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On the Road to Glory: Fred Lorenzen

February 1-May 19, 2013 On the Road to Glory: Fred Lorenzen The story of NASCAR legend and Elmhurst native Fred Lorenzen comes to life through photos, artifacts, and exciting race footage depicting a little-known local hero who etched his name in the annals of racing history. Find out how this Midwestern outsider, known as “Fearless Freddie,” got the inside track in the early days of professional NASCAR racing to become a fan favorite and winner of the 1965 Daytona 500. See the Fred Lorenzen tribute car, an exact replica of Lorenzen’s #28 1964 Ford Galaxie, on opening weekend, Feb. 1-3 from 1-5 p.m. and on Museum Day (May 19). This exhibit is supported by Chicagoland Speedway.

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Born: December 30, 1934

Special Interview With Fred Lorenzen by Matt Yocum
 

NASCAR Hall of Fame Driver - PLEASE VOTE FOR HIM!
 

Elmhurst native trying to get on track for NASCAR Hall of Fame   December 20, 2011

Many NASCAR fans likely know the names of driving legends such as Bobby Allison, Mario Andretti, Geoff Bodine and Cale Yarborough. But a man who has seen all of them in action says Elmhurst native Fred "Fearless Freddie" Lorenzen is on his short list for the best. Waddell Wilson, who worked as a NASCAR crew chief and engine builder for nearly 30 years, calls Lorenzen his hero. "It was an honor to work with that man," said Wilson, of Charlotte, N.C., who is pushing for Lorenzen, 76, to earn a spot next year in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Lorenzen, who won the Daytona 500 in 1965 and still lives in the western suburbs, made the list of 25 finalists in 2011 and 2012. The campaign received a boost this month when the Illinois General Assembly (below) honored Lorenzen for his racing accomplishments over his career, which ran from 1958 to 1972. Among Lorenzen's achievements: 26 wins in 158 starts, the only NASCAR driver to win 20 races in his first 100 starts, the first driver to win the Atlanta 500 three years in a row and the first driver to win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway four consecutive times.

Lorenzen considers the last lap of the Darlington Rebel 300 in 1961 as a career highlight. On the second turn he faked high and drove low to squeak by the leader on a narrow strip of pavement up against the wall, according to accounts of the race. "I really worked the car," Lorenzen said. "I always ran hard and against the wall. That's how I had my success."

That same year, Bernie Biernacki was an eighth-grader in Aurora who spotted a story about a Lorenzen race in the newspaper. "I thought it was neat that he was from Elmhurst," said Biernacki, who is also working on the effort to get Lorenzen into NASCAR's Hall of Fame. "I fell in love with auto racing then, and Fred was always my favorite."

Off the track, Lorenzen charmed fans of the predominantly Southern sport, friends say. "Freddie was the first Northerner I knew that all the people around here liked," said Charlie "Slick" Owens, of Charlotte, who was a parts manager. "He strictly loved to drive. I never saw him take a drink or smoke a cigarette. He didn't run after pretty girls. He was nice to everybody."

Crowds of Southern fans often cheered the loudest for Lorenzen, Wilson said. Lorenzen got interested in the sport growing up in the Chicago area, where he listened to the races on the radio. He also enjoyed working on fast cars. "It gets you closer to the car," he said. "I did a lot of the work. It would drive like a rocket ship." He had great regard for his crew, even giving away the four clocks he won at each of his Martinsville victories to members of his team, said his daughter, Amanda Gardstrom.

Lorenzen suffers from dementia and resides in a nursing home in Bensenville. His children, who live in Chicago, are grateful memories of his racing days remain clear. Gardstrom and her brother, Chris, grew up with NASCAR on television and racing trophies in the pool table room. Lorenzen became a real estate agent after his racing days. He instilled in his children his belief that any dream is possible with devotion and hard work, Chris Lorenzen said.

Lorenzen's children are learning more about their father's legacy. They regularly bring him fan letters — some old and some from among the dozen or so that still arrive each week. One letter from a soldier described how he had kept a picture of Lorenzen's No. 28 car in his helmet to inspire him to be the best he could be. "From someone who doesn't even know my dad, that is humbling," Gardstrom said.

