"Strictly Stock"
The Champions of 1955 & 1956

by Dan Elliott

"It was after this race, curiously, that Kiekhaefer, NASCAR and a Detroit team waged their hottest three-way showdown, with an all-night argument over the winning car's legality. The quarrel waxed so emotional that local police had to stand guard. The winner was declared to be pure as soap flakes, but Kiekhaefer left the race track with five pages of notes on the Detroit car's unlawful parts." After Raleigh, Carl would more than ever before be vigilant in watching NASCAR to make sure the playing field was as level as he could make it, given Detroit involvement and NASCAR's desires to keep the Detroit money involved. True Magazine reported Carl's sentiments: "France doesn't realize that this is a million-dollar business for the Detroit manufacturers. They are willing to produce special parts every week to keep their cars going faster. So long as he allows the factories to race their 'disguised' cars and to interpret the rules as they please, stock car racing will be impossible for the independent." Ironically, fan hostility and skepticism of Carl's "racing machine" would continue for the rest of the season. This was a bitter pill because Carl considered himself to be the last of the independents willing and able to take on the large factory money from Detroit.
      Between the Raleigh race and near the end of September, Kiekhaefer team first place and top five finishes dropped quite dramatically, although its results would have been respectable for other teams. Additionally, sometime before the July 21 race at Chicago, Herb Thomas quit the team for one of the reasons also given by Tim Flock: Car preparation was favoring other drivers. He was not replaced, although Jack Smith was hired to drive in three races toward the end of the season. There was some thought in the Kiekhaefer camp that there was intentional sabotage within the team to blame for poorer finishes. Whether or not that is true was never made public, although team members interviewed in 2004 confirmed that they were sure some sabotage was occurring, perhaps from outside the team.

      An interesting race during this time frame was that held at the "Road America" course at Elkhart Lakes, in Carl's home turf of Wisconsin. Naturally, Carl wanted badly to win this race, which was the only Grand National event ever held at this road course venue. Carl had a black 300B specially painted with graphics to publicize this event. Legend has it that someone sabotaged the gas on the Kiekhaefer cars, so they finished poorly. Ironically, Tim Flock won the race in none other than a factory-backed Mercury!
      Then, just as quickly as the dry spell had started, it ended with Buck and Speedy winning many of the races between September 29 at Columbia, SC and the last race on November 18 at Wilson, NC. One of these was a unique race was at Martinsville, VA where Convertible and Grand National Circuit cars were thrown together to compete. Carl was quite concerned about this race because common thinking suggested the convertibles would be faster on the half-mile paved track, and Chrysler 300B's were not available in a convertible configuration. Accordingly, Carl's drivers all drove Grand National cars, and they finished rather well: Jack Smith, D-500-1 #502 was 1st; Speedy Thompson, 300B #300 was 4th; Buck Baker, 300B #00 was 7th and Frank Mundy, D-500-1 #50 was 9th. It was Red Vogt, a top mechanic of the day hired away from the Ford factory team, who had persuaded Carl to hire Jack Smith.
      In trying to ensure that Buck Baker would win the Grand National driver championship and the manufacturer's trophy for the 300B, Carl became ensnared in one of the most controversial races of the 1950's. He rented the half-mile dirt track at the Cleveland County fairgrounds at Shelby, NC and proceeded to convince NASCAR to hold a race there on October 23, previously an open date. Former Kiekhaefer team driver Herb Thomas, who was the point's leader at the time, had accumulated many of his points while driving for Carl. Winning the race at Shelby would be critical to Baker's chances of catching up with Thomas. Carl entered two cars: Buck's 300B #300-B and

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