History Book: Those Fabulous Flocks

flocks

From left: Tim Flock, Herb Thomas and Fonty Flock ‘monkey around’ with Jocko Flocko, the only primate to ever ride shotgun in NASCAR competition

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NASCAR pioneers Bob, Fonty and Tim reached legend status in the mid-20th century.

by RANDY GRIDER

NASCAR enjoys a proud heritage of several families with deep roots in the sport. Obviously, there are the Allisons, the Pettys, the Earnhardts and others who are considered racing nobility.

But when it comes to flair, arguably no family in the history of racing holds a candle to the Flock family. Often billed the “Fabulous Flocks,” the “Mad Flocks” or the “Flying Flocks,” their exploits on and off the racetrack are legendary.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]OK, you may be asking yourself at this point: Who are the Flocks? Since a good half century has passed since the Flocks were the hottest names in the racing business, it’s a fair question. The core of the Flock family, from Fort Payne, Ala., rose to fame in the 1940s and ’50s with brothers Bob, Fonty and Tim tearing up the racing circuit.

And then there’s the monkey, Jocko Flocko, who rode shotgun in seven races with Tim Flock, a two-time series champion, top 20 driver in all-time wins and 2014 inductee of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

To get a clearer picture of why the Flocks are often considered NASCAR’s most colorful pioneers, you have to step back in time a little further. It’s here you find a remarkable story of strong-willed personalities finding creative outlets to overcome the daily struggles of the impoverished South – and, oh yeah, a little illegal bootlegging to fuel the mix.

NASCAR pioneers Bob, Fonty and Tim reached legend status in the mid-20th century. They say an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If that indeed holds water, Carl Lee Flock was probably in the top of the tree dangling precariously as his young children looked on. The husband of Maudie Flock and father of nine children all born in Fort Payne, he stood out in town in the early 20th century. Carl Lee supported his growing family as a mechanic and taxi driver (credited with owning the first automobile in town) while gaining local celebrity status as a bicycle racer, trick cyclist and tightrope walker.

Carl Lee died in the mid-1920s at age 52. While Maudie worked in a hosiery mill to support the family, the older children began to stretch their free-spirited wings.

Oldest daughter Reo (named after the line of Reo automobiles) managed to upstage her father’s daring ways when she left home as a teen and traveled around the country performing as a wing walker, stunt parachutist and expert skeet shooter.

Oldest son Carl Jr. also left home as a young man to join his uncle “Peachtree” Williams running an illegal bootlegging business in Atlanta. He later made a name for himself as a champion speedboat racer. This adventurous lifestyle soon lured other members of the family away from the hard-scrabble existence in Alabama. Brothers Bob and Fonty followed Carl Jr. to Georgia where, in addition to hauling illicit booze, they found wildcat racing to be an enjoyable side attraction to the bootlegging business.

In 1931, Maudie moved the rest of the family from Fort Payne to Georgia. By the end of the decade, Bob and Fonty had found legitimacy in fast cars as they started racing in the fledgling stock-car circuit. On Sept. 9, 1939, Bob and Fonty entered their bootlegging cars in a 100- mile race at Lakewood Speedway, where Bob finished third. Following service in the military during World War II, both brothers returned to racing throughout the South, becoming two of the biggest names in the sport.

By 1947, younger brother Tim caught the racing bug. While working as a fireman in Atlanta, he joined brothers Bob and Fonty for a weekend race with the intent to work as a pit crew member. But according to Tim’s widow, Frances Flock, someone noticed Tim standing around at the race track while his brothers were away and asked him his name. Upon hearing he was a member of the Flock family, the man asked Tim to drive his car. Tim tried to explain he was not a driver, to which the man replied, “You’re a Flock, aren’t you?” Tim won a 10-lap heat and there was no turning back. The next weekend he won his first official race.

Bill France, the driving force behind NASCAR, soon was marketing the Flocks in the new organization. Promoters often had the Flocks show up days in advance to generate interest for upcoming races. Running modified stock cars in 1948, all three brothers placed in the top 10 in points, with Fonty second (15 wins), Tim third (one win) and Bob seventh (five wins).

When France started Strictly Stock racing, the Flock brothers signed on. Now, the three Flock boys weren’t the only members of the family gaining a name for themselves as racecar drivers. Sister Ethel Flock (Mobley) was already a mainstay on the “powder-puff” derby circuit. In the second Strictly Stock race, held at the Daytona Beach and Road Course in 1949, she proved herself just as competitive as her brothers when she finished 11th – ahead of brothers Bob and Fonty. Tim finished second. This was the only time in NASCAR history that four siblings participated in a race.

