Probably 95% of the time when we hear NASCAR and Thomas Brothers Country Ham in the same sentence we think of the great two-time NASCAR Busch Series National Champion, Sam Ard and his white #00 cars. We may also think of Monk Tate and Wayne Andrews.
How often do you think of the late Ray Hendrick of Richmond? Maybe never?
Well in 1974, the famed Littleton, NC duo of Jack Tant and Clayton Mitchell debuted a new "Flying #11" Chevelle for Hendrick to compete in NASCAR's Late Model Sportsman Series. Hendrick was already age 45 by then, but age didn't keep him from putting the Chevelle upfront.
There was something very, very different about this Chevelle, though, from all other Tant and Mitchell Hendrick driven cars through the years. In deference to sponsorship from Asheboro, NC-based Thomas Brothers Country Ham, this Hendrick ride was WHITE, not the cherry red flying 11 usually associated with Rapid Ray's Modified and Sportsman rides.
The car debuted at Martinsville's Dogwood 500 on March 21, 1974, starting on the front row beside fellow Richmonder Sonny Hutchins in the powder blue #01 owned by Emanuel Zervakis. Hendrick put the new Thomas Brothers sponsorship in victory lane first time out.
The T. Taylor Warren photo of the car's front row Martinsville debut in 1974 appears on the cover of the 1974 Martinsville fall Cardinal 500 program below, to the inside of Sonny Hutchins' #01.
The story didn't end at Martinsville, though.
Feeling their oats, Tant, Mitchell and Hendrick decided to do something they'd never done previously. They decided to tow the new, white Thomas Brothers Country Ham "Flying #11" from eastern North Carolina 584 miles to Nashville, Tennessee for the opening 1974 race at the Nashville Fairgrounds. It was the NASCAR National Championship Permatex 200 for Late Model Sportsman cars on April 13, 1974.
If anyone thought 45 year old Rapid Ray Hendrick would be intimidated running with the likes of Bobby Allison and Red Farmer and Neil Bonnett at a track he'd never seen, they didn't know Ray.
Thanks to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway blogs and photos of Russ Thompson, we have a good picture of Ray's Nashville visit in his unusual white car. For starters, Ray qualified the car on the front row next to Nashville star Darrell Waltrip. However, trying to get back by Ray later in the race would prove DW's undoing. He wound up in the wall.
When all was said and done, Ray finished second to Richard Orton that day on his first Music City visit. The photos below are all by Russ Thompson. Look at that lineup of cars at the finish. Quite a field!
|1||5||2||Richard Orton||Chevy Nova|
|4||8||97||Red Farmer||Ford Torino|
In the black & white photos, that's Ray leading Bobby Allison in #12 and leading Darrell Waltrip in #84. Remember, he was already 45 years old. Imagine how he drove at 25!
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
updated by @dave-fulton: 04/14/17 12:50:47PM