When you hear the list of accomplishments achieved by race car driver “Fearless Freddie” Lorenzen, it’s hard to imagine his story has remained largely untold.
He was, among other things:
ź winner of the 1965 Daytona 500;
ź the first northerner to become a NASCAR champion;
ź the first NASCAR driver to earn $100,000-plus in a single season;
ź named one of the top 50 NASCAR drivers of all time;
ź and the first NASCAR driver to complete the Grand Slam of stock car racing.
A new exhibit at the Elmhurst Historical Museum called “On the Road to Glory: Fred Lorenzen” brings to light the story of the Elmhurst native who become one of early NASCAR’s prominent drivers and a longtime fan favorite.
The exhibit, which will be on display Feb. 1 to May 19 at 120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst, traces the route of a fast-driving local kid who blazed a trail into the annals of NASCAR history as the growing sport emerged on the national scene in the 1960s. The exhibit is supported by the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet and the Elmhurst Heritage Foundation.
Known to his fans as “Fearless Freddie,” “The Golden Boy” and “The Elmhurst Express,” Lorenzen drove his way into the hearts of racing fans with his skill on the track, movie star looks, a polished and professional demeanor, and a close connection with his cars and pit crews.
As Elmhurst Historical Museum’s curator of exhibits Lance Tawzer tells it, this is a human interest story about perseverance and dreaming big as much as it is about NASCAR racing history.
“When we research subjects for our history exhibits, we look at a lot of factors,” Tawzer said. “But most of all, we look for a compelling story that hasn’t necessarily been told. Fred Lorenzen’s life is that kind of story: it has grit, heart and glamour, and it tells how a regular guy from the neighborhood made it to the pinnacle of his sport through hard work and determination.
“The more we found out about Fred’s life and career, the more we knew this was an important story for us to bring to the public.”
Lorenzen’s daughter, Amanda Lorenzen Gardstrom, did not know the extent of her father’s fame until she became an adult.
“As kids growing up in Elmhurst, we had a very normal childhood,” Gardstrom said. “For us, he was our dad, and other than the trophies around our house, we knew very little about his fame.
“It’s now quite humbling to realize the impact he had on the racing world and the people who knew and respected him. My dad still has a lot of fans out there, and we are thrilled that this exhibit is honoring his career in such a special way.”
“On the Road to Glory” features many items on loan to the Elmhurst Historical Museum by the Lorenzen family and local collectors, as well as artifacts from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina, the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Detroit.
A few of the highlights include:
ź trophies from some of Lorenzen’s major wins, including the ’65 Daytona 500;
ź racing footage from the NASCAR Hall of Fame archives;
ź exhibit text written by NASCAR sports writer Ben White;
ź Lorenzen’s fire suit, helmet and other racing gear;
ź interviews with racing greats who knew Fred, including Bobby Allison and many more;
ź many previously unpublished photographs from throughout Lorenzen’s career;
ź and film clips from the driver’s short-lived Hollywood adventure, including an appearance in the 1968 “B” movie “The Speed Lovers.”
Museum hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. For details, call (630) 833-1457 or visit elmhusthistory.org.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.