"Strictly Stock"
The Champions of 1955 & 1956

by Dan Elliott

Pete DePaolo Ford's. This may have been the first race at which revered former Indianapolis 500 driver DePaolo appeared formally as the face of Ford factory participation in Grand National racing. The high profile and good publicity that Carl and Chrysler were reaping from his team's successes was starting to awaken the giants in Detroit. Chevrolet would soon follow with a team of its own, but this was more a phenomenon in the 1956 season.
      The LeHi race held on October 9th arguably could be said to be the race where Carl first employed the "large number of entries" strategy. According to Tim Flock, it also was the race where the seed of discontent was planted because Carl increasingly wanted to control who won. The 1.5 mile-long track was infamous for being the longest dirt track on the circuit, fraught with its share of perils. Carl must have reasoned that he would dramatically increase his chances of winning by using a large number of entries; this was easily possible for him given the end of the AAA season and his extra 300's from that circuit. Apparently he also wanted to test his luck with medium size cars, which is one reason he entered his own Ford in the race along with sponsoring at least two more Fords. All told he either owned or sponsored the following: Speedy Thompson, 1st place, 1955 Ford #297; Marvin Panch, 2nd place, 1955 Ford #98; Tim Flock, 4th place, 1955 300 #300; Bob Flock, 5th place, 1955 300 #308; Buck Baker, 6th place, 1955 Ford #87; Norm Nelson, 18th place, 1955 300 #299; Fonty Flock, 39th place, 1955 300 #301. NASCAR records show some of these Fords, if not all of them, to be DePaolo factory team Fords, but it is reported by other sources that Kiekhaefer sponsored two and owned one of the Fords.
      The LeHi race indeed is mysterious. In 2004, a Kiekhaefer team member told the following story about the race: "We took the Ford (driven by Speedy Thompson) to LeHi to provide blocking for the Chrysler 300's. When we arrived at the track, we learned that the other Fords, DePaolo factory cars, were fitted with equipment that Ford Racing hadn't provided to us for our Ford, which had a 292 cu.in. engine. Carl was furious. But when the other Fords started having mechanical difficulties during the race, Carl decided our Ford should try to win just to prove that we could prevail with a Ford even if weren't equipped with the same high performance equipment provided to the factory team. After Speedy won the race with our Ford, we were celebrating in Memphis when it was learned that the press was going to print a story applauding the fact that 'Ford Wins Again'. Carl was furious. We packed up and left for Wisconsin. The next day, he called some big shot at Ford Racing to seriously complain about the fact that we hadn't received the latest equipment for our car, even though we won the race. The day after that, Ford sent to us in Wisconsin a fully equipped engine with all the latest parts. Carl told the crew to hook a gas line to the engine while it was still in the crate, start it and run it full throttle until it blew. We did just that, and that finished our involvement with Ford Motor Company!" If nothing else, the LeHi race caused Carl perhaps to make at least a tentative decision to use only Chrysler products in his 1956 campaign. Perhaps Carl had something to do with the development of the D-500 and D-500-1. Perhaps he was testing Ford products to ascertain their weaknesses so he could provide information to Dodge.
      On October 16th, another NASCAR first was achieved by the now larger Kiekhaefer team when it won two NASCAR Grand National races on the same day: Speedy Thompson driving 300 #30 at Martinsville, VA and Norm Nelson driving 300 #299 at Las Vegas both won their races. The only thing left for the team to do in the 1955 season was to win the Grand National driver championship and the manufacturer's award, which it did formally at the last race of the season at Hillsboro, NC on October 30th. Tim

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