Lorenzen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association, International Motorsports and Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte typically are announced in July. Lorenzen supporters say he helped broaden the fan base during NASCAR's early days and was one of the sport's first super stars." He really was the first person not to have been raised or live in the South to penetrate that sport," said Chris Lorenzen.

Wilson, who is on the NASCAR voting committee, hopes people take a look back when they vote for the 2013 class. "People don't realize how tough those drivers were," he said. "If anyone ever deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, he does. If he was in his prime, racing today, I'd bet on him any day of the week. That's how great he was."

Fred as a "Movie Star"


Speed Lovers - Rare 1968 Racing Film starring Fred Lorenzen
Fred Lorenzen was one of the great NASCAR stars of the '60s — up there with Richard Petty, David Pearson and Fireball Roberts. Lorenzen was right at the top of his form as driver of the Holman-Moody #28 Ford when he surprised everyone by retiring in 1967 at the age of 33.
 Why would he do that?  Was he going to be a movie star?

Somehow I've missed 1968's The Speed Lovers starring Lorenzen in the challenging role of "Himself." But I'm also convinced that, after seeing this ancient trailer, I desperately need to see it. Except for The Speed Lovers, Lorenzen has never starred in another movie, except, of course, starring in actual race films.

FredLorenzen.com brings you the history of one of Nascar's Top 50 Drivers of all time. This unofficial site preserves records, stories memories,  & statistics.

Lorenzen recorded 26 wins in his career.  He was the first driver in NASCAR to win over $100,000 in a season, claiming $113,570 driving for the legendary Holman-Moody team in 1963.  He is considered one of the most capable drivers in NASCAR history.  In 1964 Lorenzen won 8 of the 16 races he entered and finished 13th in the points despite not running in 45 of the 61 events held that year.

The Smile . . . . .

FRED LORENZEN . . . . . . by Steve Samples

It has often been said that Bobby Fischer, the chess great, was alone.  He was so far superior to his contemporaries that his only challenger was himself.  Indeed, it is rare that one man in any endeavor is so gifted.  As a race driver Fred Lorenzen was the Bobby Fischer of his sport.

As a young man, he won the National Gas Eliminators at the tender age of 18 proving his mettle on the drag strip.  Just a few years later he would try his hand at another form of racing.  Stock car racing.  The results would be a pair of United States Auto Club Championships in 1958 and 1959, and a venture into NASCAR as a full time driver for Holman-Moody in 1961.  It was in NASCAR’s southern stock car circuit, referred to as the Grand National Division (currently Nextel Cup) that Lorenzen would establish his Fischer-like credentials.  In his first season as a factory driver, young Fred would outduel veteran Curtis Turner at Darlington’s famous egg shaped oval to claim victory in the annual Rebel 300.  The win would have been significant had a rookie simply outdriven the legendary Turner, but Lorenzen went a step further.  He actually created a never before traveled groove on the high banks of Darlington.  In turn two on the final lap, with room for only one and a half cars to proceed, Fred Lorenzen earned a nickname that would follow him forever.  The nickname was 'Fearless Freddie'.  At 130 miles an hour with the wall fast approaching, Lorenzen did the impossible.  He faked high, drove low, and while Turner was hopelessly trying to run him into the outer guardrail, Fred Lorenzen somehow passed on the inside.  The maneuver frustrated Turner so much that he slammed his car into Lorenzen during the victory lap.  It was vintage Turner.  It was vintage Lorenzen.

The next six seasons brought an assault on the record books not seen before or since.  During this time frame Fred Lorenzen would earn other nicknames.  'The Elmhurst Express', 'The Golden Boy', 'Fastback Freddie'.  The list goes on.  In 1963, Lorenzen became the first driver in NASCAR history to win over $100,000 in a single season.  He did so while competing in only 29 of the scheduled 61 events that season.  So dominant was number 28 that year that he finished third in the point standings.  It would be one of 4 times he finished in the top 13 in points while running only half the schedule!  A simple entry form and a series of modest finishes would have brought the Golden Boy four straight championships.  Unfortunately for Lorenzen, he was not hired to win point championships.  He was hired to win big events.  Races of 250 miles or more that made headlines in the sports section and sold cars.  And besides, it was generally understood in those days that top drivers did not enter the low pay races.  Most factory drivers had worked their way to the big time by running dirt tracks and quarter milers, and few wanted to repeat the process.  Especially for a 45% cut of a $1000 winners check.  That’s why the names Roberts, Lorenzen, Turner, and others do not appear on NASCAR’s point champions list.

