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Herb Thomas

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Herb Thomas
Birthplace: Olivia, North Carolina
Born: April 6, 1923
Died: August 9, 2000
Cause of Death: Heart attack
Awards: 1951 Grand National Champion

1953 Grand National Champion

inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1994)

Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers (1998)

NASCAR Cup statistics
228 races run over 10 years.
Best Cup Position: 1st - 1953, 1953 (Grand National)
First Race: 1949 Charlotte Speedway (NASCAR's first race)
Last Race: 1962 North Wilkesboro Speedway
First Win: 1950 Martinsville Speedway
Last Win: 1956 Merced Fairgrounds
Wins Top Tens Poles
48 156 39
Herbert Watson Thomas (April 6, 1923–August 9, 2000) was a NASCAR pioneer who was one of the series' most successful drivers in the 1950's.

BackgroundEdit

Born in the small town of Olivia, North Carolina, Thomas originally worked as a farmer and also worked in a sawmill in the 1940's before his interest turned to auto racing.

NASCAR careerEdit

In 1949, Thomas took part in NASCAR's first Strictly Stock (the forerunner to the modern Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) race, and made 4 starts in the series' first year. The following year, he made 13 appearances in the series, now renamed the Grand National division, and scored his first career win at Martinsville Speedway in a self-owned Plymouth.

He started the 1951 season with moderate success in his Plymouth (plus one win in an Oldsmobile) before switching to a Hudson Hornet, at the suggestion of fellow driver Marshall Teague. Thomas won the Southern 500 rather handily in what was famously dubbed "The Fabulous Hudson Hornet", which would be the first of 6 wins he would earn in a two month span. His late charge helped him narrowly defeat Fonty Flock to win the Grand National championship. With help from crew chief Smokey Yunick, Thomas subsequently became the first owner/driver to take the championship in the process.

Pr09098

Herb Thomas (left) with Fonty Flock and Al Keller at Palm Beach, Florida fairgrounds (taken between 1952 and 1954), courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection

In 1952, Thomas and his Hornet were involved in a close championship race with another Flock, Fonty's younger brother Tim. The two drivers won 8 races in their respective Hudsons, but Flock came out on top at the end, in spite of another late season charge from Thomas.

He returned with a vengeance in 1953 and dominated the entire season, winning a series best 12 races en route to becoming the first two-time series champion. Thomas won 12 races again in 1954, including a second Southern 500 win, but he was beaten by a more consistent Lee Petty in the championship standings.

After 4 years of success in a Hudson, Thomas began driving Chevrolets and Buicks in races in 1955. He crashed heavily behind the wheel of a Buick at a race in Charlotte, forcing him to miss 6 months of the season. He returned to score his third Southern 500 win in his Motoramic Chevy, one of three wins he would earn during the season. He finished 5th in the championship on the strength of his win at Darlington Raceway.

In 1956, Thomas briefly abandoned being an owner/driver and, after winning a race for himself early in the season, he won races with two other owners. He won a race in a Smokey Yunick-owned car, after which the two broke ties with each other, and then won three consecutive races while driving for Carl Kiekhaefer, who was dominating NASCAR at the time with his super-team. Thomas eventually returned to being an owner/driver at season's end, and had clinched second behind Petty in the championship when he was severely injured at a race in Shelby, North Carolina. The race effectively ended his NASCAR career, though he did start 2 races in 1957 and 1 in 1962 without success. The three consecutive wins would end up being his final three wins.

Career summaryEdit

Thomas ended his career with 48 victories, which currently ranks 12th all-time. He won 21% of his starts during his career, which ranks as the highest win percentage all-time among drivers with 100 career starts.

Brother DonaldEdit

Herb's younger brother Donald made 79 starts in the Grand National division between 1950 and 1956, winning a race at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway in 1952. Until 2005, Donald was the youngest driver to ever win a race in series history.

AwardsEdit

Thomas was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994, and was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

DeathEdit

On August 9, 2000, Herb Thomas suffered heart attack and died at the age of 77 in Sanford, North Carolina.

External linksEdit

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