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Marvin Emil Panch
Born: May 28, 1926  -  Died December 31, 2015
Home: Port Orange (Daytona Beach), FL

Local NASCAR racing legend Marvin Panch dies

Driver won 17 races, including the 1961 Daytona 500                      By Godwin Kelly   December 31, 2013


The ranks of NASCAR’s founding drivers grew a little thinner when Marvin Panch died Thursday, on New Year's Eve.

The 89-year-old Panch made his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start in 1951 but skyrocketed to fame by winning the 1961 Daytona 500 driving Smokey Yunick’s backup stock car.

“He was one of the last of the group of drivers who helped establish the sport,” said Buz McKim, the historian at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. “We have a few left at best.”

Panch was born in Wisconsin, but spent a good part of his life in Port Orange, with his wife, Bettie. They raised two children, Richie and Marvette, on the “Pancho’s Rancho” property, which included a race shop.

Panch was found unresponsive in his passenger car Thursday morning and pronounced dead of natural causes a short while later.

Richie died in an airplane crash in 1985. Bettie passed away in 2006.

Panch raced NASCAR in the 1950s and ‘60s. He made 216 Sprint Cup Series starts and won 17 races, including that 500.

“We are saddened by the news of the passing of 1961 Daytona 500 champion Marvin Panch,” the Speedway said in a release. “Marvin was a tremendous competitor in the sport with a memorable career in which he was named one of the ‘50 Greatest NASCAR Drivers of All Time’ in 1998.

“He had a home in Daytona Beach and was a frequent visitor to Daytona International Speedway. ... We will miss him dearly.”

As the 1961 500 story goes, some of the guys who worked for Yunick at the “Best Damn Garage In Town” asked the boss if they could prep a '60 Pontiac for Panch to run in the 1961 Daytona 500.

Yunick, who was giving most of his attention to the No. 22 Pontiac driven by Fireball Roberts, agreed to the deal.

Roberts started on the pole, while Panch was fourth on the 58-car grid. It came as no surprise that Roberts ruled the day, leading 170 laps in the black-and-gold machine.

On Lap 188 (of 200), Roberts pulled his car off the 2.5-mile tri-oval and headed to the garage with an engine malfunction.

That left Panch, driving an outdated stock car, to carry the Yunick banner to victory. Panch led 13 laps, including the final trip around the course. He beat Joe Weatherly by 16 seconds to the checkered flag.

“Drivers would get 40 percent of the winnings,” McKim said. “When Marvin won the 500, Smokey gave him 50 percent. Smokey said, ‘Anybody who can win the 500 is worth 50 percent.’ Marvin said that had never happened to him, before or after.”

Panch took that money and bought the Port Orange land where he raised his family.

Panch had a near-death experience at Daytona International Speedway in 1963, when he flipped a sports car, which caught on fire, during a practice run over the track’s road course.

Several people near the crash site, including Grand American driver Tiny Lund, came to his rescue.

Panch suffered excessive burns and was unable to start the 1963 Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers Racing.

The injured driver asked Wood Brothers to put Lund in his place. The team agreed and Lund went on to score the 1963 Daytona 500 victory.

Panch’s last NASCAR start was in 1966.

From the time car owners Glen and Leonard Wood hired Panch until his death Thursday, the families remained good friends.

Glen Wood’s oldest son, Eddie Wood, who now manages the No. 21 Ford team, said Panch called him on Christmas day.

“He said, ‘I don’t like sending out Christmas cards. I’d rather just call people,’” Eddie said in a phone interview. “He was a great friend and just like family.”

Panch worked in the racing and automobile industry into his late 60s. Even before he retired, Marvin and Bettie hit the road in their RV and crisscrossed the country where they developed lifelong, campground friends.

When Panch was in town, he would help promote the Living Legends of Auto Racing and frequented the organization’s museum in South Daytona.