Championships not withstanding, the record books were other wise re-written by Lorenzen.  He became the first driver in history to win races at all five of the south’s original super speedways, accomplishing the feat in 1966 with a win at Rockingham. It took Richard Petty two decades to accomplish the same feat.  Lorenzen did it in six years. At his initial retirement in 1967 (he would later come out of retirement to race two and a half years in uncompetitive cars) the Golden Boy had won an even dozen super speedway events.  His closest competitor was the late Fireball Roberts with 10. Robert's number is often disputed as records were not as accurately kept in those days.  The actual number may be 9.  Richard Petty and David Pearson, despite more super speedway starts, were still in single digits.  In direct competition between Lorenzen, Petty, and Pearson, from 1961- through April 1967 (when Lorenzen retired), Lorenzen saw victory circle 26 times.  Petty 21.  Pearson 8.  During that same time frame young Lorenzen entered 113 major races.  In addition to posting 26 wins he finished in the top ten 65 times, and won 31 pole positions.  When one considers the attrition rate then was far higher than today, the numbers are amazing.  His modern day trophy case displays 600 winners trophies.  A combination of drag racing, stock car racing, modified cars he drove early on, and pole positions at tracks ranging from tiny Martinsville Speedway to the twisting road course at Riverside. Aside from compiling staggering win percentages, the Elmhurst Express became the first driver to win the same 500 mile race three times in succession, winning the Atlanta 500 from 1962 through 1964.  He also set a record in 1964 by winning five consecutive starts.  The record was even more impressive because he did it while competing against a full complement of factory driver’s at the major events.  Although Richard Petty broke the streak by winning 10 in 1967, it should be noted he did so while running a mixture of minor and major tracks.  In several of Petty's victories many factory regulars were not even entered.  And the irony of the Petty record is that he set it after Fred Lorenzen retired.  A common saying in the south that year was, “'Ole Richard wasn’t doing so good when Fearless Fred was running.”  A truer statement was never spoken.

Aside from dominance on the race track, Fred Lorenzen was a rare athlete.  His charisma was unparalleled.  Always a nice guy who never said no to an autograph, Lorenzen seemed to have the All-American qualities of universal appeal.  He was a handsome man with blonde hair and a chiseled chin, and had a legion of female followers that would make Dale Junior envious.  He was also a man’s man.  Tough, hard nosed, and never one to give an inch on the racetrack when the checkered flag was near, he was respected by his peers.   Perhaps his most loyal followers however, were the thousands of kids who idolized the cool driver of the number 28 Ford.  If time was not an issue, Freddie, as he was known by everyone, would politely ask kids their name before signing their programs.  Then in his patented signature he would write, Best of Luck, “John”, Fred Lorenzen “28”.

Renowned NASCAR crew chief Herb Nab was once engaged in conversation in the Holman-Moody garage about the “best driver” on the circuit.  Pointing to a photo of Fred Lorenzen on the wall, Nab said, “People say Fireball Roberts is the best driver.  That there is the best driver.”

Confident and perhaps a bit cocky, Freddie Lorenzen was a package of determination and pure physical skill on the race track.  Prior to races he prepared for days studying weather charts, tire wear patterns, and gas mileage projections.  Richard Petty once commented, “Fred Lorenzen was total concentration.  Before, during, and after a race.”

And the king himself named Lorenzen as one of NASCAR’s five greatest drivers, and one of the ten toughest.

At the end of the day, the 'Illinois Strong Boy', 'The Elmurst Express', 'The Golden Boy', 'Fearless Freddie' Lorenzen, was a man with whom Bobby Fisher could easily identify.  And he didn’t even play chess.     

More Great Steve Samples Stories

INDY TOO!


An original news photo from 11/19/65. Race car drivers Fred Lorenzen and Johnny Boyd chat prior to tire tests on the Indy speedways 2.5 mile over here. This  7" x 9"photo originates from the archives of the Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Daily News, Detroit Times or Sports Magazine.
 

Check This Out: Do you know the story of one of Fred's most famous rides
with owner/builder Junior Johnson: "The Yellow Banana"?
Click Here


Lorenzen was inducted into the Talladega Walk of Fame
in October of 2003.

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