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ThatsRacin.com


No-use-for-2nd attitude drove Herb Thomas to NASCAR Hall of Fame

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Monday, Feb. 04, 2013

Herb Thomas didn’t dabble in running moonshine, he cut timber.

He trusted no one but himself to fine-tune his race cars.

And he had no use for second place.

Like many in his day, Thomas raced hard, worked harder and enjoyed both.

“Guys like Herb, Cotton Owens and Buck Baker built the foundation our sports stand on. They made enormous sacrifices in their personal and professional lives to get the sport up and running,” said former NASCAR champion and Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip. “They represent the beginning of the sport, and without a beginning, there would be no Hall of Fame.”

Thomas is one of five members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2013, slated for induction Friday night in Charlotte. Joining Thomas will be Owens, Baker, Leonard Wood and Rusty Wallace.

“He was as good as they come,” seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty said of Thomas. “There have been very few guys who had more confidence in what he could do than Herb.

“He was going to beat the guys on the track no matter what was going on.”

That, he did.

Thomas was born in 1923 into a farming family in Olivia – not far from where one of NASCAR’s iconic tracks, Rockingham Speedway, would be built more than 40 years later.

Thomas, who died during 2000 at age 77, was NASCAR’s first two-time champion in what is now the Sprint Cup Series. He won titles during 1951 and 1953 and finished second three times, including 1954, when he was beaten by Lee Petty, Richard’s father.

During his career from 1949 to 1962, Thomas won 48 races in 228 starts. He ranks 13th in Cup wins and won three of the first six Southern 500s at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

During his nearly decade-long career, Thomas ran a complete season of races once (1953). Even in winning the 1951 title, he ran in 34 of 41 events.

“Are those Rusty Wallace numbers? Are those Jeff Gordon numbers? No, but without 1951 and 1953 there would be no 2013,” said former Cup driver and Speed TV analyst Kyle Petty.

Thomas first became interested in racing after witnessing a 1947 modified race in Greensboro with a group of friends. He bought one shortly afterward but didn’t have much success.

Thomas’ first NASCAR start came in the Cup series’ first race – June 19, 1949, at the original Charlotte Speedway, a three-quarter-mile dirt track. He finished 29th among a 33-car field.

His first victory came more than a year later at Martinsville, Va., when he finished a lap ahead of runner-up Lee Petty.

“He built, worked on and drove his own cars,” said former Cup series crew chief Larry McReynolds. “The man was a one-stop shop.”

Thomas most frequently is remembered as the driver of the No. 92 “Fabulous Hudson Hornet,” which featured engines built by the legendary Smokey Yunick.

On Oct. 23, 1956, Thomas was seriously injured in an eight-car crash during a race at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Shelby. That essentially ended his racing career.

Thomas raced three more times in 1957 and 1962 before retiring.

The reason, Thomas said at the time, was simple.

“There’s no use running if you can’t be first.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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