1953 NASCAR Grand National Recap

The 1953 NASCAR Grand National season was a history-maker. Herb Thomas rebounded to become the first driver to win two NASCAR Grand National titles. Thomas also established a new NASCAR record by winning 12 races in a single season and finished comfortably ahead of Lee Petty in the final standings. On the automobile front, Hudsons won 22 of the 37 NASCAR Grand National races. Hudson's prowess on NASCAR's speedways made the other manufacturers take notice, and by the mid 1950s, GM, Ford, and Chrysler were developing more powerful vehicles for highway use. You can learn about these events and more in the following article, from season highlights to the year's final standings, all packed with plenty of photos.

January 13, 1953

NASCAR announces it will require that drivers mail entry blanks to NASCAR headquarters and speedway promoters to earn championship points. Many promoters have complained that they don't know who will compete and have been unable to properly promote their events.

A multicar entanglement in the opening laps of the Feb. 14 Daytona Modified-Sportsman race.
The opening laps of the Feb. 14 Daytona Modified-Sportsman race was punctuated by a multicar entanglement in the north turn. The starting field consisted of 136 cars, the largest in NASCAR history. The flimsy wooden guardrail was reduced to splinters as a dozen or so cars piled into each other. Cotton Owens, driving a Modified Plymouth, won the 100-mile race.
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February 1, 1953

Lee Petty and Jimmie Lewallen finish first and second in the 1953 NASCAR Grand National opener at West Palm Beach. Both drive Dodge Diplomats prepared in the Randleman, N.C., Petty Engineering shops.

February 11, 1953

NASCAR conducts its fourth annual Victory Dinner at the Princess Issena Hotel in Daytona Beach. Lee Petty is named Most Popular Driver, the first time the award has been given out since 1949.

February 15, 1953

Fonty Flock runs out of fuel on the final lap as Bill Blair drives to victory in the NASCAR Grand National event on the Beach-Road course in Daytona. It is the first NASCAR Grand National race to be determined by a last-lap pass.

Dick Rathmann guns his #120 Hudson Hornet off the north turn and onto the paved backstretch at Daytona.
Dick Rathmann guns his #120 Hudson Hornet off the north turn and onto the paved backstretch at Daytona. He started ninth and finished 12th. Rathmann competed in NASCAR racing from 1951 to 1955, winning 13 of his 128 starts. In 1956, he departed NASCAR and joined the United States Auto Club tour, running stock cars and Indy Cars. Rathmann drove in nine Indy 500s, qualified on the pole once, and posted three top-10 finishes.

April 5, 1953

Dick Passwater scores an upset victory in the 150-lap race at Charlotte Speedway. Five different drivers lead in the final 25 laps, and Passwater takes the lead with just three laps to go.

May 16, 1953

Tim Flock, with riding companion "Jocko Flocko," prevails in a 100-mile NASCAR Grand National event at Hickory, N.C. Jocko, a rhesus monkey, has a driver's uniform and a custom-made seat. It is the first time a NASCAR Grand National winner has a copilot.

May 30, 1953

The one-mile superspeedway in Raleigh, N.C., joins NASCAR and presents a Memorial Day 300-miler. Fonty Flock comes from his 43rd starting position to win. Tim Flock falls to third in the final laps when he pits to remove monkey copilot Jocko Flocko from his car.

Tom Cherry at Daytona  in a 1953 Lincoln that competed in the annual Carrera Panamericana.
Driving a 1953 Lincoln that competed in the annual Carrera Panamericana, Tom Cherry whips a quick lap at Daytona. Cherry finished ninth in what turned out to be his only start in NASCAR's premier stock car racing series. Two different numbers were painted on the durable Lincoln -- the #120 that it had in the grueling race over the rugged Mexican terrain, and the #38 that it officially ­carried in the NASCAR Grand National event.

June 21, 1953: International 200

Dick Rathmann leads all the way to win the International 200 at Langhorne Speedway, the first NASCAR event open to both domestic and foreign cars. Lloyd Shaw wins the pole in a Jaguar. Oldsmobile driver Frank Arford is killed in a qualifying mishap.

July 4, 1953

Junior Johnson wins the 200-mile NASCAR Modified-Sportsman race at Darlington Raceway. In a same-day NASCAR Grand National event at Spartan­burg, S.C., title contender Tim Flock is run over by a car as he takes a nap in the infield. Flock's injuries will keep him out of action for several weeks.

July 22, 1953

NASCAR embarks on a western tour with NASCAR Grand National races in South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Herb Thomas throws his Hudson Hornet into the first turn at Harnett Speedway in Spring Lake, N.C.
Herb Thomas throws his Hudson Hornet into the first turn at Harnett Speedway in Spring Lake, N.C., on March 8. Thomas led all 200 laps on the 1/2-mile dirt track to take his 17th career NASCAR Grand National win. He became NASCAR's all-time Grand National race winner in this event, and held the distinction until Lee Petty surpassed Thomas' 48 wins in 1960.

July 31, 1953

NASCAR conducts another race with international flavor in the NASCAR Short Track Grand National Division. Jim Reed, driving a Ford, captures the 400-lapper at Norwood Arena in Massachusetts. Foreign entries lead the early stages, but fade at the end.

September 1, 1953: Southern 500

Buck Baker takes the lead with 10 laps remaining to win the Southern 500 at Darlington. It is the most competitive event in NASCAR Grand National history, with four drivers swapping the lead a record 35 times.

September 19, 1953

NASCAR's first nighttime superspeedway, a 220-mile Modified-Sportsman race at Raleigh Speedway, is marred by tragedy. Bill Blevins and Jesse Midkiff are killed in an opening-lap crash. Officials are unaware that Blevins' car has stalled on the backstretch during the pace lap. The 60-car field gets the green flag and the crash occurs seconds later. Buddy Shuman wins the race, which is shortened to 170 miles.

Publicity photo of the cars of Fonty Flock (#14), Herb Thomas (#92), Tim Flock (#91), and Curtis Turner (#41).
In 1953, NASCAR began issuing staged publicity photographs of mock racing action to local newspapers. Cars were parked sideways on the track, wheels cocked to the right to depict the action readers might see if they attended a NASCAR Grand National event. Here, the cars of Fonty Flock (#14), Herb Thomas (#92), Tim Flock (#91), and Curtis Turner (#41) sit idle on the track.

November 1, 1953

Herb Thomas wraps up the NASCAR Grand National championship with a 14th-place finish in the 100-mile finale at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway. Thomas becomes the first driver to win two titles.

November 27, 1953

NASCAR announces it will have both owner and driver points standings in 1954. Team owners have complained that some drivers have failed to split the points fund money, which has always been awarded to the drivers. Points money for the owners and drivers will be identical.

December 12, 1953

NASCAR president Bill France discloses plans for a 2.5-mile superspeedway in Daytona Beach. France estimates the facility will cost $1,674,000 to build and could open as early as 1955.

Continue on to the next page to learn the full results of the 1953 NASCAR Grand National season.

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