Title Chase Had Upside Down Ending In ’52


Down The Stretch

Fonty Flock (left) and Red Vogt (right) were a formidable driver-mechanic combination.

Fonty Flock (left) and Red Vogt (right) were a formidable driver-mechanic combination.

Herb Thomas recorded his fifth win of the year a week later at Wilson, NC with an average speed of just over 35 miles an hour.  Thomas had to navigate the track’s rough, rutted surface in a race that saw just 10 cars finish.

It was a Flock Brothers sweep of Oconeechee, as Fonty Flock matched brother Tim’s earlier win in the fall event at the North Carolina Speedway.  His crew, led by famed Atlanta mechanic Red Vogt, made only one pit stop during the event.

With two races to go, Tim Flock continued to hold the points lead.  But Thomas had been on a hot streak, grabbing wins at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro.  Tim led by 170 as the tour headed south to Georgia.

The Thomas name had both good and bad luck in Atlanta, as the tour went to the historic mile long Lakewood Fairgrounds track for what is still remembered as one of the strangest events in history.  Donald Thomas, 20-year-old brother of point contender Herb, became the youngest driver to win on the Grand National circuit with the win over second place Lee Petty.

However, don’t be deceived.

Herb Thomas took over the wheel of his brother’s Hudson with 12 laps to go after a broken axle sidelined the elder Thomas’ vehicle on the 86th lap.  Under the ‘52 points system, Thomas stood to still pick up points, even in the role of relief driver.   Herb piloted the car to victory.

However, Tim finished fourth in the event, and left Atlanta for the final event in West Palm Beach with a 194 point lead, meaning he only had to start the season finale to clinch his first Grand National title.

But I did say it had a Hollywood ending, didn’t I?

Tim Flock's day at Palm Beach came to an end after a flip when the right front axel broke on his Hudson. Photo courtesy the Marilynn Clinard collection

Tim Flock's day at Palm Beach came to an end after a flip when the right front axel broke on his Hudson. Photo courtesy the Marilynn Clinard collection

Tim started the final event in second place, along side Herb Thomas.  The 200-lap event got underway cleanly for Tim, and things looked good for the race.  He was the champion.

Then came lap 164, and a broken axle.

Tim said in an interview years later, “When you break an axle on the right side of a Hudson Hornet, it’d flip the car.  The wheel would get up under the wheel well, and actually throw the car end over end.”

Tim’s Hudson barrel rolled.  He exited the car unhurt, and received a standing ovation from the fans.

Tim Flock won his first title on his roof.

Tim said afterwards “I bet I’m the only driver to who has won the championship on his head!”

Herb Thomas went on to grab the victory, but fell 106 points short of Flock.

It was a banner year for Tim Flock.  He won eight of 33 starts, and for his efforts, Tim pocketed $22,890, a far cry from the 5 million dollar check handed to 2009 champ Jimmie Johnson.

And while Johnson may have many accolades to his racing career, there’s one thing he hasn’t done.

Tim Flock is still the only Sprint Cup Champion to win the title upside down, on his head.

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


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