The Golden Boy
by Steve Samples *               

It's interesting how historians report the past, especially NASCAR historians. When you ask someone to talk about great drivers of the sixties, names such as Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, Buck Baker, Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, the Allisons, Cale and Leroy, and maybe Curtis Turner are mentioned. All were great drivers and worthy of mention, but who was the best of the era? "The King" Richard Petty, of course, with his 200 wins. There is really nobody even close. Or was there? Let me tell you a true story.

The greatest stock car driver who ever lived raced in the 1960's, but his name has not been mentioned. Who is this mystery driver of whom rarely a word is spoken? Let me give you some hints. When he retired in 1967 he was stock car racing's all-time leading money
winner with $254,000 in purses. He had won more superspeedway races than any other driver (12). His nearest competitor being the late Fireball Roberts with nine. It would take "The King" three more seasons to surpass that total. He won a total of 26 major events. Races which NASCAR had classified because they were held on paved tracks of a half mile or longer, and whose distance was 250 miles or longer. An exception was made for the Ona, West Virginia track, which was a 7/16th mile oval.

He became the first driver in history to win three straight 500 mile races on the same track (Atlanta 1962-1964), and the first driver in history to win races at all five of the south's original superspeedways, accomplishing the feat at Rockingham in 1966. He earned the nickname the "win 'em all race driver," by winning six straight starts in 1964, another record at the time, not extended because he failed to win the World 600. Ironically he won that race the year before and the year after. He was a complete driver who had 33 poles to go with his 26 wins, but he raced only a third of the schedule. You see this driver was hired by Ford to sell cars, not to win points championships. Thus he ran only the "big" events which made headlines in the sports section. In 1963 he entered only 29 of 60 races, yet he finished an amazing third in the point standings. While running a similar schedule in 1962 he finished 7th in points, and in 1964 he competed in only 16 races-- posting eight victories and finishing 13th in the standings. That's 13th in the standings, while competing in only 16 of 61 races! His pre-1967 retirement superspeedway win percentage remains the highest in NASCAR history.

This man was named by "The King" himself as one of the five greatest stock car drivers who ever lived, and as one of the ten toughest. Petty called him, "the mentally toughest driver I ever competed against, he was always concentrating on racing, before, during, and after the race." He was the first driver in NASCAR to routinely call the weather service prior to a race to plan pit strategy, and while his rivals were simply trying to go faster, he was plotting gas mileage increases through improved carburetor performance, and studying tire efficiency to determine exactly how far he could stretch the rubber. In final lap duels to the finish he banged heads with the likes of Curtis Turner (1961 Darlington), Fireball Roberts (1962 Atlanta), Roberts and Marvin Panch (1963 Daytona), Petty (1964 Charlotte), and A.J. Foyt (1965 Charlotte). His record in those five fender bangers to the checkers was four wins. Fireball beat him in 1963. Not known for his modesty, Roberts commented in victory circle, "if we had done this 100 times, we would have won 50." That's close Glen- but he would have won 51.

In a race at Atlanta before the advent of in-car radio communication, our 'mystery driver' found himself on Firestone tires, losing one second per lap. He picked up a piece of soap, kept on hand for such emergencies, and one letter at a time quickly wrote the word Goodyear in reverse on his windshield. The next pit stop his crew made the switch. Two hours later he was in victory lane.

But this man's wizardry was not limited to the racetrack. Off the track he may have been the most charismatic athlete in history. He was a handsome fellow who women loved, men respected, and children looked up to. He signed autographs for hours on end after every race. The day before a race in Charlotte he was talking to a fan and mentioned the name of the local hotel where he was staying. The fan happened to be staying at the same hotel, so the driver invited the fan to breakfast the next morning. "If I'm not up by 7 am, break the door down," our mystery driver said. Well the next day his alarm failed, and at 7 am sharp, a loud noise filled the hotel hallway. Yes, the hotel door had been broken down. The fan was standing in the entrance to the room. Bemused the startled driver walked in, laughing, and invited his guest to go to breakfast.

On the race track he was a marked man, and always the target of the second best driver on the circuit. The Winston-Salem Journal wrote when he retired, "Throughout his career it was always him and somebody making headlines. First it was he and Fireball, then him and Junior Johnson, then him and Petty." He was one of those rare athletes like Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer. Wherever he went people followed, and people listened to everything he said. This guy was the standard.

By now you must know the man in question--
Fred Lorenzen.
Blonde hair, a white car, a big smile, and always the good guy- always the good guy.

NASCAR may have forgotten, but many of us will never forget.

Fred Lorenzen at Daytona

*Author Steve Samples has been a student of stockcar racing for more than five decades. His writing blends recollections from NASCAR's past with the promise of it's future. When not watching racing, he is a Senior Account Representative for 3M/Unitek Corp. He is also an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, and an ex-Marine Vietnam veteran.


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