This blog will expand on themes and topics first mentioned in my book, "The Automobile and American Life." I hope to comment on recent developments in the automobile industry, reviews of my readings on the history of the automobile, drafts of my new work, contributions from friends, descriptions of the museums and car shows I attend and anything else relevant to those interested in automobiles and auto history. Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 , 2016, 2017, by the author.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The Flocks, Curtis Turner, and an Attempt to Unionize Nascar, 1961
Ethyl Flock Fonty Flock Francis, Tim, and Fonty Kiss Fonty Flock
Hi folks -- This is a great story! Plenty to still unravel here involving Curtis Turner as well. Not your typical authorized NASCAR History.
The Flocks: NASCAR's First Family, What a Bargain!
By Orlena Miller
July 25, 2002
The family tree of NASCAR and that of the Flock family are as entwined as the tangled kudzu that blankets the hills of the family's native Alabama. The Flocks are indisputably the "First Family" of NASCAR.
There were three Flocks in the top ten of the first Grand National Championship (now the Winston Cup) standings. Bob, Fonty and Tim finished third, fifth and eighth respectively. There is also, no other NASCAR family with three brothers in the Hall of Fame. On July 10, 1949 their sister, Ethel joined her brothers on the Daytona road/beach course, until this past June this was the only time in NASCAR history a brother and sister had competed in the same event. This Daytona race remains the only time four siblings have appeared in the same NASCAR sanctioned event.
There were nine children in the Flock family of Ft. Payne, Alabama. When Carl Lee Flock passed away, his youngest child Tim was only one year old. His widow, Maudie worked in a hosiery mill to support her family. To supplement their mother's meager income the older boys relocated to Atlanta to work in the family moonshine business. On the back roads between Atlanta and Dawsonville, GA the Flock brothers proved to have natural talent for building and driving vehicles that could outrun anything the police had on the road.
Bob Flock had a reputation in the hills and mountains of North Georgia. That ol' boy could drive the wheels off a car. The federal agents that chased him, often to no avail, grudgingly respected his driving skills. Once, the revenuers discovered Bob would be running a race in Atlanta, they waited for him at the track hoping to make a public arrest. As the race began Bob still had not appeared. When the field was set, a gate opened and Bob Flock drove onto the track to take the green flag. Shortly thereafter, dozens of police vehicles where also on the track, sirens screaming and lights flashing. They chased Flock for a lap or two, when he got the chance he drove through the fence, hit the street and was gone. The police followed the fugitive until he finally ran out of gas near downtown Atlanta.
Reminiscing years later, Bob said, "I would have won that race if the cops had stayed out of it."
Bob Flock retired from driving when he broke his back in an on track accident, but he remained involved with racing as a track owner and promoter in the Atlanta area. During his 36 race NASCAR career Bob had 4 wins, 11 top fives and 18 top tens.
As a kid Bob's younger brother, Fontello Flock delivered 'shine on his bicycle, when he was old enough he joined his brother in tearing through the mountains transporting white lightning and evading the law. Fonty began his stock car career prior to World War II. Like most racers of the day he eventually made his way to the Mecca of speed, Daytona Beach. He first raced on the beach course in July 1941, Fonty earned the pole position but during the race crashed and was seriously injured. Because of his injuries and the war Fonty did not race again until 1947.
It was Bob Flock that convinced car owner Ed Schenck to put Fonty in his car for the inaugural event at North Wilkesboro Speedway, May 5, 1947. He won the pole, his heat race and the 30-lap feature race. He went on to win seven of the forty-seven races he ran that season, at one point he and Bob were tied for the points lead. When Bob broke his back at Spartanburg in October Fonty finished the season driving his brother's car. He was crowned 1947 champion of the National Championship Stock Car Circuit. NCSCC was renamed NASCAR the following year. Fonty Flock is the only driver in the history of our sport to go to victory lane in his first series start. This racing Flock brother compiled 19 wins, 72 top fives and 83 top tens in 154 Grand National starts.
The Flocks were a family of daredevils. In addition to earning a living driving a taxi, patriarch Carl Lee was also a trick cyclist and tightrope walker. Tim once said of his father, "He had an incredible sense of balance. I think Bob, Fonty, and me got that from him, and I truly believe this helped to make us good racecar drivers."
The men of the Flock family did not hold exclusive rights to the title daredevil, however. Reo, one of the older girls was a wing-walker and a stunt parachutist with a barnstorming air show in the 1930's. The youngest daughter Ethel, named after the fuel her father used in his cab, was closer in age to her speed demon brothers. And she shared their passion for fast cars and competition. Truly a pioneer Ethel Flock raced in over one hundred modified events during an era when women weren't even allowed in the pits at many tracks.
