NASCAR fans of young and old have heard stories about the Petty’s, Allison’s, and the Earnhardt’s, but have you ever heard about Fred “Fast Freddie” Lorenzen?
Lorenzen began his racing career with a home-built speedster with a lawn mower-powered engine he would race down the streets of Elmhurst, Illinois. His very first race at a demolition derby at Soldier Field in a 1941 Plymouth landed him his first win and his success only escalated ever since.
Lorenzen made his NASCAR debut in 1956 at Langhorne Speedway, where he would finish 26th after suffering a broken fuel pump, winning $25 dollars. A tank of gas doesn’t even come close to that anymore. Shortly after the race, Lorenzen made a switch over to the USAC and won the 1958 and 1959 championship. He would later return to NASCAR and win 26 races and 32 poles, before announcing his surprise retirement in 1967. Under the guidance of legendary team co-owner Ralph Moody, Lorenzen became one of NASCAR’s all-time best drivers. The highlight of his career was winning the 1965 Daytona 500.
Fans that know there NASCAR history can probably tell you the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1966, when Lorezen drove a Junior Johnson owned Ford due to the Ford boycott of NASCAR. That car is probably still one of the most talked vehicles in the NASCAR today. My father has a picture of the No. 26 in his trophy room. The front end of the car was sloped downward, the roof line was lowered, the side windows were narrowed and the windshield was lowered in an aerodynamic position, and the tail was kicked up. Drivers looked at this car and it immediately got the nickname “The Yellow Banana.” Even though it was against the rules NASCAR allowed the car to compete but Lorenzen crashed while leading the Dixie 500 on the 139th lap. NASCAR let the very illegal car run in that race, in an attempt to bring up fan attendance.
Lorenzen would come out of retirement in 1970 to run in the World 600, which is now the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but had engine issues and had to drop out of the race. His last race came at the 1972 Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Fred Lorenzen was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2001. On December 7, 2011 Fred Lorenzon will be honored by the city of Elmhurt, Illinois and Chicagoland Speedway for his accomplishments as a NASCAR driver between 1958-1972. State Representative Dennis Reboletti, who is sponsoring the resolution, says that “Fred Lorenzen was an icon of NASCAR and the racing world. He is an Illinois sports legend and we recognize him for his lifetime of accomplishments.”
Fred Lorenzen has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame for 2013.