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Edwin Keith "Banjo" Matthews
February 14, 1932 - October 2, 1996

Edwin Keith "Banjo" Matthews, a native of Akron, Ohio, had a high degree of success behind the wheel of Modified race cars, winning hundreds of races during his career, but his primary claim to fame is the cars he built for others to drive. His shop, Banjo's Performance Center near Asheville, NC, is perhaps the second-most famous building in town, running a close second to the prestigious Biltmore House.

After moving to Miami from Ohio, he ran his first race at age 15 in a Ford Roadster at Pompano Beach Speedway in 1947, and won, After five years of racing and working on cars, Matthews decided he wanted to race for a living, and moved to Asheville, NC in 1952. He raced both dirt and asphalt, building a reputation as one of the best modified drivers around, and he was ready when NASCAR went to the superspeedways in the early 1960's. Banjo raced 50 times on the Grand National circuit, with a second at Atlanta being his closest encounter with victory lane.

Incredible drawing by Jeannie BarnesIn 1963, he left the driving to others, joining the Ford factory team building cars for Parnelli Jones, A. J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Pete Hamilton and Bobby Isaac. When the factories pulled out, Banjo opened his own shop, and the legend began. He made a deal with John Holman of Holman-Moody, and built kit-type Fords in 1971. Matthews built the body and framework, and H-M put in the motors. After that, he built cars for Chevrolet.

Cars owned by Matthews won nine races and 14 poles in 160 starts, including three Firecracker 400's at Daytona. But he decided to turn all of his energies to building cars for others to own, and that is when he really made a name for himself

Cars built by Matthews won 262 of 362 NASCAR Winston Cup races from 1974-1985, including all 30 races in 1978, and four consecutive Winston Cup championships (1975-78). On many occasions, cars built by Banjo Matthews comprised over half the field, Not only did he build them, he also repaired them. In addition to Winston Cup cars, he built Limited Sportsman, Modifieds and IROC cars.

Beach racing at Daytona in 1957 in Ray Nichels Pontiac #8. Out of the North TurnHis greatest joy was helping someone else, and his goal was to build each car as competitive and safe as the one before it. Despite not seeking the glory that comes with driving, Matthews still has a room frill of recognition from various groups. In the months before he died of heart and respiratory disease in 1996, he was honored by being awarded the Buddy Shuman Award, the Smokey Yunick Award for lifetime mechanical achievement, and has been inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame at Darlington.
(Information from the International Motorsports Hall of Fame)

 

 

 

Fireball Roberts #M-3 and Banjo Matthews #49JR pair up in the North Turn in the 1955 Modified-Sportsman race. Roberts was driving a '37 Chevrolet packed with a souped up 1954 Cadillac engine. Team owner Bob Fish affectionately called it a "Chevrolac". Matthews was in a '40 Ford owned by Melvin Joseph and wrenched by Joe Wolfe. Roberts led from the outset until his engine blew. Matthews picked up the pace and drove to victory.

 

 

 

 

 

Banjo Artwork by Bill RankinNASCAR Scrapbook:
Banjo Matthews -
The Henry Ford of Race Cars

The Life of an Engine-Building Legend  -  By Bob Myers

For a half century, Stock car racing was Banjo Matthews' life, and probably his death. Banjo's Performance Center at Arden, a suburb of Asheville, North Carolina, is as well-known to racers as the Biltmore House is to tourists. Some drivers and car owners have better records, but Matthews had no peer as a race-car builder. And it didn't matter that most of the glory and the cheers of the crowd went to others.

Cars built by Matthews won 262 of 362 (72 percent) Winston Cup races from '74 through '85--all 30 races in '78 --and four consecutive championships from '75-'78. For many races his cars composed half the field, or more. Edwin Keith Matthews died on October 2, 1996 of heart and respiratory disease at age 64. He had been in declining health for a decade and was seriously ill for two years.

"Banjo was a friend for almost 50 years," says hall of fame engineer Smokey Yunick. "He was the Henry Ford of race cars. When we go back and look at what he did for racers, fans, and the industry, he was probably one of the 25 main building blocks of Stock car racing.

"I think we can say in all honesty that he gave his life to the sport. I firmly believe what eventually killed him was the affects of exhaust gases he breathed in the early days when he drove cars with flat-head engines without headers because he got 10 more horsepower out of them."
 

Matthews, who was born in Akron, Ohio, on Valentine's Day in 1932, drove his first race at Pompano Beach (FL) Speedway at age 15, going on to win hundreds of Modified events. As a Grand National/Winston Cup driver, he had a best of second at Atlanta and grossed $29,455 in 50 career starts.

