Fonty Flock became one of the central figures in the formative days of NASCAR. But in order to become a cornerstone of the frolicking folklore of the sanctioning body's early years, Fonty had to overcome debilitating injuries.
Flock's career began before the outbreak of World War II and he had a unrelenting need for experiences of the wildest, adventurous sort.
After kicking around the dust bowls of Georgia for a couple of years, Flock began the bi-annual trek to Daytona Beach and the high speed excitement the Beach-Road course offered. Flock was among scores of other hopefuls who were entered in the late model stock car race at Daytona on July 27, 1941.
In his third effort on the unique course that combined the sandy shore line and a narrow two-lane blacktop highway, Flock had become one of the favorites. He was saddled in the pole position alongside rambunctious Roy Hall.
Flock took a narrow lead in the opening lap, but the relentless Hall was nipping at his heel all the way down the long but narrow blacktop backstretch. As the pair wheeled into the South turn, the cars banged together. Flock's Ford darted to the high side of the corner, climbed the outer edge of the track and spiraled end-over-end and side-over-side into a clump of palmetto bushes. The seat belt had snapped in one of the early turnovers and Flock's limp body was flopping around inside the car.
The car landed upside down and Fonty somehow was still alive. An ambulance rushed to the scene and transported him to the Medical Center in Daytona Beach. Attending physician Dr. George Green said he believed Flock was suffering from a crushed chest, broken pelvis, head and back injuries and severe shock. Dr. Green wasn't exactly sure what was needed to piece Flock back together. X-rays had to be postponed due to his extraordinary number off injuries. For weeks Fonty would be wrapped in more bandages than Boris Karloff.
Flock had barely missed adding his name to the black-bordered memorial pages of the local newspaper. But he faced months, maybe years, of delicate recovery.
America was drawn into a world wide conflict when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor four months after Flock's accident. Auto racing was banned in this country and it wasn't until late 1945 that the distinctive roar of the mighty stock car engines was heard again in the South.
Flock was still in no condition to resume his racing career when the war ended. The fall stock car racing season in 1945 and the entire 1946 campaign was logged in the history pages without the presence of Fonty Flock.
In fact, the 1947 season was well underway when Fonty was healed enough to strap his stocky frame into a racing car. Bob Flock, Fonty's older brother, had convinced car owner Ed Schenck to put Fonty in his car for the inaugural stock car race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. The grand opening for the new track was May 5, 1947 -- and 10,000 spectators and two dozen drivers were on hand for the festive inaugural event.
Incredibly, Fonty won the pole and his heat race despite being out of racing for four and a half years. And then he scampered to victory in the 30-lap feature, outrunning Glenn Dunnaway and Pepper Cunningham.
A month later, Flock won at Greenville, South Carolina -- just to prove his North Wilkesboro victory wasn't a fluke. He won yet again the next week at Greensboro. Suddenly, Fonty found himself locked in a tight point race.
Victories followed at Charlotte and Trenton while driving a car owned by Al Dykes. At one point in the season, Fonty and Bob Flock were deadlocked atop the point standings for the National Championship Stock Car Circuit, the name of Bill France's sanctioning body before the series was tagged with the familiar NASCAR insignia. Ed Samples, who was declared the 1946 national champion, was also in the hunt for a second straight title.
Bob Flock, who was driving the highly regarded Raymond Parks Ford throughout the season, crashed hard and broke his back in a race at Spartanburg in October. Fonty took over the red and white #14 Ford and, from that point of the season until its conclusion, accumulated more points than any other driver. As the 1947 season drew to a close at Jacksonville, Florida on December 7, 1947, Flock found himself standing on the mighty throne, perched atop stock car racing's most virtuous peak -- the NCSCC champion.
Flock started 24 races in 1947 and won seven times. He finished 235 points in front ofSamples, who won twice in 34 starts. Red Byron, who won nine of his 18 starts, ranked third in points when the season ended.
Winning in his first start after crippling injuries and topping it off with a championship remain classic portraits on NASCAR's lively canvas of speed.
The fans adored Fonty Flock's warm smile, his amiable attitude and most of all that irrepressible spirit so characteristic of his personality.