How Tubby Gonzales Helped Create a NASCAR Legend

By: Drew Hierwarter


Fred Lorenzen was one of the earliest superstars of NASCAR. In 1963 he was the first driver to earn more than $100,000 in a single season. In 29 races that year he had an amazing 23 top ten finishes, 21 top fives, and 6 wins. During his career he drove for some of the biggest names in the sport. People like Hoss Ellington, Ray Nichels, the legendary Ford factory team of Holmon-Moody, and Tubby Gonzales.


Wait a minute, Tubby who?


Tubby Gonzales was a race car driver from Houston Texas who wanted to test his fortunes in NASCAR’s top circuit. In 1961 he came to Florida and attempted to get his Ford into the prestigious Daytona 500. He started 11th in his 100 mile qualifying event but dropped out after only nine laps. It looked like that was going to be that for Gonzales but little did he know that his Daytona experience wasn’t quite over yet. Fred Lorenzen was also in Daytona for the 500 that year.


Lorenzen had been driving his own car on a meager budget for the two previous seasons. Making races when he could afford to, sitting them out when he had to. He made 10 starts in 1960 and when he was able to finish, he usually finished well. Well enough to catch the eye of Ford’s Ralph Moody.


But by the end of 1960 Lorenzen was broke and back home working as carpenter. He thought his racing days were over. On Christmas Eve of 1960, Lorenzen got a phone call that would change his life. It was Ralph Moody offering to hire Fred to drive the mighty factory supported Holmon-Moody Ford for the entire 1961 season.


So there was Lorenzen in Daytona 1961 with Holmon-Moody. But the problem was they had no car. There just hadn’t been time to get one prepared for him to drive. And now the story shifts to a New England Ford dealer and racer named Bob Tasca. Tasca knew about Tubby Gonzales and knew that Gonzales’ car was available. So he put Gonzales together with Ralph Moody and the deal was made for Holmon-Moody to take over Gonzales’ car and put Lorenzen in the driver’s seat.


Fred Lorenzen started the 1961 Daytona 500 in 45th place, and nobody had any unrealistic expectations about the result. But Lorenzen had more than enough talent and he brought this unheralded car home in fourth place. Not only was he the highest finishing Ford in the race, but his car was the only brand other than the dominant Pontiacs of the day to finish in the top six!


Lorenzen drove “real” Holmon-Moody cars in 14 more races that year and got three wins, six top fives, and six top tens. It was the beginning of a decade long career that brought fame and a large fortune to the man from Elmhurst, Illinois who might not have made it but for the use of a car owned by Tubby Gonzales.

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