As an owner, Matthews' cars scored nine victories and sat on 14 poles in 160 starts, grossing $371,000. His cars won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona three times with drivers Fireball Roberts, A.J. Foyt and Donnie Allison. Allison also won a World 600 at Charlotte and two other races, one at Rockingham in 1968.

Bobby Allison with Banjo-built chassis"My biggest memory was in Victory Lane that day (at Rockingham)," says Allison. "Banjo, standing there with tears running down his cheeks, says to me, 'I knew that I could win another race.' As a car owner, he just never had the opportunity to have a regular driver who could concentrate on winning races. As a person, Banjo was as good as I ever knew. As a racer, he was the most knowledgeable I've ever known."

Junior Johnson also won two races in Matthews-owned cars. "I was a friend and associate of Banjo's my entire racing career," says Johnson. "We worked together a lot on chassis development and most of the stuff used today resulted from that relationship. We used to talk on the phone five or six times a day. He was devoted to helping others a lot more than himself."

Establishing his business in 1970, Matthews built Ford race cars for Holman and Moody Co. [Indeed, his chassis surface plates came from that fabled shop --Ed.] and later Chevrolets for General Motors. Since 1974, Matthews' shops have built about 750 new race cars and repaired another 375, including Limited Sportsman, Modifieds, and IROC Series Stockers.

The Nickname: Matthews, hung with the nickname "Banjo Eyes" in grade school because of his thick-lensed spectacles, was a stocky, down-to-earth, unpretentious man who didn't solicit the attention nor seek the recognition he perhaps deserved.

"The basic construction of a car is not what wins races," Matthews said in a 1980 interview. "It's the team effort after the car leaves our facility that separates the winners and losers. We strive to build our cars as good for one customer as we do for another. The credit for their performance goes to the people who operate them."

I get my kicks, and so do my employees, from how well cars that we have built perform and the satisfaction they bring to the customers. That's all the recognition I care about."

Craftsmanship was Matthews' hallmark. He treated each car like a bottle of fine wine. "When I was driving I couldn't stand to get outrun by somebody with better equipment," he said in 1980. "That's the way I feel about my business. I believe in and admire craftsmanship. I'm a man of simple tastes, but one reason I collect antiques is because of the way they were made. I like things that it has taken somebody a long time to make."

Some of the recognition due Matthews came in the Smokey Yunick with Banjomonths before his death. He received the Buddy Shuman Award for contributions to the sport, the Smokey Yunick Award presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway for lifetime mechanical achievement and, last September, was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Hall of Fame by Yunick.

Matthews' son, Jody, 31, (who accepted the hall of fame award in his father's absence) continues to operate the business, building cars and suspension parts. "My dad was real emotional about the hall of fame and I'm just so happy that he got to enjoy the honor before he passed away," says Jody. "He never was a trophy-chaser, but he appreciated recognition by his peers.

"He was hard on me the last few years. He had decades of racing experience, he knew what was going on with his body and he tried to force-feed me all the information that he could. I understand that now and wish I had paid more attention. We had a special relationship, though. I was around him long enough to know what he expected and I always tried to do more. I will continue to do that."
(Info from
circletrack.com/ thehistoryof/1804/)




Gentlemen, start your memories
Locals claim their place in racing history

by Brian Sarzynski  http://www.mountainx.com/news/2003/0924racing.php

Thomas Wolfe once wrote a book about his hometown making fun of a lot of people and telling some tall tales in a language resembling English, thereby pleasing a bunch of Yankee literary types while pissing off the locals to the point that they ran him out of town.

But time heals all wounds, or so they say: Wolfe's Asheville home is now a museum. We even named an auditorium after the guy.

Banjo Matthews, on the other hand, lived in west Asheville for many years, never went to college, lived hard and drove fast and chances are he never read Look Homeward, Angel. Matthews, though, had an uncanny ability to fix cars.

Actually, he could do more than just fix them he could take mass-produced "stock" cars and turn them into thundering beasts of speed.

He's been called the Henry Ford of racecars and a maestro mechanic. On the NASCAR circuit, Banjo accomplished the following: From 1974 to 1985, cars he built won 262 of 362 Winston Cup races. In 1978, his cars won all 30 races held by NASCAR that year.

Oh, and he could drive, too.

In fact, after winning 13 consecutive races at one Asheville track back in the 1950s, the track promoter asked him to "back off." It seems attendance was dropping because the outcome of the race was a given if Matthews was running.

