These days many of us lament the influx of huge dollars that we consider has "ruined the sport". I am most guilty of that while realizing that stock car racing has NEVER been cheap. We are also not that far removed from the now infamous Richmond incident wherein the race finish was "manipulated" which resulted in huge fines to a certain racing team. But, as we will find out today, NASCAR was always easily approachable when the encountered was preceded by big bucks.
In 1955, a very odd individual with millions of dollars earned with Mercury Outboard Motors, ventured into NASCAR racing. He came with a brand new Chrysler and was looking for a driver at the beach event in 1955, expecting to sign Hershel McGriff who was recommended by Big Bill personally. However, McGriff decided to return to his Oregon home without participating in the February event so this millionaire owner approached Tim Flock who was looking to get back into racing after walking away the previous season in a dispute with NASCAR. The "odd" individual was Carl Kiekhaefer. He had the money, the cars, the drivers, and the power to pull Big Bill's strings.
One reason for the heavy influence over Big Bill was the fact that Chevy and Ford were spending millions in NASCAR participation while Chrysler Corporation choose not to do so. Kiekhaefer brought the Chrysler Corporation nameplate into the sport without costing Chrysler the first cent.
At the end of the 1955 season, Kiekhaefer had won the championship with Tim Flock and was as happy as one could be at the moment. His teams had won almost every race they entered, or so it seemed, so he was looking forward to the 1956 season and anothe championship.
With only three races remaining on the 1956 schedule, however, Kiekhaefer's number one driver, Buck Baker, was NOT the points leader. Herb Thomas was.Kiekhaefer determined that another race on the schedule would enhance Baker's chances for the title so, 10 days beforethe event, Kiekhaefer leased the Cleveland County Fairgrounds track inShelby, NC and guaranteed the purse. Big Bill set the race and the event was on. Whether or not this would enhance Baker's chance for a Championship was still doubtful, but Kiekhaefer was confident. As it turned out, he had every reason to be.
Doug Cox surprised the rail birds by winning the pole on the half-mile dirt track at a speed of 58.479 mph.Cox was in a Ford as was second place starterMarvin Panch. Jack Smith started a Ford third, Speedy Thompson, also a Kiekhaefer driver, started fourth and Buck Baker would start 5th.
The 100 mile/200 laps race was underway. Herb Thomas,the points leader, was running right at the front of the pack. For the record, Thomas had quite Kiekhaefer, as had Tim Flock, for reasons you can research todiscover. Certainly the way Thomas was running, it was going to be hard to deny him his third championship.
On lap 109, Thomas took second place from SpeedyThompson and was preparing to run down leader Buck Baker but as the cars exited turn two, Thompson cut left, hooking Thomas on the right quarterpanel and throwing the independant Chevy hard into the rail where it stuck in the wooden barrier as the oncoming pack of leaders impacted with the car. Those involved in the accident included Tiny Lund, Jack Smith, Billy Myers, Ralph Moody, Lee Petty, Billy Carden and George Green.
As the dust settled, Herb was not moving in his car. The rescue squad removed him from the wreck, placed him on a strecher and headed for Charlotte Memorial Hospital. Thomas suffered from a fractured skull, badly lacerated scalp, a ruptured ear drum and internal injuries. Although lying in the hospital when the race ended, Thomas still had the points lead by 118 points but the three remaining races left 900 points on the table for Buck Baker to go after.
The fans erupted in a huge protest over the actions of Thompson and Kiekhaefer, convinced Kiekhaefer had "ordered" Thompson to wreck Thomas to make Baker's run for the points more successful. For weeks the fans reacted very negatively towards Speedy Thompson and Carl Keikhaefer. Baker was cleared of any wrong doing but NASCAR never took any action against Thompson or his car owner.
Buck Baker would go on to win the "Kiekhaefer Special event" at Shelby and he would also win the championship for his nefarious owner. Even without competing in the final three events, Herb Thomas finished second in the points in 1956. When the 1957 season dawned, there were no Kiekhaefer teams on the track. Wonder why that was?
Finishing Order for the race:
1. Buck Baker, Kiekhaefer Chrysler, winning $850.00
2. Bill Amick, DePaolo Ford, winning $625.00
3. Marvin Panch, Tom Harbison Ford, winning $450.00
4. Speedy Thompson, Kiekhaefer Dodge, winning $350.00 (3 laps down)
5. Joe Eubanks, Ford, winning $310.00 (9 laps down)
6. Billy Carden
7. Johnny Dodson
8. Johnny Allen
9. Bobby Keck
10. Jim Paschal
11. Jimmy Pardue
13. Tiny Lund
15. Jesse Taylor
16. Pete Yow
17. Herb Thomas
18. Jack Smith
20. Ralph Moody
21. Lee Petty
22. George Green
23. Ralph Liguori
24. Brownie King
25. Doug Cox
26. Bill Rafter
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM