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.
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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
DATE | CIRCUIT | WINNER
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