Being a man of pride and honor, Matthews refused to throw the race but he did agree to be handicapped. So the promoter started him in the back of the pack with his car facing backward, no less.

When the green flag dropped, Matthews spun his car around, passed the pack and, yes, won the race.

And that, my friends, is the stuff of legends.

Local racing left to rust

Today, however, your average Asheville resident couldn't tell you a thing about old Banjo (who didn't play his namesake instrument, by the way). There are no museums named in his honor. No auditoriums. Not even a filling station.

Zilch.

Racing, it seems, has been all but erased from Asheville's cultural persona except among the surviving older members of the local racing community.

Meeting history head-on

The story of stock-car racing is steeped in oft-told tales of moonshine-running, shade-tree mechanics and men who brawled as hard as they drove. How much of it is truth and how much is lore is hard to discern. But when that history is told in the time-honored tradition of Appalachian storytellers, trivial matters such as veracity take a back seat to the necessity of spinning a good yarn.

One rich tale recounts a spectacular crash at a local speedway.

Banjo Matthews and Ralph Earnhardt (Dale's dad) had been trading paint all night, neither driver wanting to back off in front of the screaming fans. Coming out of the final turn, Matthews gave Earnhardt one last kiss on the bumper and sent him careening off the track and straight into the first-base dugout.

Yep, the dugout. And if you think this writer is mixing his metaphors, or simply confusing baseball terminology with racing slang, well, you obviously don't know much Asheville sports lore.

Other's Memories

Jack Smith:"In February 1960, I went to Daytona. I'd go down the backstretch in my '60 Pontiac and spin the wheels," said former racer Jack Smith. "I told the mechanics, and they said the car wasn't streamlined enough, that all I was doing was running up against a wall and pushing the wall. Then two years later Ford Motor Company realized they could not run their cars through the air. Ford hired (chassis builder) Banjo Matthews. Banjo took the car and cut the floor pan out of it, lowered the car about four inches, changed the contour of the windshield. Then they found out that Ford would run. The word got out quick, and pretty soon Banjo had orders to build more race cars than he could do. He was the first one I ever knew that cut down or streamlined the cars. This was '62 or '63 at Daytona."

Melvin Joseph was a pioneer in the development of NASCAR. His passion for racing began on the back roads of Sussex County in his suped-up Mercurys which led to the beaches of Daytona, FL. In 1955, his cars won both the NASCAR Sportsman and Modified Events on the sands of Daytona Beach, FL. In 1959, Joseph's car, driven by Banjo Matthews, won the race by an amazing 3 miles in the first NASCAR Modified race on the newly built Daytona International Speedway. Another racing highlight includes owning one of the cars that Bobby Allison drove to many victories. His racing involvement led to lifelong friendships with racing legends such as Bobby Allison, Ralph Moody, Bobby Unser, AJ Foyt, Junior Johnson, Junie Donlavey and numerous others. Melvin designed and built Dover Downs International Speedway (now Dover International Speedway (motorsports) and Dover Downs Raceway (harness racing)) and gave drivers the command to start their engines at every NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Race in Dover since 1969.
 

The late Banjo Matthews had a sign in his race shop:
"Banjo's, where money buys speed -
How fast do you want to go?!"

Donnie Allison: It was Banjo Matthews who gave Donnie his big break in 1968.  Donnie said Banjo was the best thing that ever happened to him and Banjo was the smartest man he had ever been around in Winston Cup.

He enjoyed the best season of his career in 1970 while driving for Matthews.  Allison never competed in more than 21 races in a single season, won the World 600 at Charlotte, the Firecracker 400 at Daytona and the Southwestern 400 at Bristol that year and in 19 starts, Allison had 10 top five finishes.  Donnie also finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500, winning honors as the series' top rookie while driving for A. J. Foyt.

Bobby Isaac made some comeback attempts in 1974 through 1976. He drove his final Winston Cup race in 1976 for Banjo Matthews. While racing in a Late Model Sportsman event at Hickory Bobby Isaac once again pulled his car off the track without warning. He suffered a heart attack and died later at a local hospital.

Cale Yarborough: I wonder if some small members of the Yarborough clan share at show 'n' tell how Cale once nearly met his maker in the infield (yes, infield) when the car he was riding in, driven by another racing legend, Banjo Matthews, struck a light pole, that Matthews did not see.  The car was returned to a rental agency with a "damaged radiator."  Damaged, perhaps, because it was practically in the two men's laps?

The Cage: When NASCAR was created at the end of the forties, the strictly stock rule implied that the frames of the cars used in racing were identical to those one could buy from the dealer. Today's frames are fabricated from welded steel tubing which guarantee a very high level of safety.

