Saturday, December 31, 2016

"NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers" Marvin Panch Dies - December 31, 2015

May 28, 1926 - December 31, 2015
Marvin Panch
(Photo credit; www.marvinpanch.com)
Born in Menomonie, Wisconsin, USA.
He started his racing career as a car owner in Oakland, California. One week, his driver did not show up, and he raced the car to a third place finish. He won a championship and several races in six years, including five NASCAR races on the West Coast of the United States.

He attempted his first East Coast race at Darlington Raceway in 1953. NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. convinced him to come East for 1954. Lee Petty invited Panch to race in the 1954 Darlington race, where he finished third. The finish impressed Tom Horbison, who hired Panch to race his car during the 1955 season. His 1955 finishes impressed Pete DePaolo, who hired Panch to race in his factory Ford team. Panch won his first NASCAR race on July 20, 1956 at Montgomery Speedway after starting on the pole position and dominating the entire race.

He won the two races in 1957 for DePaolo. He added another victory in April before Ford ended its factory support in the middle of the season. Panch joined the legendary Holman-Moody team for the rest of the season. He won three more events in the season, and finished second in the final points standings.

The end of the Ford factory sponsorship hurt Panch's career. Over the next three seasons he was only able to race in 24 races. He was offered a ride by legendary NASCAR mechanic Smokey Yunick in the 1961 Daytona 500. The car was a year old 1960 Pontiac. Panch took the offer, and won the 1961 Daytona 500 to put his career back on track.

During the 1962 season he was offered a ride by legendary car owners the Wood Brothers. He accepted the ride in the Ford factory sponsored team. Panch had eight wins and 30 Top 3 finishes in 69 races for the team. He stayed with the team from 1962 to March 27, 1966, when Ford had another dispute with NASCAR. In 1965, A. J. Foyt finished the Atlanta 500 in Atlanta Motor Speedway in a car Panch started, taking it to victory. Panch received credit for the win.

Panch was hired by Lee Petty to race for Petty Enterprises for the 1966 World 600 in a year old car. Panch won the race for his final career victory, when Richard Petty was his relief driver. Panch raced for Petty Enterprises until he announced his retirement after the National 500 at Charlotte in October 1966.

 Panch was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. He inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1987, and the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in its first class in 2002.

Following his Daytona 500 win, Panch purchased property in Port Orange, Florida, relocating there after the end of his career. On December 31, 2015, Panch was found unconscious in his car, and was later pronounced dead of natural causes.

He was the father of aspiring young NASCAR driver Richie Panch who died in a plane crash on September 2, 1985.

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