Remembering Speedy Thompson On The Anniversary Of His Passing

Speedy Thompson (L) and an unnamed tire rep. Photo from www.legendsofnascar.com.

Often, racers are remembered by much of the public for things they did well, but not always for the things they did great. Such is the case of Alfred Bruce “Speedy” Thompson. Born in the dirty South of North Carolina, to the son of an auto racer.

Thompson’s father Bruce, worked through the depression as an auto racer, driving when he could find a ride. The elder Thompson was one of the early pioneers of stock car racing, helping to define what stock car racing would eventually become.

Bruce would eventually become a welding shop owner, race car fabricator, and promoter. He would be instrumental in starting Tim Flock’s career, putting him in a car to compete against the other Flock brothers and various competitors.

Speedy would cut his teeth working in his father’s welding shop which had evolved into Thompson’s Speed Shop.  It is not known why or when Alfred earned his nickname “Speedy” but records show that he was called that for almost his entire life.

Most sources claim that Speedy made his racing debut in 1950. That is true of the NASCAR circuit, but Thompson actually began racing in earnest after WWII was over. He got his start by racing roadsters in 1946 at regional tracks, slowly spreading out to the surrounding areas. He moved to Modifieds in 1948 with much success. Horsepower seemed to suit his driving style.

Records show Speedy racing in the NASCAR Modifieds in 1948 against drivers like Red Byron, Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Bill Blair, Marshall Teague, and Fonty Flock. Before long, Thompson began to eye the Grand National Stock Car circuit, where he made his debut in 1950.

Speedy Thompson in the Wood Brother’s car. Photo from www.woodbrothersracing.com.

Records show that Speedy Thompson entered the 1949 NASCAR Modified race at Daytona Beach where he led three laps and finished Second to Marshall Teague. Our search shows his debut NASCAR Grand National race at Vernon Fairgrounds dirt oval on October 1, 1950. Speedy finished 21st in Bruce Thompson’s 1950 Plymouth. By the stats, it is clear he did not finish the race.

He made several starts in 1951 and 1952, working his way up the ladder in the NASCAR Sportsman and Grand National Series. 1953 would be the driver’s breakout year. He started at Daytona in the NASCAR Modified series, finishing Fourth behind Cotton Owens, Ralph Moody, and Earl Moss.

After a Second place finish in the Raleigh 300 Grand National Race, Speedy Thompson was off and running as a threat to win every race. His first NASCAR Grand National win came in September at Central City Speedway in Macon, Georgia, beating Lee Petty, one of NASCAR’s early stars. Then next came a month later at North Wilkesboro, where he won by two laps.

After a disappointing season in 1954, Speedy Thompson made 15 NASCAR starts in 1955, winning two races at the end of the season and attracting the attention of Carl Kiekhaefer.

Joining forces with the powerful factory-backed Kiekhaefer team, Thompson made a serious challenge for the NASCAR Grand National Championship by competing in 42 races, winning eight times and finishing the points standings in Third place.   

Thompson switched to running his own equipment and part-time for Hugh Babb in 1957 after a falling out with Keikhaefer. He finished Third in the season points standings again. Opting to run in his own car exclusively in 1958, Thompson again finished Third in NASCAR’s Grand National Points for the third straight time.

Another third place in points came in 1959 from 29 starts in a variety of different cars, this time with no wins. 1959 would be the last time Speedy would run a full season in any of the NASCAR series. Ironically, he finished in the points race in Third place for a remarkable fourth straight time.

Speedy Thompson’s amazing NASCAR career was very good and he is considered one of the best that ever ran in the NASCAR Modified series. Yet, it was running Late Models in short tracks around the South where Thompson excelled. His amazing short track career landed the driver in the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame and the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame.

Sadly, on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972, at the Metrolina Fairgrounds in Charlotte, Thompson started the race despite telling his crew he was not feeling well. Thompson’s car stopped on the track. He was found in his car not breathing. He was revived and put into an ambulance but he died on the way to the hospital. The medical examiner said that he died of an acute coronary occlusion (heart attack).

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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