The usage of the "cage" was introduced by companies such as Banjo Center Performance and Hutcherson-Pagan at the beginning of the Sixties, after several pilots were killed in accidents. The first company was founded by Banjo Matthews who became one of the most famous body manufacturers after he retired from his racing career.

This car was campaigned in the first Daytona 500 race in 1959. The #64 Holman-Moody Thunderbird was the car driven by Fritz Wilson who finished in 56th place with a blown piston. He actually only made 15 laps before leaving the race. The car that finished in 2nd place was driven by Johnny Beauchamp in the #73 car. In a photo finish, the #73 was initially declared the winner.  (Info courtesy of Bill Van Ess)
 


1959 Thunderbird NASCAR convertible Holman-Moody modified this 1959 Thunderbird. This was a "zipper top" T-Bird whose hardtop could be removed for the convertible races popular at the time. This car was driven by Banjo Matthews.

Michael Franzen's NASCAR Model Museum
Banjo's Matthew's 1962 Pontiac #92





Which one is a "real" picture?
They ALL are! Yep. These are well made models with great photography.
 

POLE POSITION?

Cale Yarborough skirted death at the Charlotte (now Lowes) Motor Speedway. But it wasn't on the track. It was in the infield. On this particular day, Cale had been driving around town in a rental car with Banjo Matthews. Matthews was fond of racing at full speed through the tunnel, and into the infield.

Matthews had been talking to Cale about something as he sped out of the tunnel, and did not see the light pole that was rapidly closing in.

Cale saw it, though.

Banjo!" He exclaimed.

 Matthews kept talking and looked at Cale as his foot remained firmly planted on the floor.

"Banjo!!!" Cale again yelled.

It feel on deaf ears.

"Banjo! Watch out for that......."

BLAM !!!

It was a dead-center, head-on collision. The front-end of the car looked like an inverted 'V'. Neither men were hurt, but Banjo had one helluva story for the rental car company that day. He told them that "something had happened to the radiator", and suggested they come get it with a tow truck.                   Jeff Alan
    http://www.nascarup.com/NASCAR-Tales-&-Stories4.html

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Banjo Matthews IROC Car

 
This 1977 Chevrolet IROC Camaro is number 17 of the 15 vehicles built for the 2nd series of the International Race of Champions. Banjo Mathews built the chassis. It was his 20th in that series for Roger Penske. These cars were raced for 5 years then retired. Some other notable drivers were Peter Gregg, A.J. Foyt, Bobby and Al Unser, Mario Andretti and Bobby Allison. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z8985/default.aspx

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Jocko Maggiacomo and his NASCAR Matador:

Jocko had been successful racing an ex-Penske/Donahue Javelin in theTrans-Am series and had even won the championship (for his class) one year.  So the team had an available supply of Traco engines that could be used in NASCAR.  These where a little bit down on power from the ones Penske had, but this was good for reliability. 

There was very little help from AMC.  The team got no help from Penske or Allison either.

The team built the Matador from a junkyard body and a Banjo Mathews frame.  They had never built an oval track car, so a team member went to theJocko and his early modified Daytona 500 and snuck in to the garage area with the help of some friends in the broadcasting business.  He spent three whole days, taking hundreds of pictures of every detail he could imagine.  With these they went to work and showed up at Pocono with the a car that no one in NASCAR knew was being built.  It had some different building techniques and details they had learned while road racing so it was tough getting it through.

 

One of the few things they did get from AMC was the slope nose kit. NASCAR never allowed the nose pieces but did allow the rear side window changes.  This shrunk that large side window down to a  small port hole and greatly reduced lift.

They never got the car to handle properly and coupled with the horsepower disadvantage, decided to  switch to GM.  The Chevy engines where built in their shop, and the Matador body was replaced by an Oldsmobile body.  They believe the only thing that was saved was a door panel which may be still hanging up in the workshop.


Who's with Banjo? Email HERE.
4/17/07 Update: According to Tom Waddell:
Jimmy Pardue
A Nascar driver from North Wilkesboro NC.  Jimmy was killed while testing tires at Charlotte
in 1964. He was just coming into his own as a driver and was a good family friend.