When LLOAR first opened the museum, half the memorabilia was from Panch’s personal stash of racing novelties.

“I just spent some time with Marvin two weeks ago,” LLOAR president Gary Smith said. “He brought some personal items in for our annual Speedweeks auction and to put on display.

“He was always a big help to us. He was always there. We could always count on him. We enjoyed having him at the museum.”

Ray Fox and Panch shared the same birthdate, May 28. Fox was 10 years older. The museum would host a birthday party — one cake — for both men each year.

“Marvin was so valuable to the history of racing,” Smith said. “We are losing our legend, which is sad. There’s no way to replace them. We are certainly going to miss him.”

Panch was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1987 and was named one of the top 50 drivers by NASCAR in 1998, the organization’s 50th anniversary season.

Panch is survived by his daughter, Marvette Panch Bagwell, and husband, Kevin, of Port Orange; two additional daughters, Pamela and Marvan in California, and numerous relatives in Minnesota.

 Children Marvette and Richie, Pepsi in hand for promotion. Smokey in hat to the left of Miss Autolite

Bettie and Marvin Panch1985 Winston Cup Banquet

Trophy at Oakland - Trophy Girl Emily Ray


Marvin Panch's career started in 1955 driving for Tom Harbison, a Pennsylvania car dealer.  During this time Panch ran extremely well, out qualifying and outrunning the (Ford) factory cars.  As a result Panch was offered a ride driving a Ford for Pete DePaolo.  

Panch won his first Grand National (now Winston Cup) race on July 20, 1956 at Montgomery, Alabama.  Panch won the pole and dominated the 100-mile event, finishing a lap ahead of Buck Baker.

Panch began the 1957 season by winning the first two races of the year at Lancaster, California and Concord, North Carolina.  He posted another victory at Spartanburg, South Carolina in April.  On June 6, 1957, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) decided to get out of racing following a tragic accident at Martinsville, in which Billy Myers' Mercury cleared a retaining wall and went into the stands where a group of spectators were.


Following the AMA ban on racing, the Ford team, now being ran out of the Holman-Moody shop in Charlotte gave each of it's drivers a couple of race cars to run the rest of the season.  Panch was able to win three more races that year, one driving for Herb Thomas, to finish second in the race for series championship.  Despite the six wins and 22 top-five finishes in his 42 starts that year, Panchs' career took a major step backward following the departure of the Ford factory team.  In the next three seasons he only competed in 24 races.

We just didn't have the money to run our own team, and I was just never able to get back into a good car until Fireball called," says Panch.  "those were some hard times."




Panch finished second in the second of two preliminary races leading up to the 1961 Daytona 500 and he knew then that he had a great race car (see # 20 below).  Before the 500, Yunick told Panch to stay back away from Roberts in case he blew an engine or crashed.  Yunick said he didn't want both drivers caught up in a wreck.  Panch said, "I was supposed to stay about a half lap behind him (Roberts) and that's where I was when his engine uncorked."  Roberts, who had won the pole for the 500, totally dominated the race as he led 170 laps before his engine conked out with 13 laps remaining.

"When he (Yunick) told me to go, that year old Pontiac ran as good or better than the new ones as we outran all those new ones," says Panch.  "I had just been coasting."  Panch finished 16 seconds in front of Joe Weatherly for his biggest win and the victory that provided a much needed boost to his career. 

A little more than a year after his Daytona 500 win, Panch was hired by the Woods Brothers to drive their #21 Ford.  This partnership would eventually yield 8 wins, 11 seconds and 11 third place finishes in 69 starts during the 1962-66 seasons.

"We had a lot of success together," says Panch.  "We won some races, and always finished up good when we didn't win.  It was like having money in the bank."  The relationship came to an end on March 27, 1966 when Ford Motor Co. pulled out of NASCAR because of a rules dispute with NASCAR president Bill France.


