Herb Thomas

Full Name:
Herbert Watson Thomas
Born:
6th April 1923
Barbecue Township, North Carolina
Died:
9th August 2000 (Aged 77)
Sanford, North Carolina
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

NASCAR’s first double champion was the quiet and shy Herb Thomas. Of slight build, he grew up on the family tobacco farm in North Carolina with younger brother Donald before working for his father in the local sawmill during World War II. Already a married man by the time car racing ever took his fancy, Thomas was a truck driver when NASCAR was formed.

Stock car racing career

Thomas drove a Ford in the championship’s very first race at the Charlotte Speedway in 1949 and won a 100-mile event at Martinsville the following year. That was with a Plymouth but it was as part of the "Fabulous" Hudson Hornet team that Thomas gained fame and success. He had already won a crash-fest at Heidelberg with Hubert Westmoreland’s Oldsmobile when that association began in the middle of 1951.

Double NASCAR champion

He drove a Hudson Hornet from 1951 to 1954 during which time he was credited with 39 victories (plus one as a relief driver for his brother) and always finished in the championship top two. NASCAR Champion in 1951 and 1953, he was beaten to the title at the final race of 1952 and was runner-up again 1954. The exploits of Thomas and early team-mate Marshall Teague proved inspiration for the character Doc Hudson in the Disney-Pixar film Cars.

By 1955, Thomas was experimenting with other makes and shared his three wins between Hudson, Buick and Chevrolet. But he rolled at Charlotte and suffered multiple injuries that included a broken leg. Out of action for three months, he returned to win Darlington’s Southern 500 for a then-record third time and was still ranked fifth in the final points.

He abandoned the habit of a career and drove someone else’s cars in 1956. He won races for himself and then Smokey Yunick before switching to Carl Kiekhaefer’s Chrysler. Three victories in four races gave Thomas a narrow championship lead ahead of team-mate Buck Baker.

End of career

Thomas left the team and was an owner/driver once more before the season was over and the resourceful Kiekhaefer was determined that Baker would clinch the title. He leased the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Shelby, North Carolina and a race was added to the schedule with just 10 days notice.

Baker won the 100-mile event but it was a disaster for Thomas. He was severely injured in a multi-car pile-up. He suffered a fractured skull and doctors feared he may have suffered possible brain injuries. Credited with being 1956 runner-up behind Baker, he recovered sufficiently to enter another three NASCAR events in 1957 and 1962 but the crash effectively ended his racing career.

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