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1953:

Thomas First Repeat Champ

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By Ben White

During NASCAR’s fifth Cup Series season, Herb Thomas continued his winning ways and was crowned champion for a second time following 12 wins and 31 top-10 results while driving his own Hudson Hornet.

Following a remarkable NASCAR season in 1952, fans across the nation were ready for another outstanding year of racing that spanned from Feb. 1 in West Palm Beach, Florida, to Nov. 1 in Atlanta. Nine of the 37 races that season were standalone events that took drivers as far away as Nebraska and South Dakota. 

Thomas’ dominant performance throughout the season was no match for those who challenged him. His dozen wins were far greater than the five each logged by Lee Petty and Dick Rathmann, followed by four each by Buck Baker and Fonty Flock.

Thomas and crew chief Smokey Yunick were magical, as consistency proved to be the foundation for their championship season. Once again, the Hudson Hornet was dominant, winning 22 of 37 races including a stretch of 16 out of 20.

The one-mile Raleigh Speedway in North Carolina joined the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 1953. A race was run on May 30, the same day as the Indianapolis 500, and was won by Fonty Flock in front of a crowd of 15,235 spectators. 

The Raleigh track was billed as “a one-mile super-fast track” in newspaper ads and one that fit the rising speeds NASCAR’s engine builders were beginning to generate.

Also, NASCAR and Pennsylvania’s Langhorne Speedway joined forces to promote the International Stock Car Grand Prix, a 200-mile race open to foreign and domestic cars. Dick Rathmann won the race in a Hudson Hornet with Cup Series cars sweeping the top-five positions.

1953

PRESIDENT: DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

NO. 1 SONG: “FIVE LONG YEARS” BY EDDIE BOYD

NO. 1 AT THE BOX OFFICE: THE NAKED SPUR

MOVIES TO WATCH: ROMAN HOLIDAY AND HERE TO ETERNITY

GALLON OF GAS: 27 CENTS

POP CULTURE: KNOWN AS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT MUSIC ARTIST OF ALL TIME, HANK WILLIAMS SUFFERED A FATAL HEART ATTACK ON JAN. 1.

BEST DRIVER

Herb Thomas, driver of a Hudson Hornet fielded by himself and crew chief Smokey Yunick, won double the races than any other driver in 1953. No matter where Thomas raced, he was considered the favorite to win. His car always seemed to be the class of the field, especially since it was an ultra-competitive Hudson and the fact it carried a very durable engine built by Yunick. The 1953 season was considered the best of Thomas’ 10-year career.

BEST RACE

On Sept. 1,1953, Buck Baker survived a wreck fest as he led 35 laps en route to winning the Southern 500 at South Carolina’s Darlington Raceway. The third running of the race featured 59 starters with many spins, but only four caution flags for 17 laps. There were several frightening crashes, including driver Mike Magill going through a gap in the retaining wall and crashing his Lincoln into the parking lot. Baker took the lead with 10 laps remaining.

TOP CARS

Herb Thomas wheeled his own No. 91 Fabulous Hudson Hornet to 12 victories with 31 top-10 finishes and 12 pole positions.

Lee Petty, driver of the No. 42 Petty Enterprises Oldsmobile, logged five wins in 36 starts with 31 top-10 results.

1953 Season Recap

DATE | LOCATION | WINNER

Feb. 1 | Palm Beach Speedway | Lee Petty

Feb. 15 | Daytona Beach and Road Course | Bill Blair

March 8 |Harnett Speedway | Herb Thomas

March 29 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Herb Thomas

April 5 | Charlotte Speedway | Dick Passwater

April 19 | Richmond Raceway | Lee Petty

April 26 | Central City Raceway | Dick Rathmann

May 3 | Langhorne Speedway | Buck Baker

May 9 | Columbia Speedway | Buck Baker

May 16 | Hickory Speedway | Tim Flock

May 17 | Martinsville Speedway | Lee Petty

May 24 | Powell Motor Speedway | Herb Thomas

May 30 | Raleigh Speedway | Fonty Flock

June 7 | Louisiana Fairgrounds | Lee Petty

June 14 | Five Flags Speedway | Herb Thomas

June 21 | Langhorne Speedway | Dick Rathmann

June 26 | Tri-City Speedway | Herb Thomas

June 28 | Wilson Speedway | Fonty Flock

July 3 | Monroe County Speedway | Herb Thomas

July 4 | Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds | Lee Petty

July 10 | Morristown Raceway | Dick Rathmann

July 12 | Lakewood Speedway | Herb Thomas

July 22 | Rapid Valley Speedway | Herb Thomas

July 26 | Lincoln City Fairgrounds | Dick Rathmann

Aug. 2 | Davenport Speedway | Herb Thomas

Aug. 9 | Occoneechee Speedway | Curtis Turner

Aug. 16 | Asheville-Weaverville Speedway | Fonty Flock

Aug. 23 | Princess Anne Speedway | Herb Thomas

Aug. 29 | Hickory Speedway | Fonty Flock

Sept. 7 | Darlington Raceway | Buck Baker

Sept.13 | Central City Speedway | Speedy Thompson

Sept. 20 | Langhorne Speedway | Dick Rathmann

Oct. 3 | Bloomsburg Fairgrounds | Herb Thomas

Oct. 4 | Wilson Speedway | Herb Thomas

Oct. 11 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Speedy Thompson

Oct. 13 | Martinsville Speedway | Jim Paschal

Nov. 1 | Lakewood Speedway | Buck Baker

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