2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame: Herb Thomas at a glance
Monday, Feb. 04, 2013
Born: April 6, 1923, Olivia.
Died: Aug. 9, 2000, Sanford, of a heart attack at age 77.
Family: Wife Helen (deceased), sons Jerry (deceased), Victor and Joel.
• Started NASCAR’s first race in what was to become the Cup series on June 19, 1949, at Charlotte Speedway, a three-quarter-mile dirt track. The sawmill worker and trucker finished 29th among a 33-car field.
• Scored first of his 48 triumphs in what then was NASCAR’s Grand National division on Oct. 15, 1950, at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, finishing a lap ahead of runner-up Lee Petty.
• Won the second Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, NASCAR’s first big paved track, on Sept. 3, 1951, finishing a lap ahead of runner-up Jesse James Taylor. Thomas drove the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet,” the No. 92 he was to help make famous.
• Captured the ’51 series championship as an owner-driver, winning seven of 34 starts and posting 18 top-10 finishes to edge Fonty Flock for the title.
• Won eight of 32 starts in 1952, tying champion Tim Flock, Fonty’s brother, for the most victories.
• Became the first two-time champion by winning 12 of 37 races during 1953 and placing among the top 10 31 times.
• Experienced a horrid crash on May 1, 1955, at Charlotte Speedway, a three-fourths mile dirt track. His car He flipped several times and was thrown from the car. Thomas suffered a broken leg, severe bruises, a concussion, cuts on an arm and shoulder injuries. Doctors predicted Thomas would be sidelined for six months. However, he vowed to return sooner.
• Thomas was injured in an eight-car crash Oct. 23, 1956, during a 100-mile race at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, a half-mile dirt layout in Shelby. He suffered a fractured skull and other critical injuries. The accident essentially ended his racing career.
• Record lists 48 victories in 230 starts, a winning rate of 20.8 percent, second-best all-time to Tim Flock’s 20.9 percent.
• Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame at Darlington in 1965.
• Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega, Ala., in 1994.
• Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
Elected posthumously to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte in June 2012.
Retired Observer motorsports writer and ThatsRacin.com contributor Tom Higgins on Herb Thomas:
I first saw him: At Darlington Country Club during his NMPA Hall of Fame induction Sept. 4, 1965. “I’m very surprised,” said a smiling Thomas. “I thought people had forgotten me.”
First impression: A quiet and quite humble man.
What people might not know about him: After leaving NASCAR, Thomas formed and operated a small trucking company in the Sanford area.
My favorite memory of him: His absolute delight in being welcomed back by peers that ’65 Labor Day weekend at Darlington.
Most memorable quote: “Winning the ’51 championship was the best part of my driving career. The first of anything is always the best. I ran with some of the best drivers ever – Lee Petty, Buck Baker and the Flock brothers. I liked racing with all these guys and never had trouble with any of them. We raced hard and had a good time doing it.”