In 1965 At CMS “Fearless Freddie” Was Indeed “Golden”
When Fred Lorenzen was storming through NASCAR in the 1960s, he bore two nicknames:
“Fearless Freddie” and “The Golden Boy.”
On Oct. 17, 1965 during the National 400 the driver from Illinois was more than equal to both monikers.
In what many oldtime observers - including me -rate as the greatest fall race ever at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Lorenzen prevailed against three famous foes:
The legendary chargers A.J. Foyt and Curtis Turner, plus determined teammate Dick Hutcherson.
Their furious fight for the checkered flag was contested at close quarters in a “Blue Angels Formation” over the final 50 laps at the 1.5-mile track, leaving a crowd estimated at 50,000 drained with emotion.
The classic of 46 years ago returns to mind this week as the present-day Cup Series teams gather at the Charlotte track this week for the Bank of America 500.
I was assigned to write the “winner’s sidebar” that windy autumn Sunday so long ago, covering the race with Charlotte Observer colleagues Bob Moore and Harry Lloyd.
Tragically, the latter turned out to be a death.
A multi-car crash on the very first lap took the life of driver Harold Kite, 43. A Georgian, Kite had survived combat in both World War II and the Korean Conflict, only to die in the third turn at Charlotte. It was Kite’s first major NASCAR start in nine years, leading some fans to question the wisdom of letting him on such a fast track.
However, Kite’s friends and teammates told Lloyd that he was determined to try it and met the requirements to do so.
Despite the tragedy, the show went on, as it almost always does in motorsports.
And what a show it proved to be!
Starting on the 174th of the race’s 267 laps, Lorenzen, Turner and Foyt alternated in the lead 11 times. Hutcherson never led during the dazzling duel, but he was strong in the mix.
For several laps the contenders often raced three abreast, something seldom seen previously at the Charlotte track.
“They can’t keep doing this!” Moore shouted to me, and he was right.
With six laps remaining Foyt maneuvered high in turn three to try and pass Lorenzen. The man who was to win four Indy 500s got into the “marbles,” spun and his car scraped along the steel guardrail for perhaps 150 yards. Turner spun to miss Foyt as Hutcherson narrowly avoided a collision.
Lorenzen now gained an edge he wasn’t to lose.
“The Golden Boy” got the checkered flag three car lengths ahead of Holman-Moody teammate Hutcherson. Turner took third in a Wood Brothers entry, giving Ford a 1-2-3 sweep.
Ned Jarrett and LeeRoy Yarbrough completed the top five. Foyt finished sixth, two laps down.
“This has to be my greatest triumph,” said a gleeful Lorenzen, never mind that he had won the Daytona 500 the previous February. “I’m happier with this than any other race ever.
“I’ve always wanted to beat A.J. That has been a personal ambition for a long, long time. And today I finally did it.
“It’s not because of any animosity between us. It’s because when you beat A.J. Foyt, you have beat the best.”
Lorenzen and Foyt had been ribbing each other at the track since time trials on Wednesday.
Some of Foyt’s fans grumbled that Lorenzen had pushed their favorite into the wall during the pulsating final laps.
“There had been some fender contact between us previously, but not that time,” conceded Lorenzen. “Our cars absolutely did not touch.
“It appeared to me that A.J. went into the turn a little too hard and got into the loose stuff.”
Some drivers blamed the strong wind for making cars unstable, leading to several crashes.
Lorenzen was asked about this.
The handsome blond driver flashed an infectious grin.
“I didn’t have time to notice the wind,” he said. “A.J. Foyt was keeping me busy!”
Lorenzen retired in 1972 with 26 victories in just 158 starts.
Now 76 and in declining health, he at times enjoys recalling his triumphs.