By Ben White
Buck Baker and Herb Thomas proved best throughout the 1956 NASCAR Cup Series season, collecting a combined 19 victories during the 56-race schedule. Both drivers were title contenders throughout the year.
Businessman Carl Kiekhaefer came into NASCAR in 1955 with quite a bit of money and plenty of resources. Veteran driver Tim Flock easily won the Cup Series title in one of his cars.
The pressure of driving for Kiekhaefer, however, caused Flock to suffer stomach ulcers. He quit the team 10 races into the 1956 schedule, prompting Kiekhaefer to hire Thomas as his replacement. The updated racing stable now included cars for Baker, Thomas and Alfred “Speedy” Thompson.
Today, historians compare Kiekhaefer’s operation to a large factory effort while at the time all other teams were fielded out of backyard garages. No one could compete with such wealth and status.
Baker won the 1956 Cup Series championship with Thomas finishing second and Thompson third. Thomas left the Kiekhaefer operation in July because of being sent out west to race.
On Oct. 23 at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Shelby, North Carolina, Thomas was badly injured in a crash while driving his own Chevrolet. Thomas was leading the points when he was sent into the guardrail by contact from Thompson’s car.
Thomas was gravely injured while Baker went on to win the race. Thompson and Baker were accused of teaming up on Thomas. Baker was eventually cleared, but Thompson was given the wrath of the fans.
Jack Smith, Thompson and Baker won the final three races with Baker claiming the Cup Series title. Kiekhaefer’s cars won 30 of the 56 races, including the final five.
Thomas recovered from his injuries during the offseason.
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Driving a white Chrysler owned by Carl Kiekhaefer, former Charlotte city bus driver Buck Baker went to Victory Lane 14 times in 1956. Baker also accumulated 39 top-10 results in 48 starts that season. He was the class of the field at every track where he raced and was clearly the fan favorite. Baker claimed the championship by 586 points over former teammate Thomas, who did not compete in the final three races.
On Sept. 3, Curtis Turner finally won the Southern 500 after eight seasons of entering the prestigious event at South Carolina’s Darlington Raceway. Turner passed Marvin Panch on lap 202 of the 1.375-mile oval and never looked back. Turner led four times for a total of 255 of 364 laps. Seventy cars started the race with Turner lining up in the 11th position. Buck Baker earned the pole with a speed of 119.659 mph.
Buck Baker’s Kiekhaefer Chrysler won 14 times in 48 starts to claim the 1956 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Speedy Thompson’s Kiekhaefer Chrysler topped eight races with 29 top-10 results en route to third in the standings.
1956 Season Recap
DATE | LOCATION | WINNER
Nov. 13 | Hickory Speedway | Tim Flock
Nov. 20 | Charlotte Speedway | Fonty Flock
Nov. 20 | Willow Springs Speedway | Chuck Stevenson
Dec. 11 | West Palm Beach Speedway | Herb Thomas
Jan. 22 | Arizona State Fairgrounds | Buck Baker
Feb. 26 | Daytona Beach and Road Course | Tim Flock
March 4 | West Palm Beach Speedway | Billy Myers
March 18 | Wilson Speedway | Herb Thomas
March 25 | Lakewood Speedway | Buck Baker
April 8 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Tim Flock
April 22 | Langhorne Speedway | Buck Baker
April 29 | Richmond Raceway | Buck Baker
May 5 | Columbia Speedway | Speedy Thompson
May 6 | Harris Speedway | Speedy Thompson
May 10 | Greenville-Pickens Speedway | Buck Baker
May 12 | Hickory Speedway | Speedy Thompson
May 13 | Orange Speedway | Buck Baker
May 20 | Martinsville Speedway | Buck Baker
May 25 | Lincoln Speedway | Buck Baker
May 27 | Charlotte Speedway | Speedy Thompson
May 27 | Portland Speedway | Herb Thomas
May 30 | Redwood Speedway | Herb Thomas
May 30 | New York State Fairgrounds | Buck Baker
June 3 | Merced Fairgrounds | Herb Thomas
June 10 | Memphis-Arkansas Speedway | Ralph Moody
June 15 | Southern States Fairgrounds | Speedy Thompson
June 22 | Monroe Fairgrounds | Speedy Thompson
June 24 | Portland Speedway | John Kieper
July 1 | Asheville-Weaverville Speedway | Lee Petty
July 4 | Raleigh Speedway | Fireball Roberts
July 7 | Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds | Lee Petty
July 8 | Sacramento Fairgrounds | Lloyd Dane
July 21 | Soldier Field | Fireball Roberts
July 27 | Cleveland County Fair | Speedy Thompson
July 29 | Montgomery Speedway | Mavin Panch
Aug. 3 | Oklahoma State Fairgrounds | Jim Paschal
Aug. 12 | Road America | Tim Flock
Aug. 17 | Old Bridge Stadium | Ralph Moody
Aug. 19 | Bay Meadows Race Course | Eddie Pagan
Aug. 22 | Norfolk Speedway | Billy Myers
Aug. 23 | Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds | Ralph Moody
Aug. 25 | Coastal Speedway | Fireball Roberts
Aug. 26 | Portland Speedway | Royce Haggerty
Sept. 3 | Darlington Raceway | Curtis Turner
Sept. 9 | Chisholm Speedway | Buck Baker
Sept. 12 | Southern States Fairgrounds | Ralph Moody
Sept. 23 | Langhorne Speedway | Paul Goldsmith
Sept. 23 | Portland Speedway | Lloyd Dane
Sept. 29 | Columbia Speedway | Buck Baker
Sept. 30 | Orange Speedway | Fireball Roberts
Oct. 7 | Tennessee-Carolina Speedway | Fireball Roberts
Oct. 17 | Charlotte Speedway | Buck Baker
Oct. 23 | Cleveland County Speedway | Buck Baker
Oct. 28 | Martinsville Speedway | Jack Smith
Nov. 11 | Hickory Speedway | Speedy Thompson
Nov. 18 | Wilson Speedway | Buck Baker