 
 

1994 Inductee to the
WEST NORTH CAROLINA SPORTS HALL of FAME 

http://www.wncsport.com/wnchalloffame.html

Grand National Driver Statistics
Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn RAF Miles
1952 20 3 of 34 0 1 1 0 667 0 1,000 22 26.0 12.0 1 628.2
1955 23 3 of 45 0 0 2 0 734 0 745 43 11.0 9.7 2 671.5
1956 24 1 of 56 0 0 0 0 149 0 200 117 17.0 12.0 1 223.5
1957 25 5 of 53 0 1 1 1 713 56 855 58 10.8 25.8 2 403.6
1958 26 3 of 51 0 0 0 0 90 0 190 95 16.5 24.3 0 92.7
1959 27 4 of 44 0 0 0 0 654 55 1,990 61 15.8 32.5 0 482.8
1960 28 12 of 44 0 0 4 0 1894 9 15,617 10 14.3 17.2 7 2815.4
1961 29 14 of 52 0 1 3 0 2019 262 5,610 31 7.3 21.9 2 3010.1
1962 30 5 of 53 0 1 2 2 532 145 11,375 31 8.4 17.8 2 1098.0
1963 31 1 of 55 0 0 0 0 358 0 700 57 9.0 17.0 0 537.0
10 years 51 0 4 13 3 7810 527 38,282   12.1 20.2 17 9962.8
Grand National / Winston Cup Owner Statistics
Year Driver Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn RAF Miles
1957 Banjo Matthews 4 0 1 1 0 713 56 855 58 13.2 22.0 2 403.6
1959 Banjo Matthews 3 0 0 0 0 517 55 1,990 61 12.3 35.0 0 414.2
1960 Banjo Matthews 12 0 0 4 0 1894 9 15,617 10 14.3 17.2 7 2815.4
1960 Speedy Thompson 2 0 0 1 0 67 0 18,035 25 20.0 35.5 1 167.5
1961 Banjo Matthews 13 0 1 3 0 1817 262 5,610 31 7.7 22.1 2 2883.9
1962 Banjo Matthews 5 0 1 2 2 532 145 11,375 31 8.4 17.8 2 1098.0
1962 Fireball Roberts 7 1 4 5 2 2022 450 66,151 8 6.3 10.0 5 1875.2
1963 Fireball Roberts 5 0 2 3 1 826 30 73,059 5 5.2 10.6 3 1575.2
1964 A.J. Foyt 4 0 1 1 0 564 2 2,550   8.2 15.0 1 1194.2
1964 Junior Johnson 17 2 7 8 4 4006 1098 26,974 14 5.1 13.7 7 2322.8
1965 A.J. Foyt 1 0 0 1 0 265 119 1,930   8.0 6.0 1 397.5
1965 Cale Yarborough 8 0 2 2 0 1800 142 26,586 10 5.9 19.1 2 1798.0
1966 A.J. Foyt 1 0 0 0 0 12 0 580   10.0 43.0 0 18.0
1966 Cale Yarborough 6 0 2 4 0 1348 210 28,130 18 11.5 11.7 4 1953.6
1967 A.J. Foyt 7 0 2 2 0 1060 57 8,035   6.6 21.4 2 1534.4
1967 Bosco Lowe 2 0 0 1 0 333 0 340 96 7.0 14.5 1 143.2
1968 Donnie Allison 12 1 5 8 1 3781 284 50,815 25 6.8 12.1 8 3986.5
1968 A.J. Foyt 2 0 0 0 0 183 0 2,900   12.5 27.5 0 457.5
1968 Bosco Lowe 1 0 0 0 0 220 0 225 91 9.0 19.0 0 117.5
1969 Donnie Allison 16 1 10 11 2 3893 400 78,055 24 7.5 12.0 11 5122.2
1969 Pete Hamilton 1 0 1 1 0 329 0 3,225   21.0 5.0 1 493.5
1969 Swede Savage 1 0 0 1 0 485 0 875   11.0 7.0 1 242.5
1970 Donnie Allison 18 3 9 11 0 4853 692 96,081 40 7.3 10.9 10 5424.2
1970 Cale Yarborough 1 0 0 0 0 250 0 117,600 34 7.0 13.0 0 341.5
1970 LeeRoy Yarbrough 1 0 0 0 1 102 70 61,980 43 1.0 26.0 0 53.6
1971 Donnie Allison 2 0 0 1 0 220 11 69,995 29 8.5 16.0 1 550.0
1971 A.J. Foyt 2 0 0 0 0 323 0 1,569   16.5 32.0 0 417.4
1972 Bobby Isaac 2 0 0 0 0 291 12 133,257 19 7.0 32.0 0 404.1
1974 Bobby Isaac 2 0 1 2 0 697 2 22,642 33 4.5 5.0 2 761.0
16 years 158 8 49 73 13 33403 4106 927,036   8.3 16.1 74 38966.2




 

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