INDIAN LAND, S.C. — Frances Flock’s two-car garage holds no actual cars.
Instead, it contains thousands of mementos of her late husband Tim’s racing life – pictures, plaques, trophies and five enormous scrapbooks so stunning in their attention to detail that digital versions of them actually made it into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in Charlotte before Tim Flock did.
Tim Flock, one of NASCAR’s earliest pioneering drivers and a two-time points champion at the sport’s highest level, in 1952 and 1955, will be inducted posthumously into the hall of fame Wednesday. No one at that event will enjoy the moment more than 85-year-old Frances Flock, who proclaims the night will be “like going to the Oscars.”
Her garage at her home about half an hour from Charlotte is basically a small museum dedicated to her late husband. It is carefully designed and carpeted. Even her garage door has checkered flags and other mementos attached to it. None of them fall down when you open the garage, either.
Frances Flock said the garage helps her feel close to her late husband.
“It means so much to me to keep my husband alive,” she said. “Every time I come in and out, I feel his presence because I’m completely surrounded by him.”
Tim Flock died of lung and liver cancer in 1998. When asked the question of how long she and Tim were married, Frances Flock gives another clue to the depth of her devotion with her answer’s exactness.
“Fifty-three years, five months and four days,” she said.
The two met at a dance in Atlanta in 1941. Tim Flock, who would later impress even Richard Petty with how smoothly he drove a race car, exhibited grace in other areas as well that night.
“I was dancing the jitterbug with a sailor that night,” Frances Flock said. “He spun me, and it was so hot, I kind of lost my balance. Well, Tim was propped up against a post. The guy who I was dancing with didn’t try to grab me because he had already turned loose of my hand. So Tim grabbed me, right around my waist. That’s the way we met.”
They would marry in 1944, when Frances was only 16 – “but an old maid in my neighborhood, where most were already married by then,” she said – and Tim was 20.
Tim had two older brothers – Bob and Fonty – who were racing before he tried it out. He ended up becoming the most well-known of the Flock racing family (which also included a racing sister). That was partly because of his championships and partly because he pulled off one of the most unusual publicity stunts in racing.
This would never work today for a variety of reasons. But in 1953, Flock kept a Rhesus monkey inside the race car with him for eight races.
Jocko Flocko, as the monkey was known, had his own race suit and was Flock’s “co-driver” for one win, at a race in Hickory. He stayed in a cage at the Flocks’ home in Atlanta between races. When asked if she had much direct contact with Jocko Flocko, Frances laughed.
“Oh no,” she said. “That was Tim’s and the two oldest boys’ mess. I had five children to raise and one of them was a small baby at the time.”
Jocko Flocko was taken out of the race car for good, however, when he was hit by a pebble in his eighth race and ended up latching himself to Flock and clawing into the racer’s back in a panic. That forced an unscheduled pit stop to get, as Flock would later recall, “the monkey off my back.”
Flock’s best season was 1955, when he won 18 races. He had 39 wins all told in NASCAR’s premier series. Flock quit racing in 1961, whereupon he went to work for Charlotte Motor Speedway for the next 30 years in a variety of roles. He and Frances raised their family near the UNC Charlotte campus, 4 miles from the speedway. She moved to Indian Land to be closer to her family a few years after his death.
As the flame keeper of her late husband’s career, Frances has long been interested in when Tim would make it into NASCAR’s hall. This is the fifth NASCAR hall of fame class, and she had attended a couple of the earlier announcement ceremonies in hopes that her husband would be honored.
“I was so heartbroken after the one (in 2012) that I said I’m not going anymore,” Frances said. “And my son said, ‘Mother, we’ll go one more time. If Daddy don’t go in this time then we won’t go anymore.’ So we went. And when he was announced, I was so tickled all I could do was throw my hands up. And then I started crying.”
That was in May 2013, when the class of 2014 was announced. Flock was the leading vote-getter for this class.
Frances Flock keeps busy throughout the summer months going to car shows and selling Tim Flock’s biography and other memorabilia. They used to do that together, and she has continued the tradition. She usually works in the Carolinas, but has driven as far as Kansas City and Florida with family members to go to the shows. She knows all of Tim’s racing stories by heart, she says, and likes to tell them to the younger generation.
“That’s my hobby,” she said. “That’s one of the things I promised him I would continue to do as long as I had good health and people asked me to come to the shows. And right now I’m booked all the way through September 2015.”
This week, though, Frances Flock is going to the “Oscars” in Charlotte. Her late husband has finally made it to the big dance, and this time her family stands ready to catch her if she starts to fall. Better clear off some more space in the garage. This is going to be big.
Fowler: email@example.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler