Tim Flock added color to early NASCAR races

May 14, 2007|by TODD BURLAGE / Wheelbase Communications

The monkey's name was Jocko Flocko and with him, Tim Flock was in for the ride of his life.

A full-time pet and a part-time passenger for eight races during Flock's 1953 Grand National (the forerunner to NASCAR stock-car racing) season, Jocko wriggled out of his collar during an event at the former Charlotte, N.C., Speedway. The tiny critter jumped behind Flock, grabbed him by the neck at speed and forced a costly pit stop, thus ending the monkey's brief racing career.

Flock would later complain that the mishap cost him about $750, the difference between finishing second and third back then.

Jocko is just one anecdote to one of the most fascinating and entertaining lives the racing world has ever shared. Julius Timothy "Tim" Flock was truly a NASCAR pioneer and a classic case study in hard living and fast driving.

He was a two-time stock-car champion who won 40 races. Yes, Flock was that good. In fact, he won 18 poles and 18 races during his 1955 Grand National championship season. His 21.1 percent career winning percentage is still one of the best in NASCAR history.


"He was a cool customer," said Richard Petty on an ESPN Classic SportsCentury special featuring Flock.

"You would see a bunch of them drivers runnin' sideways. Tim would just be runnin' around. When the race was over, Tim won. Them guys were still runnin' sideways."

But it's not the racing as much as the lifestyle and legend that make Flock such an endearing figure, nearly a decade after his death in 1998.

There's the concussion he suffered after being run over by a race car . . . while sleeping in the infield. Then, in 1952, he secured his first Grand National championship when he flipped his car and crossed the finish line on its roof.

"I bet I'm the only guy who ever won a championship while on his head," Flock later said.

His brash but inviting personality was forged as a youngster trying to find his way with his rowdy brothers during the Great Depression.

Raised by a family of bootleggers, Flock was only a year old in 1925 when his father died, leaving the bills to his mother and his older siblings. The family was uprooted and moved to Atlanta, Ga., where they lived and raced off the profits older brother Carl turned from "running" illegal liquor.

The Flocks were a wild bunch who craved speed and thrills.

The boys would race fellow bootleggers in the Georgia cow pastures by night and take their passion to the area dirt tracks on weekends. When Bill France Sr. began a stock-car circuit in 1947 called NASCAR Grand National, the boys couldn't resist and the Charlotte track became a second home.

Older brothers Bob and Flonty were accomplished racers and even sister Ethel competed in one Grand National race. They all tried to keep younger brother Tim in school and away from the race track.

However, he dropped out at 16, married a 13-year-old girl and made a bigger racing splash than any of the Flocks, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

When he wasn't winning races, he was losing verbal battles with France. Flock's antics and skill caught the attention of fellow racing mogul Bruton Smith who paid Flock $500 to add his track outside of Charlotte to his racing schedule.

When France caught wind of the deal, Flock was docked more than 800 points, a penalty that he maintained cost him the 1950 championship crown. With his career winding down, things came to a head in 1961 when France banned Flock for life from NASCAR for trying to organize a drivers' union.

Flock died at age 73 after a long battle with lung and liver cancer, just a couple of weeks after celebrating his honor as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers.

Proof that Flock was more than simply notorious? For his accomplishments, he was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, the State of Georgia Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Court of Legends.

NASCAR owes its very existence to men such as Flock, a pioneer who raced more for the love of the game than money. It showed in the way he drove and the way he lived. And after Jocko Flocko died (well after his racing career was over), it showed in the answer he gave children who wondered what became of the monkey. Flock simply said that he stopped coming because he couldn't sign autographs.

That was Tim Flock.

Todd Burlage is a feature writer and contributor to Wheelbase Communications.

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