The Flock family of Fort Payne, Alabama, was perhaps the most adventurous and daring family in Alabama history. The Flocks are best known for the exploits of brothers Bob, Fontell (Fonty), and Tim, who were early stock-car-racing stars on the NASCAR circuit in the 1940s and 50s. Sisters Reo, an airshow barnstormer, and Ethel, a driver, also joined in the daredevil activities, although to a lesser degree. The family helped popularize what is now one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the nation. The family's daredevil streak began with father Carl Lee Flock, a cab driver born in Fort Payne in 1873. Carl Lee was a local celebrity who entertained the community as a bicycle racer, trick cyclist, and tightrope walker. He died in 1928, leaving his wife Maudie with eight children at the onset of the Great Depression—a ninth child, Charles, had died as an infant.
Hard times helped spark the spirit of adventure in the Flock children. Daughter Reo (born 1909), named after the REO line of automobiles and trucks, left home in her teens and became a performer with traveling airshows across the eastern United States. She was a noted wingwalker, stunt parachutist, and expert skeet shooter. She died of tuberculosis on November 2, 1936. Carl Lee Jr. (born 1904) left Alabama and set off on a life of adventure in Atlanta, helping his bootlegger uncle Peachtree Williams haul illegal liquor. Carl later became a successful bootlegger in his own right and a champion speedboat racer. Younger brothers Robert Newman "Bob" (born 1918) and Truman Fontell "Fonty" (born 1920) soon joined him in the illegal liquor business, and Maudie moved the rest of the family to the Atlanta area in 1931.
The Flock family entered the world of stock-car racing on September 9, 1939, when Bob and Fonty entered their Ford Coupes—probably their bootlegging cars—in a 100-mile race at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway. The race was won by Roy Hall, another bootlegger, but Bob had a successful debut and finished third. Both brothers became car-racing fanatics and soon were regulars on the fledgling stock-car circuit, traveling to races throughout the Piedmont South prior to World War II. The outbreak of the war interrupted the brothers' racing career, and both served in the military. After the war, Bob and Fonty returned to stock-car racing and soon became two of the top stars in the region. Unfortunately, they could not pursue their craft on their home turf of Lakewood Speedway. After a major campaign led by Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill and the local Baptist and Methodist ministerial alliance, the track management agreed to ban anyone with a police record from racing at the city-owned track. Bob gained local fame when he tried to sneak into a Lakewood race with his face hidden behind a bandana. When Atlanta police tried to arrest him, he led them on a high-speed chase around the speedway, through the board fence, and down the streets of the city.
The brothers found another outlet for competition in races promoted by former racing competitor Bill France. Often billed as the "Mad Flocks," "The Flying Flocks," or the "Fabulous Flocks," Bob and Fonty found stock-car-racing stardom in the late 1940s in France's National Championship Stock Car Circuit in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, at northeastern fairgrounds, and as far west as Indiana. The Flocks always received top billing for these races, and promoters often paid them to come to town days before an event to help build interest. In 1947, the pair had one of their most successful years when Fonty won six races and the points championship and Bob won eight races and placed fifth in points. In 1948, the brothers signed on to France's new National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) series and were joined by youngest brother Julius Timothy "Tim" (born 1924). Racing in modified stock cars, all three brothers placed in the top 10 in points, with Fonty second (with 15 wins), Tim third (with one win), and Bob seventh (with five wins). When France began his premier "Strictly Stock" series (now the Nextel Cup) at the Charlotte Speedway in 1949, the "Mad Flocks" were the main attraction. Bob won the pole position for the race but dropped out early due to engine failure, but Fonty finished second and Tim fifth.
At the second "Strictly Stock" race at the Daytona Beach and Road Course on July 10, 1949, sister Ethel Flock Mobley joined her racing brothers—the only time four members of one family took part in a race in NASCAR's top division. Ethel began racing in the so-called "powder-puff derbies" that Bob held at a new track he was promoting near Morrow, Georgia. She quickly moved from these women-only events to compete with the men. In an effort to boost the popularity of his new series, Bill France added three women drivers to the competitions. In her husband's 1948 Cadillac, Ethel not only finished ahead of the other women—in 11th place—but to her eternal delight defeated both Bob and Fonty. Ethel's racing career was relatively short-lived, however. She drove in only one more race in NASCAR's top division and occasionally raced in Georgia until the demands of family life led her to retire in 1952. She died in 1984.
Throughout the early 1950s, the Flock brothers remained in the top echelon of drivers and were among the more outlandish personalities in NASCAR. Bob won four races in its top division, but his career was cut short by a serious accident in 1951. He raced only sporadically until 1956. Often considered by his contemporaries as the Flock with the most raw driving talent, Bob died of a heart attack in 1964. Fonty won 19 Grand National races and finished in the top five in the points championship four times in a career that lasted until 1957. He is perhaps best remembered for his win in the 1952 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, a race he drove in Bermuda shorts and argyle socks. After the checkered flag fell, Fonty parked his car on the front stretch, stood on its hood, and led the crowd in singing "Dixie." He retired from racing in 1957 after he was involved in a serious accident at Darlington. Fonty sold insurance, worked for NASCAR in the 1960s, and is credited by some with originating the idea of building a superspeedway near Talladega. He died of cancer in 1972.
Tim was the most successful of the Flocks, with 40 wins (currently 15th on the all-time list) and two NASCAR Grand National Championships in 1952 and 1955. Tim's 40 wins in 189 starts give him the best winning percentage in NASCAR history. He is often remembered for driving with a rhesus monkey named Jocko Flocko in his car for eight races in 1953. In a race in Raleigh, Jocko slipped his leash and began running amok inside the car. Tim had to pull into the pit to get rid of the panicked monkey, likely costing him the race, and Jocko was retired. Tim himself retired from racing in 1961 when Bill France Sr. banned him from NASCAR "for life" for attempting to organize NASCAR drivers with the Teamsters Union. He worked for a number of years in marketing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and served as one of the most important links to NASCAR's early days in his later years. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991, and in 1998, as part of its 50th anniversary, NASCAR named Tim one of its 50 greatest drivers. He died of cancer one month later.
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Published February 26, 2007
Last updated March 20, 2013