Close this search box.
Close this search box.


Lee Petty and Herb Thomas proved they were major contenders

Article Contents

Article Contents

Let us know what you think

Join the conversation on socials

Lee Petty and Herb Thomas, two of NASCAR’s early stars, proved they were the top championship contenders of the 1954 Cup Series season, winning a combined 19 of 37 races.

In only its sixth season as a sanctioning body, NASCAR saw many drivers struggle to find a place in the sport. Some had difficulty with various rule changes and stepped away at times during the season. That left the door open for Petty and Thomas to shine and they logged seven and 12 wins, respectively, during the eight-month season.

Petty fell shy of Thomas by five in the win column. Still, his 24 top-five finishes and 32 top-10 results paved the way to his first of three NASCAR Cup Series championships. Petty ended up with a 283-point advantage over Thomas when the season ended at North Carolina’s North Wilkesboro Speedway on Oct. 24

Thomas, the 1951 and 1953 champion, logged 19 top-five results and 27 top-10 finishes in 34 starts, but he was running at the finish in only 24 races. Thomas’ biggest victory of the season came in the Southern 500 at South Carolina’s Darlington Raceway.

Petty’s most significant triumph of 1954 was in the 160-lap season-opening event on the beach and road course in Daytona Beach, Florida. It came after apparent winner Tim Flock was disqualified for an illegal carburetor.

On June 13, NASCAR sanctioned its first road course event on the airport tarmac in Linden, New Jersey, with Al Keller winning the race in a Jaguar. Interestingly, Buck Baker, Dick Rathmann, Hershel McGriff, Keller, Jim Paschal, Curtis Turner, Gober Sosbee, John Soares and Danny Letner all enjoyed at least one victory each over the course of the season.






Driving his own Petty engineering Oldsmobile, Lee Petty relied on consistency at the front of the field to score seven victories and his first-career NASCAR championship. The Level Cross, North Carolina, native is known as the first NASCAR driver to rely on racing alone as his livelihood. He kept his cars clean and away from crashes on the track to keep repairs down. His smooth driving style kept him in contention throughout the 37-race season.


At Georgia’s Lakewood Speedway on March 21, 1954, Herb Thomas edged Buck Baker and Dick Rathmann in a three-wide photo finish. Thomas and Baker were eventually put a lap down for not falling
to the rear of the field after pitting under caution. Rathmann was penalized for receiving fuel while on the race track. When many more drivers were found in violation of the rules, NASCAR officials dropped all penalties and declared Thomas the winner.


Lee Petty’s 1954 Petty Engineering No. 42 Oldsmobile 88 won seven
series races as Petty claimed his first NASCAR championship.
Herb Thomas’ 1954 Smokey Yunick-owned No. 92 Hudson Hornet topped 12 races with Thomas finishing second in the point standings



February 7 | Palm Beach Speedway | Herb Thomas

February 21 | Daytona Beach and Road Course | Lee Petty

March 7 | Jacksonville Speedway Park | Herb Thomas

March 21 | Lakewood Speedway | Herb Thomas

March 28 | Oglethorpe Speedway | Al Keller

March 28 | Oakland Speedway | Dick Rathmann

April 4 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Dick Rathmann

April 18 | Orange Speedway | Herb Thomas

April 25 | Central City Speedway | Gober Sosebee

May 2 | Langhorne Speedway | Herb Thomas

May 9 | Wilson Speedway | Buck Baker

May 16 | Martinsville Speedway | Jim Paschal

May 23 | Sharon Speedway | Lee Petty

May 29 | Raleigh Speedway | Herb Thomas

May 30 | Charlotte Speedway | Buck Baker

May 30 | Carrell Speedway | John Soares

June 6 | Columbia Speedway | Curtis Turner

June 13 | Linden Airport | Al Keller

June 17 | Williams Grove Speedway | Herb Thomas

June 19 | Hickory Speedway | Herb Thomas

June 25 | Monroe County Fairgrounds | Lee Petty

July 3 | Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds | Herb Thomas

July 4 | Asheville-Weaver Speedway | Herb Thomas

July 10 | Santa Fe Speedway | Dick Rathmann

July 11 | Grand River Speedrome | Lee Petty

July 30 | Morristown Speedway | Buck Baker

August 1 | Oakland Stadium | Danny Letner

August 13 | Charlotte Speedway | Lee Petty

August 22 | Bay Meadows Speedway | Hershel McGriff

August 29 | Corbin Speedway | Lee Petty

September 6 | Darlington Raceway | Herb Thomas

September 12 | Central City Speedway | Hershel McGriff

September 24 | Charlotte Speedway | Hershel McGriff

September 26 | Langhorne Speedway | Herb Thomas

October 10 | Memphis-Arkansas Speedway | Buck Baker

October 17 | Martinsville Speedway | Lee Petty

October 24 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Hershel McGriff

Share this:

Picture of Noah Teich

Noah Teich

All Posts