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Hard-driving, Heart-warming Story of 'Fearless Freddie' Lorenzen Unfolds at Elmhurst Historical Museum

"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,” Curator Lance Tawzer said. Opening reception is Thursday, Jan. 31.

When you hear the list of accomplishments achieved by Elmhurst native “Fearless Freddie” Lorenzen, it’s hard to imagine that his story has remained under the radar:

  • Winner of the 1965 Daytona 500
  • First northerner to become a NASCAR champion
  • First NASCAR driver to earn $100,000+ in a single season
  • Named one of the Top 50 NASCAR drivers of all time
  • First NASCAR driver to complete the Grand Slam of stock car racing

A new exhibit at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, “On the Road to Glory: Fred Lorenzen,” brings to light the story of Lorenzen, a York High School graduate who become one of early NASCAR’s prominent drivers and a long-time fan favorite.

The exhibit, which opens Feb. 1 and runs through May 19 at EHM, 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.

Local Kid Drives his Way into Racing History

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.”  

For Fred Lorenzen’s daughter, Amanda Lorenzen Gardstrom, the extent of her father’s fame was not realized 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.”

Exhibit Highlights

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:

  • Trophies from some of Lorenzen’s major wins, including the ’65 Daytona 500
  • Exciting racing footage from the NASCAR Hall of Fame archives
  • Exhibit text written by NASCAR sportswriter Ben White
  • Lorenzen’s fire suit, helmet and other racing gear
  • Interviews with many racing greats who knew Fred, including Bobby Allison
  • Many previously unpublished photographs from Lorenzen’s career
  • Film clips from the driver’s short-lived Hollywood adventures including an appearance in the 1968 “B” movie, The Speed Lovers

Special Programs and Events

Elmhurst Historical Museum is hosting a number of exhibit-related programs and special events in the coming months related to the On the Road to Glory exhibit:

1) Exhibit Opening Reception, 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31: The Elmhurst Heritage Foundation presents a special evening reception to get a sneak peak at the exhibit. Guests will take curator tours in the Glos Mansion, see the authentic Fred Lorenzen #28 tribute car outside and enjoy refreshments in the Education Center. Free for Elmhurst Heritage Foundation members/donors, $10 for nonmembers. Call 630-833-1457 or e-mail ehm@elmhurst.org to make a reservation.

2) Lorenzen Tribute Car Appearance, 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 1-3: On opening weekend, museum visitors can check out the Fred Lorenzen tribute car, an exact replica of Lorenzen’s 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 Fastback that he raced for the Holman-Moody team. On the museum grounds.

3) Build-Your-Own Race Car Workshop, 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 10: Families with children ages 4 and older (accompanied by adult) are invited to drop by the museum’s Education Center for a make-n-take workshop. Participants will snap together an awesome Lamborghini or Corvette Sting Ray. Members are $3, nonmembers, $5.

4) The Business of NASCAR Racing, 7 p.m. Feb. 28: Scott Paddock, president of the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, will discuss the fast-paced business of stock car racing and the emergence of this popular sport. Paddock, a veteran of the sports marketing industry, will discuss the economics of the racing business and the growth of the NASCAR brand in the Midwest. Part of the ongoing It’s History series for adults held in the Education Center. Free Admission.

5) NASCAR, From Beaches to Billions, 7 p.m. March 21: Award-winning writer Jerry Bonkowski, who has covered NASCAR and other sports for nearly 20 years, will be joined by Bernie Bernacki, a collector of car racing memorabilia from Chicago-area tracks. Get the inside scoop on the racing world, hear how this specialized sport has changed over the years, and view rare photos of Chicago racing’s heyday. Part of the ongoing It’s History series for adults held in the Education Center. Free Admission.

For more information, call (630) 833-1457 or visit the museum's website.

Source: Elmhurst Historical Museum

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