The 1950s were the golden years for the Flocks. Before the decade was out, the Flocks would total more than 60 wins and two Grand National (now Sprint Cup) series championships. They would set precedents and records, some still standing today. Bob, who had two career NASCAR wins and 18 top-10 finishes, captured the pole for the first sanctioned NASCAR race in 1959 and became the first to win a race from the pole position that same year. Fonty won 19 career NASCAR races with 83 top-10 finishes and 33 poles. He finished second in points in 1951 despite having the most wins that season with eight checkered flags.

Tim was the most successful of the brothers with 39 NASCAR wins, 129 top-10 finishes, 38 poles and two Grand National series championships (1952 and 1955). He is 18th on the list for all-time NASCAR wins and holds a winning percentage of more than 20 percent – a mark unlikely to be achieved again. In addition to his upcoming induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Tim was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers of All Time in 1998.

The Flocks’ respective racing careers were cut short by serious accidents (Bob and Fonty) and a labor dispute in the case of Tim, but the Flock legacy, collectively and individually, lives on.

A Little Monkey Business

Tim Flock’s racing record alone is enough to secure his place as a motorsports legend. But a mid-season stretch in 1953 had tongues wagging then and is still talked about today whenever his name is mentioned.

That’s because for several races, Tim drove with a hairy little friend strapped in the seat next to him – a Rhesus monkey named Jocko Flocko.

While most stories claim he competed in eight races with Jocko, Tim’s widow, Frances Flock, who lives in Indian Land, S.C., says it was only seven. “A lot of people think it was Tim’s idea to put that monkey in the car, but it wasn’t,” Frances says.

The brainchild behind the publicity stunt was car owner Ted Chester, who thought having the monkey in Tim’s car would swing some needed media and fan attention to Tim after a slow start to the season.

“Tim didn’t really want much to do with the monkey at first,” Frances says. “He said he didn’t think NASCAR was going let him race with a monkey, but Ted Chester thought it was a good idea, and Tim finally said ‘you’re the boss, but I think you’re crazy.’”

Whether anyone in NASCAR found out the plan beforehand and looked the other way is not known, but Tim and Chester took an “askfor- forgiveness-later” approach just the same and quietly went about building Jocko a special seat and accessorizing him with a racing suit, hat and goggles.

On April 5, 1953, at the old Charlotte Speedway, Tim’s crew smuggled Jocko into the pits and buckled the tiny passenger into his Hudson. When the green flag dropped, Jocko etched his name into the record books as the first monkey to compete in a stock-car race.

One popular story claims a driver hit the wall when he was startled to see Jocko and Tim roaring by him. While Jocko’s karma didn’t result in a checkered flag that day, it did bring Tim a lot of attention from fans – especially children who liked to feed Jocko peanuts.

A little over a month later, Tim and Jocko racked up another first for man and monkey with their win at Hickory Speedway, but the dynamic partnership would be short-lived. It was the duo’s final race together on May 30 at the new Raleigh Speedway that cemented their place in racing lore.

With Tim running with the front of the pack, disaster struck when Jocko somehow managed to slip his seat harness. Frances says back then there was a trap door on the right side of the car with an attached chain the driver could pull up to see if a tire was going down on the right side.

“Jocko had seen Tim pull the chain before to check his tires and that’s exactly what Jocko did,” Frances says. “He pulled the door open and stuck his head out the bottom of the car and was hit by something like a pebble on the track. The monkey then went crazy.”

Jocko jumped on Tim’s back and wrapped his arms around his head. “Tim had no choice but to pull into the pits and hand the monkey off to someone. He had to get that monkey off his back,” Frances quips.

Following the race, Tim officially retired Jocko – citing the $750 difference in the third-place money instead of first place that Jocko likely cost him. Sadly, Jocko passed away soon after.

Frances says the first race after Jocko died, some children asked what happened to Jocko, and Tim told them he had passed. “Some of the children got upset and started crying,” Frances says. “Tim was so tender-hearted that he couldn’t stand seeing them cry so from then on when a child asked where Jocko was, Tim would tell them he had to fire the monkey because he refused to sign autographs.”

1955 – A banner year for Tim

Tim quit racing full time in 1954 after a dispute with NASCAR official Bill France, who disqualified him from a race. In 1955, Tim was talked into attending a race at Daytona with friends. Seeing Carl Kiekhaefer’s 1955 Chrysler 300 gave him a change of heart and he talked the new race car owner into letting him drive. He won, and it was the start of the most successful season of Tim’s career and one of the most dominating performances in the annals of NASCAR. Tim captured 18 poles (sometimes credited with 19) and took home 18 checkered flags in 45 races to capture his second NASCAR points championship.

Kiekhaefer had gotten into racing to promote his Mercury outboard boat engine company – later named Mercury Marine.

Fort Payne resident Dr. Steve Brewer, who is a member of the executive committee for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, says Kiefhaefer created the modern NASCAR team model with “racing team members all wearing matching uniforms and corporate sponsorship on his race cars.”

