Tim Flock Won Rainy Day Race In 1956

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 8/13/09

With rain delaying the last two NASCAR Cup events, the obvious question kept coming up over and over.

“When will NASCAR finally break out rain tires and run a Cup race in the rain?”

This became a natural question after last year’s Nationwide series at Montreal that was run in the rain.

Following that event, the NASCAR P.R. machine pumped out press releases touting it as the first ever NASCAR event to be run in the rain.

There’s only one problem with that statement – it’s false.

With wipers going and water coming from the tires, Tim Flock races his way to his 40th career Cup victory, and the first in NASCAR history in the rain.  This race came some 52 years prior to the NNWS event that NASCAR's PR conglomerate CLAIMS was the first event in the rain.

With wipers going and water coming from the tires, Tim Flock races his way to his 39th career Cup victory, and the first in NASCAR history in the rain. This race came some 52 years prior to the NNWS event that NASCAR's PR conglomerate CLAIMS was the first event in the rain.

In fact, this week marks the 53rd anniversary of the first NASCAR event to be run in the rain.

It was a Cup series event held at Road America, the winding 4.1 mile road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

It was run on August 12, 1956, and it was won by Georgia Racing Hall of Fame member Tim Flock.

There’s several reasons why this 258-mile event is historical, and even more why it shouldn’t be allowed to be glossed over and forgotten by the NASCAR Public Relations juggernaut.

Our story actually starts in February of 1955.

Tim Flock sat on the hood of a friend’s street car, watching practice runs on Daytona Beach’s famed measured mile.  After being flagged the winner of the 1954 Daytona Beach event, Flock had been disqualified due to what inspectors called a “carburetor modification”.

That ‘modification’ turned out to be solder placed on the screws of the butterfly shaft to keep them from vibrating loose.  It was another case of “Big Bill” France changing and making up the rules as he went along, and Flock, the 1952 Grand National (now Sprint Cup) champion decided enough was enough.

He quit on the spot, and went home to Atlanta to run a Pure Oil station.  Other than a four race stint in September of that year, Flock stuck to his guns and stayed out of a race car.

But in February of 1955, he let a friend convince him to travel back to Daytona for Speed Weeks.  As they sat there watching the cars run down the beach, Flock spotted a bright white Chrysler 300.

“Boy, if I had that car, I’d win that race again this year!” Tim said.

An angel must have been watching over Tim that day.  Standing nearby was Tommy Hagood, a local Mercury Outboard engine dealer.  Hagood recognized Flock, and took him to meet the owner of the car, Wisconsin millionaire Carl Kiekhaefer.

Flock would have one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history piloting Carl Kiekhaefer's Chryslers in 1955.  Photo courtesy Frances Flock

Flock would have one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history piloting Carl Kiekhaefer's Chryslers in 1955. Photo courtesy Frances Flock

Kiekhaefer had made his money in outboard engines, founding Mercury Marine.  He had decided auto racing, specifically stock cars, would be a good way to promote his business and his product.  And, just as with everything he did in his life, Kiekhaefer dedicated himself and his team to being the best.

Flock and Kiekhaefer joined forces, and won that Daytona Beach event after Fireball Roberts was disqualified.  In all, Flock and Kiekhaefer won 18 of 39 races that year, along with the 1955 points title.  Of those wins, 11 came after starting on the pole, and 11 times Flock led every lap en route to the win.

When the 1956 season got underway, it looked like more of the same for the Kiekhaefer team.  With Buck Baker now onboard as a teammate, Flock started off his season with a win at Hickory Motor Speedway and then picked up his second win at Daytona Beach.

But behind the scenes, Tim Flock was miserable.

Kiekhaefer was a stern task master and was determined to have his own way.  If the team did not perform to his expectations, there was hell to pay.

The stress of working for Kiekhaefer was taking its toll on Flock.  He couldn’t sleep at night, and he was losing weight.

By 1956, the stress from racing for Kiekhafer had affected Flock's health, including giving him ulcer problems.  Photo courtesy Frances Flock

By 1956, the stress from racing for Kiekhafer had affected Flock's health, including giving him ulcer problems. Photo courtesy Frances Flock

Add to that the feeling Flock had that he was getting team orders from Kiekhaefer.  At Daytona, with six team cars in the race, Kiekhaefer held up a board to tell Flock to slow down.  At Phoenix, Flock had a two lap lead when Kiekhaefer called him into the pits.  As Flock was held there, his teammates, Frank Mundy and Buck Baker, went by twice.  Baker would win, with Mundy placing second.  Flock would finish third.

Following a big win at North Wilkesboro, Flock had finally had enough.  He quit the team.

Flock became persona non-gratis to Kiekhaefer.  He hired Herb Thomas to take over the empty seat.

Flock, meanwhile, moved from seat to seat for the next few races.  When the tour reached the road course at Road America in August, he had landed a ride driving Bill Stroppe’s Mercury.

Kiekhaefer approached the race with a lot of pride.  He intended to show his home state just how accomplished his team was.

There was pride on the line for Flock too, who had yet to visit victory lane since leaving the Kiekhaefer team.

Kiekhaefer struck the first blow, with Baker qualifying his Chrysler 300 on the pole.  Speedy Thompson, also driving for Kiekhaefer, started fifth while Flock qualified sixth.

Carl Kiekhaefer was determined to win at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. But Tim Flock had other ideas.

Carl Kiekhaefer was determined to win at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. But Tim Flock had other ideas.

Rain plagued the start of the event.  With windshield wipers flapping, NASCAR started the 63-lap event.

After leading early, Flock dropped back in the field to see how his fellow drivers coped with the wet conditions.  Meanwhile, the Kiekhaefer team charged.  As the race wound on, Flock worked his way back up into contention.

As the laps ticked away, Flock found himself trailing only Thompson after Baker’s Chrysler faded.

That was when Tim Flock got his revenge.  With 10 laps left, Thompson’s engine detonated, handing the lead and the win to Flock.

It was the 39th win of his Grand National career.  But more important than that, he had beat Carl Kiekhaefer’s best to get it.

“To come up here in Kiekhaefer’s back yard and win this race is special to me,” Tim said to reporters after the race. “This was one he wanted badly, and I won it!”

Flock with Bill Stroppe and Miss Wisconsin in victory lane at Road America.

Flock with Bill Stroppe and Miss Wisconsin in victory lane at Road America.

The race really marked the beginning of the end for both men.  Flock would run 19 more Grand National events in his career before hanging up his helmet.  He would win his final career race in the convertible race at Daytona Beach in 1957 driving for Stroppe.

For Kiekhaefer, his teams would win seven more races and the 1956 Grand National championship after the embarrassment at Elkhart Lake.  But the crowds booed his cars for winning too much, and he left the sport after the end of the season.

So, despite what any NASCAR P.R. person bent on revisionist history may tell you, NASCAR had run a race in the rain long before last year’s Montreal event.

That historic footnote belongs to 1956 at Road America, and that win, with the sweet revenge it brought, belongs to two-time Grand National champ Tim Flock.

That’s a record nobody should be allowed to ignore.

Brandon Reed is the webmaster and editor for Georgia Racing History.com.


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