Cup Champion 1951 and 1953
Hometown: Olivia, NC
Richard Petty gave high praise to Herb Thomas upon his induction into the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“He was as good as they come,” Petty said. “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.”
NASCAR historian Buz McKim echoed Petty’s sentiments saying, ‘He (Herb Thomas) might have had probably the most natural talent of nearly anyone in the early days of the sport. The minute he got behind the wheel, he was phenomenal.”
Herbert Watson Thomas was born in the small town of Olivia, North Carolina in 1923. He farmed, worked at a saw mill and eventually started racing as a hobby.
When Bill France began organizing races under the newly formed NASCAR, Thomas saw the possibilities and decided to pursue a career in racing.
Thomas raced as an owner/driver and put most of his winnings back into his cars. In his first full season of competition in 1950, Thomas captured his first victory at Martinsville Speedway.
His career took off in 1951 when he began driving what would come to be known as the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet.” Thomas also joined up with the legendary Smokey Yunick and began a legendary partnership.
Thomas was one of the most successful drivers of his era. Although he only drove for seven full seasons, his list of accomplishments speaks volumes.
Herb Thomas was the first driver to win two Cup Championships, the first owner/driver to win a championship and the first three-time winner of the historic Darlington Southern 500.
He earned two championships in 1951 and 1953, finished second in the point standings in 1952 and 1954 and finished fifth in 1955.
Thomas won 48 times in 228 starts giving him a winning percentage of 21.05. His winning percentage set a record which remains unbroken today.
He retired from racing at the end of the 1962 season and went back to tobacco farming. Thomas also owned a trucking company which he operated on a part time basis.
He passed away on August 9, 2000 after a heart attack, at the age of 77.
In racing and in life Herb Thomas always gave 100 percent. The legacy he left for his family was not all about trophies but more about life lessons.
“Most of what I know about his racing, I learned from my Grandma Helen,” his grandson, Chris, told me. “You would have never known he was a NASCAR driver simply because he just did not talk about those days much. You did know that he was a very hard working farmer who expected the best. I think he wanted to be remembered for being the best that he could be at everything he did.”
1951 Cup champion
1953 Cup champion
1957 Recipient of the Buddy Schuman Award
1965 Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame
1992 Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame
1994 Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
1998 Named one of NASCAR’s “50 Greatest Drivers”
2010 Nominee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame
2011 Nominee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame
2012 Nominee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame
2013 Inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame