A Fabulous Top 10 List: The Hudson Hornet
by Tom Jensen November 27, 2020
10 wonderful, wild and occasionally weird facts you might not know about the most dominant NASCAR race car of the early 1950s.
In order to survive in its perilous early days, NASCAR needed buy-in from a lot of its stakeholders: Drivers, team owners, track operators and race fans were critical to the success of the fledgling operation in its first decade of operation.
Support of the American automakers was critical, too, and the first company to throw its weight behind NASCAR racing was the Detroit-based Hudson Motor Car Co. The marketing folks at Hudson figured out that success on the racetrack bred success in the showroom, a notion reflected in the adage: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
In 1951, Hudson launched a new car called the Hudson Hornet, and the automaker went all in with it in NASCAR, campaigning a veritable armada of Hornets, many of which were festooned with huge script lettering on the side that read “Fabulous Hudson Hornet.”
Soon, Hudson Hornets were all the rage in NASCAR, winning races and championships with regularity. Here are 10 fun facts about the Hudson Hornet during its prime in NASCAR:
10. First Win
The first driver to win a NASCAR premier series race in a Hudson was Marshall Teague, who won the season-opening race of 1951 on the old Daytona Beach & Road Course. There, Teague and his Fabulous Hudson Hornet bested a 55-car field that included cars from 14 different automakers.
9. First Championship
NASCAR Hall of Famer Herb Thomas (2013) was the first driver to win a premier series championship in a Hudson Hornet, taking the 1951 title over Fonty Flock. Thomas would become NASCAR’s first repeat champion in 1953, again driving a Hudson.
8. Monkey Business
Like brothers Bob and Fonty, Hall of Famer Tim Flock (2014) won races in a Hudson Hornet, but he was the only one of the Flocks to win a championship, which he did in 1952, the same year he ran some races with a live Rhesus monkey in the passenger seat named Jocko Flocko.
7. Leading the Field
This one sounds crazy, but it’s true: Hudson is tied with Toyota and Oldsmobile for third on the all-time NASCAR premier series manufacturers’ championship list, having won titles in 1952, ’53 and ’54. Chevrolet has won the title 39 times and Ford on 17 occasions. No other automaker has won it more than three times.
6. Starting Out Hot
In a five-year span from 1951 to 1955, Hudson Hornets won the season-opening race four times, including at West Palm Beach in 1955, where Herb Thomas drove a Hudson Hornet to its 80th and final win. The only non-Hudson first-race-of-the-season winner during that time was Lee Petty (2011), who piloted a Dodge to victory at West Palm in 1953.
5. Starting Out Hot, Part Deux
In 1952, Hudson Hornets won the first six premier series races of the year and 11 of the first 12, with only North Carolina racer Bill Blair winning in an Oldsmobile at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway to break the streak. Later that same season, Hudson drivers won seven in a row from early June to early July.
4. Best Season
The most successful year for Hudson in NASCAR was 1952, when the automaker won 27 of 34 races, a remarkable winning percentage of 79.4 percent. A year later, Hudson Hornets won 22 times.
3. Most Successful Driver
Hands down, Herb Thomas was the star of the Hudson effort, winning 39 times, or just one race shy of half of the 80 total victories posted by Hudson in NASCAR. Dick Rathmann was a distant second with 13 triumphs for the automaker, while Tim Flock was a 10-time winner with his Hudson. One of Thomas’ championship Hudson Hornets is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of its Glory Road exhibit entitled, “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions.”
2. Out of Business
Although Hudson was dominating on NASCAR race tracks, its business was suffering. In attempt to survive its deepening financial woes, in 1954, Hudson Motor Car Co. merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors Corp. The move proved disastrous, as the “all-new” 1955 Hudsons were simply rebadged Nash models. On June 25, 1957, Hudson production ceased and an era truly came to an end.
1. Happy Ending
Although Hudson the automaker didn’t survive, the legend of Hudson lived on gloriously – or should we say, fabulously – through the Pixar animated film franchise “Cars.” The character of Doc Hudson, beautifully voiced by Paul Newman, was based on Herb Thomas’ career and the “Cars” films stand as a wonderful testament to both Thomas and the Fabulous Hudson Hornet.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To purchase tickets, go to nascarhall.com/tickets.