To draw larger crowds to his Atlanta Speedway Bob Flock hired Ethel, Sara Christian and Mildred Williams to race at the new facility. Following her brothers south, Ethel Flock Mobley joined them "on the beach" at Daytona in July 1949. In a '49 Cadillac owned by her husband, she finished eleventh. She not only beat Bob and Fonty, but also Curtis Turner, Buck Baker and Herb Thomas. Not too shabby for a Georgia housewife. Tim Flock who finished second that day recalled the event, "She particularly loved racing with and beating her brothers". This was one of two NASCAR starts for Ethel, her combined winnings for both races was fifty dollars.
In a Georgia cow pasture at the tender age of ten, Tim Flock attended his first race. As he watched his brothers and the other "whiskey trippers" slinging dirt and banging fenders he knew he wanted to race too. Bob and Fonty tried to persuade their youngest brother to stay in school and out of racing, it was Ethel and her husband that encouraged and supported Tim's racing career.
Julius Timothy "Tim" Flock holds the highest winning percentage in NASCAR history, 21.2 percent. In 189 races Tim went to victory lane 40 times, that equates to one win for every 4.73 starts. These numbers alone would earn Tim Flock an indelible mark in the annals of NASCAR. But Tim Flock was so much more than a gifted driver, his personality and antics were as memorable as his skill behind the wheel. Flock's career spanned NASCAR's formative years. He took the green flag for the first time in a NASCAR event June 19, 1949. Tim competed in NASCAR for most of the next 13 years and won the Grand National Championship in 1952 and 1955.
Tim won the '52 championship in spectacular fashion. He only needed to start the race in order to clinch the title. But this was not Tim Flock's style. He would run this race like he ran all races, wide-open. On lap 164 of the 200-lapper Flock crashed, flipped and skidded down the frontstretch on the car's roof. Emerging unhurt the new champ declared, "I bet I'm the only driver who has won the championship on his head." The 1955 championship was won in a much less dramatic manner. Flock utterly dominated the season. In '55 he had 19 poles, 18 wins and led 40 percent of the laps run.
Unfortunately, although his career statistics are indeed impressive, Tim Flock will always be best known for his simian passenger, Jocko Flocko. A rhesus monkey that sported his own racing suit, Jocko rode with Tim in eight races. Once, while Flock was leading at Charlotte something frightened the poor monkey. The monkey went berserk and slipped his harness. The panicked animal grabbed Flock around the head and he was driving with one hand and trying to hold the monkey with the other. Relinquishing the lead Tim hit pit road and handed Jocko to a crewmember. Flock finished third that day and Jocko Flocko's racing career came to an abrupt end, Tim figured the incident cost him about $750.00. The little monkey wasn't first animal to give Tim Flock problems during a race. Once at Daytona he jumped out to an early lead, when he reached the beach portion of the course he drove into a flock of seagulls, scattering feathers, blood and gore. "There were so many feathers it looked like snow," Tim said.
Throughout Tim Flock's NASCAR career he was frequently at odds with "Big Bill" France.
In 1950 when Bruton Smith wanted Flock to run at his track outside Charlotte, Tim said he would race, if "Big Bill" agreed. But France was not in the habit of allowing his drivers to race at "outlaw" tracks. True to form, Bruton Smith made Tim an offer too rich to turn down. Miffed at Flock's rebellion, Bill France took away 837 driver points, which Flock forever maintained had cost him the championship. Recalling the incident Flock said somewhat bitterly, "They changed the rules whenever they wanted."
At Daytona in 1954 Tim finished first but was disqualified two days later because a soldered carburetor screw was found in the post race inspection. Disgusted, the youngest of the "Flying Flocks" bid farewell to NASCAR and returned to Atlanta. In February '55 friends convinced Flock go to the Daytona 500, he was happy not driving and was going as a spectator only. However, after getting a look at Carl Kiekhaefer's new Chrysler 300 Tim could not restrain himself and convinced the rookie car owner to let him drive the car. Tim Flock went on to win the Championship that season.
Another brush with Bill France ended Tim Flock's career in NASCAR. Flock supported Curtis Turner's 1961 attempt to organize the drivers. Like Turner, Tim believed a drivers' union would force Bill France to treat them more fairly. Not intimidated, France threatened to close his tracks if the drivers organized, facing unemployment the majority abandoned the scheme. With the notion of a union quashed France banned Curtis Turner and Tim Flock from NASCAR, for life. However, in 1965 hoping to boost waning interest in the sport France reinstated Flock and Turner. By this time, Tim was 40 years old and enjoyed working in public relations at Bruton Smith's Charlotte Motor Speedway, he declined France's offer to return to competition.
In 1998, shortly before his death Julius Timothy Flock was named one NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers. When Tim lost his battle with cancer at age 83 he knew his contribution to the sport he loved had been recognized and was appreciated.
Carl Lee and Maudie Flock's children, Ethel, Bob, Fonty and Tim with a combined total of 379 NASCAR starts finished in the top-ten 230 times. For their priceless contribution to our sport the Flock siblings' total winnings was less than $200,000. What a bargain!