Fred Lorenzen: The $100,000 Man
by Tom Jensen June 07, 2023
Despite racing only half the Cup Series schedule, Illinois racer Fred Lorenzen was the first NASCAR driver to win $100,000 in a single year.
NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Fred Lorenzen (Class of 2015) had the looks of the leading man in a 1960s beach party movie and the right foot of a moonshine runner fleeing a revenuer on a deserted back road somewhere in the Deep South late on a summer Saturday night.
Nicknamed “The Golden Boy” for his handsome appearance and “Fearless Freddie” for his hard-charging style, Lorenzen was one of the top NASCAR racers of the 1960s, when he scored all 26 of his career Cup Series race victories, including the 1965 Daytona 500. Named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998, the talented wheelman was also enormously admired by race fans, winning Most Popular Driver honors in 1963 and ’65.
In an interview with TNT, Lorenzen said he became interested in racing after listening to a radio broadcast of the Southern 500 as a teenager in the backyard of his family’s Illinois home. After racing in USAC, in 1960 he moved south and landed a job as a mechanic with Ford Motor Co.’s factory team, Charlotte-based Holman-Moody Racing. By early 1961, he was driving for the powerhouse Ford outfit. “Like walking into a diamond factory,” Lorenzen said of the Holman-Moody operation. “It was just unbelievable. … It was run and handled to perfection.”
Over parts of 12 seasons from 1956 to 1971, Lorenzen never once ran a full NASCAR Cup Series schedule. In fact, he only ran more than half the schedule once, and that was in 1963, when he competed in 29 of 55 races, winning six and posting 21 top-five finishes. Although he drove at least one race for three teams that year, all Lorenzen’s victories and top-five finishes came in the iconic No. 28 Holman-Moody Ford.
The 1963 season was notable for another reason: On the year, Lorenzen won $112,245, making him the first NASCAR driver to win more than $100,000 in a single season.
Like walking into a diamond factory.
— Fred Lorenzen on Holman-Moody
The Illinois native posted even more impressive numbers the following season winning eight races in just 16 starts on the 62-race season. Among those eight races during the ’64 campaign, Lorenzen won five consecutive starts, all with Holman-Moody.
During the ’64 season, Lorenzen made history in another way, winning both races at Martinsville Speedway, where he led a combined 980 out of 1,000 laps. The 1964 Virginia 500 in April was the last Martinsville race where the winner received a traditional trophy. The Old Dominion 500 in September was the first race to award the winner a Ridgeway Grandfather Clock, beginning a traditional that continues to this day. Both Lorenzen’s trophy and clock are on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in our Martinsville exhibit.
Lorenzen said that his most memorable victory was in the 1961 spring race at Darlington Raceway, where he passed Curtis Turner with two laps to go to win on of the last NASCAR races to feature convertibles. Wood Brothers Racing built a re-creation of Turner’s 1961 Ford Galaxie Sunliner convertible, which is now part of the Hall of Fame’s “Glory Road: 75 Years” exhibit.
“My biggest win ever,” said Lorenzen “… I had the drive. I wanted to win.” Lorenzen’s trophy from that 1961 Darlington race is on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Heritage Speedway.
Throughout his career, Lorenzen was extremely grateful for his popularity with race fans.
“The fans are what make you run,” Lorenzen said. “They were my heroes. They make you go fast.”
As much as Lorenzen loved racing, he hated the grind that went with it – the endless hotels, weekends away from his family, the intense dedication required to be successful. Lorenzen said he woke up one morning and just decided to retire. So after the Atlanta race in April 1967, Lorenzen abruptly hung up his helmet.
Although he would run a few races in the early 1970s, Lorenzen’s 26th and final NASCAR victory came in his 100-mile qualifying race for the 1967 Daytona 500. In the main event, Lorenzen finished second to teammate Mario Andretti as the two Holman-Moody Racing drivers lapped the entire rest of the Daytona 500 field.
Still, by that time, Lorenzen had established himself as a Hall of Famer. And his legacy is preserved today at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.