”
High praise indeed from a driver whose father, Lee, battled door to door with Thomas and traded NASCAR championships with him. Both Pettys, father and son, are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Thomas is due to be inducted into the hall on Friday, Feb. 8, along with fellow NASCAR premier series champions Buck Baker and Rusty Wallace; championship owner Cotton Owens and innovative crew chief, mechanic and engine builder Leonard Wood.
Thomas, born into a farming family in Olivia, N.C. not far from where North Carolina Motor Speedway would be built, was NASCAR’s first two-time champion. He captured premier series titles in 1951 and 1953 and finished second in two other seasons including 1954, Lee Petty’s first of three championship years.
Thomas, who died in 2000 at the age of 77, won 48 races between 1951 and 1956 – establishing a record winning percentage of 21.05 percent over a 228-race career. He ranks 13th among all-time NASCAR premier series winners. Thomas won three of the first six Southern 500s at Darlington Raceway.
“It’s win or bust,” Thomas once said. “Second place is never good enough.”
Thomas caught the racing bug in 1947 when he attended a modified race in Greensboro, N.C., with a group of friends. He bought one shortly thereafter but never had much success with the car. Thomas’ son, Victor Herbert Thomas, guessed that his father honed his driving skills behind the wheel of a dump truck hauling dirt over winding back roads to Ft. Bragg, N.C., during World War II.
“Daddy came from farming; he never was associated with the moonshine bunch,” he said of his father, who cut timber and operated a saw mill.
Although he won in a variety of cars, Thomas forever will be remembered as the driver of the No. 92 Fabulous Hudson Hornet powered by engines built by Smokey Yunick, owner of the self-proclaimed “Best Damn Garage” in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Thomas, who had won races earlier in the season driving a Plymouth and an Oldsmobile, switched to a factory-supported Hudson Motor Car Co. effort in mid-1951. The Hornet featured a high-torque inline six cylinder engine and – according to Thomas – a low center of gravity which gave the car a performance edge.
The biggest edge, however, appeared to be the driver himself.
“The tracks were rough, dusty and weren’t hard-packed (clay). You had to learn to drive around the holes,” said Hershel McGriff, who competed against Thomas in 1954 and won five races driving an Oldsmobile for Frank Christian. “He was real competitive.”
Baker frequently was quoted as saying: “The one guy you have to beat is Herb Thomas.”
Thomas won seven times in 1951 – five of the victories in his Hudson – and won the championship by a comfortable margin over Fonty Flock and became NASCAR’s first driver/owner titleholder. He posted eight wins a year later but finished second to Tim Flock, who also drove a Hudson.
Thomas won 12 times in both 1953 and 1954 as he and Lee Petty swapped championships. By 1955 Hudson’s factory presence was gone and Thomas switched to Chevrolets and Buicks. He crashed in May’s race at Charlotte Speedway, a 0.750-mile dirt track suffering injuries that sidelined Thomas through most of the summer. Yet Thomas returned to win the Southern 500 for the third time and finished fifth in points despite missing 19 races.
The 1956 season was Thomas’ last as a full-time competitor. He won five times including three consecutive victories in Portland, Ore., Eureka, Calif. and Merced, Calif. at the wheel of Carl Kiekhafer’s No. 300B Chrysler 300. His crew chief was current NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Ray Fox.
Thomas raced three more times in 1957 and 1962 before retiring for good. “I used to pass everyone in the turns. Now they pass me in the turns. It’s time to hang it up,” he said. “There’s no use running if you can’t be first.”
Thomas’ son, Victor, recalls his father as being quiet and never one to brag about his accomplishments.
“He always respected others and wasn’t a talker but if he said something, it would be the truth,” he said. “He never thought of himself as being a NASCAR champion. He was just a regular guy; a humble man.”
Induction ceremonies will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET in the Crown Ball Room at the Charlotte Convention Center which is directly connected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The event is the first half of NASCAR Acceleration Weekend followed on Saturday, Feb. 9 by NASCAR Preview 2013. Tickets for the ceremonies start at $45 (available at www.nascaracceleration.com) and the NASCAR Hall of Fame box office. In addition, a $20 ticket will gain fans all-day access into NASCAR Preview 2013 and the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Saturday, Feb. 9.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for one of North America’s premier sports. NASCAR races are broadcast in more than 175 countries and in 25 languages. In the U.S., races are broadcast on FOX, TNT, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2, SPEED, Motor Racing Network, Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM Radio. NASCAR fans are among the most brand loyal in all of sports, and as a result more Fortune 500 companies participate in NASCAR than any other sport. NASCAR consists of three national series (the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series), four regional series, and one local grassroots series, as well as three international series. Also part of NASCAR is GRAND-AM Road Racing, known for its competition on road courses with multiple classes of cars. NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races at 100 tracks in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. Based in Daytona Beach, Fla., NASCAR has offices in eight cities across North America. The next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race will be The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona on Feb. 16 on FOX. For more information and a complete schedule, visit www.nascar.com. Follow NASCAR on www.facebook.com/NASCAR or on Twitter: @NASCAR.
About NASCAR Hall of Fame
Conveniently located in uptown Charlotte, N.C., the 150,000-square-foot NASCAR Hall of Fame is an interactive, entertainment attraction honoring the history and heritage of NASCAR. The high-tech venue, designed to educate and entertain race fans and non-fans alike, opened May 11, 2010 and includes artifacts, hands-on exhibits, 278-person state-of-the-art theater, Hall of Honor, Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, NASCAR Hall of Fame Gear Shop and NASCAR Media Group-operated broadcast studio. The venue is opened 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. seven days a week and has an attached parking garage on Brevard Street. The five-acre site also includes a privately developed 19-story office tower and 102,000- square-foot expansion to the Charlotte Convention Center, highlighted by a 40,000 square-foot ballroom. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is owned by the City of Charlotte, licensed by NASCAR and operated by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. www.NASCARHall.com.