Photos Provided by Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum
Each year the Hilton Head Concours & Motoring Festival develops an exhibit that shows the parts of our lives that revolve around automobiles. Sometimes it’s the cars we see on the screen or the vehicles that helped discover the planet. This year, the Life Exhibit is “Life on the Oval,” celebrating NASCAR’s 75th anniversary.
“We’ve always had racing as a big part of our festival because of the proximity of the Savannah race track,” said Concours President Lindsey Harrell.
Until 2019 the festival spanned two weekends. The first was held on Hutchinson Island in Savannah for the Speed Classic that featured racers of all eras pounding the pavement. However, the raceway is no more, so the motoring festival added racing to its Hilton Head events.
“We’ve always honored the area’s racing heritage, and with this exhibit and the Indy 500 cars, we will continue to do so,” Harrell said.
The highlight of the exhibit is the 1952 Fabulous Hudson Hornet, the inspiration for the character Doc Hudson in the “Cars” movie franchise.
About that Hudson
There are a lot of absolutes about the 1952 Fabulous Hudson Hornet. It was the winningest car in NASCAR history, driven by one of the greatest racers ever, Herb Thomas, and it’s the only race car left of that era.
The Hudson dominated the fledging NASCAR circuit in the 1950s with its step-down chassis and in-line six that gave it 147 horsepower right off the showroom floor. Then you put Herb Thomas behind the wheel, some police car and taxi cab options, and it was an unbeatable combination.
The car, now owned by Al Schultz, lives at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum in Michigan so others can see it.
“My eldest grandson took a strong liking to the movie “Cars” and more specifically, the character of Doc Hudson,” Schultz said. “My wife, Eva, and I watched the movie at least a 100 times with our grandson, who is on the autism spectrum.”
Schultz was amazed to learn that the only surviving real-life Fabulous Hudson Hornet NASCAR racer was housed just 20 minutes from his house at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum. Off he and his grandson went.
The museum curator let his grandson sit in the driver’s seat, “and the happiness on his face overwhelmed me,” Schultz said. “It was the most genuine smile I had ever seen.”
Schultz knew he needed to be the car’s next caretaker.
“I met with the owner, Ed Souers, and told him if he ever wanted to sell the car, I would do right by the car and continue to display it at the museum.”
When the car went up on the auction block, the bidding was intense.
“Evidently I wasn’t the only one interested in the car driven to two NASCAR championships by Hall of Fame driver Herb Thomas, who still holds the highest win percentage in NASCAR history,” Schultz says with a chuckle.
Schultz is pleased he can help preserve the history of true stock-car racing.
“I prefer the early days of NASCAR when the cars really were stock cars and were virtually the same as what everyday citizens drove on the streets. In those days the car, the driver and engine tuner all worked in unison to win races.”
Doc Hudson couldn’t have said it better.