Winter 2013 Lookout Alabama 65 Despite the success he enjoyed driving Kiefhaefer’s Chrysler 300, Tim quit Kiefhaefer after winning the April 8, 1956, race at North Wilkesboro, N. C., citing stomach ulcers, a chronic problem that earlier in his life led to an honorable discharge from the Army. With the Kiefhaefer camp, Tim won 21 races in barely more than one season.

Tim had limited success following the breakup with Kiefhaefer. In 1961, Tim attempted to start a labor union for drivers with racing legend Curtis Turner. It was reported Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa backed them. When an angry France threatened to shut down his tracks if drivers unionized, the other drivers who had backed Tim and Turner dropped their support for a union. France banned Tim and Curtis for life, only to reinstate them in 1965. But Tim was 40 and his competitive racing days were waning.

Tim’s last race was the Battle of the NASCAR Legends at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1991. The race featured such drivers as Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson, Pete Hamilton and Donnie Allison. Tim finished 10th.

Always proud of Fort Payne

Ask most people around Fort Payne about Tim Flock or any other member of the Flock family who hailed from there and you’ll get a blank stare or maybe a “who’s that?” reply.

In fact, there is only one reminder of any of the Flocks in the town – a piece of artwork depicting Tim Flock and hanging on the wall at The Spot Coffee Shop on Gault Avenue. It goes mostly unnoticed other than being a part of the eclectic decor. (Note: Tim Flock is enshrined in the DeKalb County Sports Hall of Fame housed inside the Rainsville Civic Center a few miles away from Fort Payne).

But that’s not to say absolutely no one here who knows about one of Fort Payne’s most unknown famous natives. Pam Wheeler, a realtor and faithful NASCAR follower, is a Tim Flock fan.

“I think it’s a shame that we don’t have some kind of marker in town honoring Tim Flock” Wheeler says. “Tim Flock and his family were pioneers of NASCAR and they were born right here in Fort Payne.”

Brewer, of course, is another resident knowledgeable about Tim and his famous siblings. Tim was among the second class of inductees to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991, and serving on the executive committee of the organization, Brewer spoke with Tim and wife Frances on occasion before the racing legend died in 1998. He says Tim’s latest honor is fitting.

“I think Tim Flock being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is well deserved,” Brewer says. “He was a pioneer in the sport. He was excited when he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. I know he would be honored to be among the NASCAR Hall of Fame class also.”

Frances, who was elated when the recent NASCAR Hall of Fame was announced earlier this year (Tim received the most votes among fellow inductees that include Fireball Roberts and Maurice Petty), says her husband was proud of being from Alabama and especially being from Fort Payne.

“People would sometimes say, ‘Aren’t you from Georgia?’” Frances recalls. “Tim always corrected them and said, ‘I’m from Fort Payne, Ala.’ When the country group Alabama got big and put Fort Payne on the map, Tim would tell people, ‘That’s where I’m from, too.’”

More Fabulous Flock Facts

  • When Bob Flock was told he couldn’t race at the Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta because of his ties to bootlegging, he arrived at the racetrack with his face hidden behind a bandana. He led Atlanta police who tried to arrest him on a high-speed chase around the speedway, through the board fence and down the streets of the city before his car ran out of gas.
  • Bob Flock is a member of the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame and the National Motorsports Press Hall of Fame.
  • Fonty Flock gained notoriety for wearing Bermuda shorts and argyle socks en route to victory in the 1952 Southern 500 at Darlington. This wasn’t the first, or the last, time the pencil-thin mustached flamboyant Flock raced in such relaxed style.
  • Fonty Flock, often credited with conceiving the idea to build the speedway at Talladega, was inducted into the Talladega Walk of Fame and is a member of Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame Association and the National Motorsports Press Hall of Fame.
  • Tim Flock was truly a man of onlys and firsts. He is the only person to win all NASCAR’s major division races at Daytona: Modified, Convertible and Grand National. He won the only sports car race ever sanction by NASCAR from the pole position in a Mercedes 300 SL. He is the only driver to win 18 poles in one season. He was the first driver to win 18 races in one season (later bested by Richard Petty), and the only driver to win a cup series championship upside down when he flipped his Hudson Hornet onto its roof on lap 164 of the 1952 season’s final race in West Palm Beach. In truth, he only needed to start the race to capture the points championship, but always a crowd favorite, he crawled unhurt from the car to be greeted by a standing ovation from race fans. He remarked afterwards, “I bet I’m the only driver who has won the championship on his head!”
  • Tim Flock is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame (2014), International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Talladega Walk of Fame, National Motorsports Press Hall of Fame, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, State of Georgia Hall of Fame, Charlotte Motor Speedway Court of Legends and the DeKalb County (Alabama) Sports Fall of Fame.
  • Ethel Flock (Mobley), who was named for a hightest gasoline, was – in addition to a race car driver – a Hollywood stunt double for actresses Mary Pickford and Joan Crawford, among others.
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