Fred Lorenzen instilled in his children, his belief that “any dream is possible with devotion and hard work,” says Chris Lorenzen. Chris and his sister Amanda Gardstrom grew up with NASCAR on the television and racing trophies in their pool table room.
Today, the two siblings consistently receive fan letters and share them with their father, who is suffering from dementia and living in a nursing facility in Illinois. Chris and Amanda are grateful their father still clearly recalls his racing memories as he enjoys fan letters, comments and historic photos shared from his thousands of fans and friends on Facebook.
One letter received from a soldier describes how he kept a picture of Lorenzen’s No. 28 car in his helmet as inspiration to be “the best he could be”. “From someone who doesn’t even know my dad, that is humbling,” Gardstrom said.
That letter and many facebook posts from fans and friends clearly illustrate how Fred Lorenzen inspired and connected with race fans through his personal attitude and outlook toward racing and life.
Another fan post on facebook may give a glimpse at how “The Golden Boy” of NASCAR brought more female fans to the sport,
Linda Aycoth Pope and those who know Fred Lorenzen are well aware, there is a lot more to him than his good looks – he was a hero to many fans and friends as well as his family.
Waddell Wilson, who worked as a NASCAR crew chief and engine builder for nearly 30 years, calls Lorenzen his hero. Wilson, from Charlotte, NC, is pushing for Lorenzen to win enough votes for his well-deserved spot in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame 2013 Class. “It was an honor to work with that man,” said Wilson. “Crowds of Southern fans often cheered the loudest for Lorenzen.”
Fred Lorenzen, raced with all the NASCAR legends, including Bobby Allison, Cale Yarbourough and Richard Petty – all current NASCAR Hall of Fame members.
Another fan shared this on Lorenzen’s facebook page
“Fred Lorenzen was one of NASCAR’s first true superstars, even though he was a part-time driver some seasons. Example: In 1964 he entered only 16 of the scheduled 62 races but won eight including five consecutively – and finished 13th in the Cup Series standings.”
That accomplishment is an amazing feat and says a lot about Fred Lorenzen and his outlook and attitude as a racer.
Fred Lorenzen’s bio continues with,
“In 1965, he won two of NASCAR’s major events – The Daytona 500 and the World 600. Lorenzen was an extremely popular driver with fans, to the point that he had several nicknames – ‘Golden Boy,’ ‘Fearless Freddie’ and ‘The Elmhurst Express.’ (Lorenzen)…retired in 1967 at the age of 33 but made a brief comeback from 1970-72. He didn’t win a race those last three years but he did post 11 top-five finishes along with capturing two poles. In 1998, he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.”
Facebook Profile Photo
Growing up in the Chicago area, Lorenzen listened to races on the radio and enjoyed working on cars. “It gets you closer to the car,” Lorenzen said. At the age of 13, Lorenzen built his first car and after graduating from high school, he started racing modifieds and late models in the midwestern region. Lorenzen made his NASCAR debut in 1956 at Langhorne Speedway, winning $25 after suffering a broken fuel pump and finishing in 26th place. He then went on to USAC stock car and won the 1958 and 1959 championships driving for the Talarico Brothers.
As a short-term and sometimes part-time NASCAR driver, Lorenzen’s achievements are astounding. When Lorenzen returned to NASCAR, in 1961 he drove under the guidance of legendary team co-owner Ralph Moody and became one of NASCAR’s all-time best drivers winning 26 races, 84 top-tens and 32 poles in just 158 starts – then surprisingly announced his retirement at the age of 33 in 1967.
Lorenzen remains the only NASCAR driver to win 20 races in his first 100 starts. In 1963, he became the first driver in racing to earn over $100,000 in a single season. His accomplishments also include being the first driver to win the Atlanta 500 three years in a row. And well before Jimmie Johnson or Denny Hamlin were born – Lorenzen was the first driver to win at Martinsville (VA) Speedway four consecutive times. Lorenzen demonstrated his great regard for his crew, by giving away the four clocks he earned from his Martinsville wins to members of his team, said his daughter, Amanda.
|1966 – The Yellow Banana – Ford Galaxie
One of Lorenzen’s fondest memories is from 1966 when he drove a Junior Johnson-owned car at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His car was the talk of NASCAR as the front end was sloped downward, the roofline was lowered, side windows were narrowed and the windshield was lowered in an aerodynamic position with the tail kicked up. Several rival drivers called the unique car “The Yellow Banana,” “Junior’s Joke,” and “The Magnafluxed Monster.” Clearly the car was in violation of several rules, but NASCAR allowed the car to compete in an attempt to bring up attendance which was lagging due to a Ford boycott that year. Lorenzen crashed while leading the Dixie 500 on the 139th lap. One pit crew member said after the incident, “No wonder, I ain’t never seen anybody who could drive a banana at 150-mile-an-hour.”
Another fond Lorenzen memory is the last lap of the Darlington Rebel 300 in 1961. According to accounts of the race, 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. “I really worked the car,” Lorenzen said. “I always ran hard and against the wall. That’s how I had my success.”
More proof of Fred Lorenzen’s fan inspiration is Bernie Biernacki who as an eighth-grader in Aurora, Illinois discovered Lorenzen’s story in the newspaper. “I thought it was neat that he was from Elmhurst,” said Biernacki, who is also putting his efforts toward getting Lorenzen into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. “I fell in love with auto racing then, and Fred was always my favorite.”
Charlie “Slick” Owens, of Charlotte, who was a parts manager, said, “Freddie was the first Northern I knew that all the people around here liked.” Owens went on to say, “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.”
Amanda and Chris recently posted on Facebook this note to friends and fans…
Supporters of the Lorenzen family’s dream of seeing Fred Lorenzen in the 2013 Class of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame say he was one of the sports first super stars and instrumental in building the fan base during NASCAR’s early years, appealing to the southern foundation and introducing NASCAR to new northern fans. “He really was the first person not to have been raised or live in the south to penetrate that sport,” said Chris Lorenzen.
“People don’t realize how tough these drivers were,” said Waddell Wilson, who is on the NASCAR voting committee. “If anyone ever deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, he (Lorenzen) 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.”
And this fan says…”and still is.”
NASCAR fans are invited to participate by voting for up to five nominees to be inducted as the 2013 class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. You may only submit votes once per hour, with no more than five nominees per submission. Please cast one of your five votes for Fred Lorenzen, each time you vote – Thanks!
For a more glimpses into NASCAR history and the impact Fred Lorenzen continues to generate within the sport of racing, visit his facebook page and FredLorenzen.com