This Week in Ford Racing: NASCAR Ford Drive to 600
January 11, 2011
Ford Racing enters the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season needing only one victory to reach 600. Over the next five weeks, leading up to the Daytona 500, Ford Racing will present a weekly recap of the milestone wins and other tidbits that have helped shape the manufacturer's history in the sport. This week's feature looks at Fred Lorenzen, who gave Ford its 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory when he won the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta International Raceway on June 10, 1962.
Fred Lorenzen Wins Rain-Shortened Atlanta 500 To Give Ford Racing Its 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Victory
Fred Lorenzen made only 158 starts during his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, but the impact he made in the grandstands and on the track was something to behold.
"I can remember being at Bristol and Martinsville, where you're right next to the race fans," recalled Waddell Wilson, who built engines for Lorenzen in the mid-sixties at Holman-Moody. "When they'd introduce Fred Lorenzen and Richard Petty, half of the crowd was for one and half of the crowd was for the other. Those were the two drivers that everybody was pulling for, but when they introduced Lorenzen they always called him the Golden Haired Boy from Illinois."
And while he was a hit with fans, Lorenzen was an even bigger success on the track. He took home $122,587 in 1963 and became the first driver to win more than $100,000 in a season after winning six times and finishing in the top-10 a total of 23 times in 29 starts. Overall, he ended up winning 26 races during a 12-year career - all in Fords - and posted a top-10 finish in 53 percent of the races in which he competed (84-of-158). His career accomplishments were so strong that he was named one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR history in 1999.
"Lorenzen was smooth, sort of in the same fashion as David Pearson and Fireball Roberts. He was very consistent, but could be aggressive when he had to be like at Darlington, where he wouldn't take anything from somebody like Curtis Turner. He gave as good as he got and he beat Turner down there, which started that feud," said Hall of Fame sports writer Tom Higgins of the Charlotte Observer. "The race I remember Lorenzen winning most, and, to me, it's still one of the top races I ever saw, was the 1964 National 400 at Charlotte. As the race wound down there were four guys in contention and they were all in Fords - Lorenzen, Curtis Turner, Dick Hutcherson and A.J. Foyt. Lap after lap after lap they ran a Blue Angel formation.
"Foyt and Turner had a little bit of trouble with a lap or two to go and they fell back, but it was incredible. They ran three-wide all the way around that race track for several laps," continued Higgins. "You couldn't believe it. Nothing like that had been seen at that time. Of course, Charlotte was only four or five years old, but it was something I'll never forget."
Likewise, the list of names entered in the 1962 Atlanta 500 at Atlanta International Raceway reads like a Who's Who of NASCAR.
Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Tiny Lund, Joe Weatherly, Rex White, Ned Jarrett, Cotton Owens, Ralph Earnhardt, Lee Roy Yarbrough and Banjo Matthews were all part of the 46-car field that day, but it was Lorenzen who stole the spotlight in winning his first race of the season.
He led a total of 48 laps that day and had built up a sizeable cushion over Matthews, who was running in second place and the only other car on the lead lap, when rain brought a premature end to the event after 219 of the scheduled 325 laps. The win was the fourth NASCAR Grand National triumph of Lorenzen's career and the 100th in Ford Racing history.
"Working with him and being with him at test sessions really made me appreciate what kind of person he was, how devoted he was to winning races, and how much he was involved in it because he worked on the race car with us," said Wilson, who will be inducted into the National Motorsport Press Association Hall of Fame with Higgins and driver Dale Jarrett on Jan. 26 in Concord, NC. "He wasn't one of those that just came out and drove the car. Fireball didn't work on his race car. He'd come and hang around at the race track, but he'd never come to the shop. But Lorenzen would be at the shop with us every day and when we'd go test and get through with the test, he'd go around and measure where all the jack screws were himself.
"We'd go have breakfast together and then go to the race track, so when the gate opened, we were in there together," added Wilson. "One of the things he did was measure his tires at that time and put them in sets. He's the first person I ever saw do that. He was the first at doing a lot of things, but he expected everybody on that crew to be as devoted as he was. If you got out of line, he would certainly let you know that. But we jelled so much in the way we thought. We had a one track mind like John Holman taught us. The only thing was to win races."
Lorenzen retired from the sport for good after the 1972 season and returned to his home state, where he built a successful career working in real estate and trading stocks.
"He brought so much clout and style to racing," said Wilson. "It was just an honor to work with him."
-source: ford racing