Lorenzens Playground

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Right now in NASCAR, everyone is talking and writing about Jimmie Johnson and the likelihood of him becoming only the second driver in Cup Series history to capture three national championships in a row. Cale Yarborough was the first to do so, 1976-78.

But with Atlanta on the horizon, I wanted to touch on a figure from the past who, still to this day, speaks of how Atlanta was his track, and of his performance record there.

Fred Lorenzen told me the last time we spoke on the phone that Atlanta was a racetrack he holds dear. The biggest part of his charmed existence back then, though, was his "discovery" by Ralph Moody of Holman-Moody, hence the ride of a lifetime in their factory Ford team car.

Lorenzen actually worked in the Holman-Moody shop in Charlotte in 1960, but left with aspirations of being a top-notch, full-time race driver instead. On his own, he held the attention of Moody, and found himself driving for the H-M operation the next year.

In his first season with the Holman-Moody stable, Lorenzen wrecked out of the Atlanta 500, but came back to win there in the July Festival 250 in 1961, over a lap ahead of the field.

The Golden Boy was just what stock car racing needed at the time — youthful, articulate, handsome, and a bundle of energy. And, this lead driver for H-M was having an impact on showroom sales at the Ford dealerships.

The following year, 1962, Freddy won again at Atlanta, this time in the big Atlanta 500. The rain-shortened event only went a tad over 328 miles, but the official finishing order took nearly five hours to determine due to scrambled positions as the rains came, and a scoring miscue. The lead had changed 23 times among seven drivers.

But nothing could deter the Holman-Moody group. This was their third superspeedway win in a row for 1962, as Nelson Stacy took Charlotte and Darlington in May. Lorenzen himself had won over $76,000 in his first two seasons with H-M.

Come the beginning of the 1963 season, in March, here came Lorenzen once again to claim the Atlanta 500. This year, Fred would only start half the scheduled races, yet still become the first driver in NASCAR history to win over $100,000.

One more time would Lorenzen claim the Atlanta 500, in 1964. He began to complain, along with other drivers, that speeds were getting too high on the big tracks.

In 1965, he set fast time for Atlanta's Dixie 400, and proceeded to retire from the sport in 1967, becoming the third top Ford driver to quit in a six-month period. Freddy made a comeback on the 1970s, but not of the memorable caliber he managed his first time around.

Be mindful, Jimmie Johnson!

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