For the second time in his career, Panch had been knocked for a loop when Ford elected to withdraw from the sport.  But this time things worked out much better for Panch.  Richard Howard, vice president and general manager of Charlotte (now Lowe's) Motor Speedway wanted to get some idled Ford drivers in his race and called Panch.  "I told him I would love to, but I didn't have a ride.  He suggested that I call Lee Petty.  I did and a day or two later we had a deal."  Panch captured the Charlotte 600 for his 17th and last career victory.

Panch actually drove Petty Enterprises' dirt car, a year old Plymouth.  During that race the seat was rubbing some old burns on his back and by that time Richard Petty had fallen out of the race.  Panch gave the wheel over to Petty with 42 laps to go.


California Dreamin'
Marvin hailed from Oakland, California and was a car owner in the late ‘40’s. As a young man he was encouraged by the late Margo Burke to take over the driving chores of his Mercury late model and see how he faired. He was good from day one, with plenty of natural talent, and started winning races all over the west coast in the early ‘50’s. He won five races when NASCAR came west, however, he had notched many before that and was a big crowd favorite everywhere he went. In 1954 Big Bill France asked him to come east and he helped him arrange a ride. Marv was fast, smooth and won early on. He drove for the Wood Brothers, the Petty’s and Holman & Moody, with 17 Winston Cup Wins including the 1962 Daytona 500, driving for Smokey Yunick in the Jim Stephens Pontiac. On of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers and already a Hall of Famer, we are pleased to have veteran Chrysler Corp. test driver and long time friend Danny Eames with us tonight to accept Marvin’s award. Unfortunately Marv could not be in two places at one time and as badly as he wanted to be here tonight he was commissioned by Pontiac to restore his Daytona winning car for the Brickyard 400 next weekend. See www.stockcarreunion.com

Totals 214 21 17 97 $262,966.
Birthdate: May 28, 1926
Birthplace: Menonomie, WI
Wife: Bettie Gong Panch (deceased)
Children: Richie (1955-1985), Marvette
Residence: Port Orange, Florida and Canton, North Carolina

Please Check Out MarvinPanch.com For More Details and Stories on Marvin!

Career Achievements

  • 1958 - 2nd in Grand National (Winston Cup) Drivers points
  • 1959 - Charter Member Pure-Darlington Record Club
  • 1961 - First Pontiac to win Daytona 500
  • 1963 - SMPA Myers Brothers Memorial Award
  • 1965 - First driver to sweep both Atlanta races
  • 1966 - Unocal 600 Winner's Association Inductee
  • 1976 - Honored by Charlotte Motor Speedway - Marvin Panch Day
  • 1986 - Honorary Starter - Budweiser at the Glen, Watkins Glen International
  • 1987 - National Motor Press Association Hall of Fame
  • 1988 - Presented with Key to City of Daytona Beach
  • 1993 - Legends of Auto Racing Inaugural Inductee
  • 1995 - Western Motor Sports Writers Hall of Fame
  • 1998 - *Voted one of Nascar's 50 Greatest Drivers
  • 2001 - Daytona Beach Rotary Club Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame
  • 2002 - Western Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame

Yes! A four-door Valiant raced in NASCAR!

Marvin Panch, the driver who won the 1961 Daytona 500 in one of Smokey's cars, has rebuilt the car with lots of help from Pontiac fanatics all across the country. This was the car that came from the back of the pack after Fireball Roberts, driving a 1961 Pontiac Catalina as Smokey's number 1 car, was knocked out of the race after a mechanical failure.

Smokey's backup car, built by Junior Robbins, was a 1960 Pontiac Catalina. Since Fireball was leading the race, Smokey had told Marvin to run back in the pack, so that if there was a wreck they wouldn't both get caught up in it. Smokey gave Marvin many of the parts to rebuild the car from parts and pieces that were laying around the shop, so that there is a significant portion of the car that is original.

Marvin stopped by Smokey's shop today to take some pictures of the car in its old surroundings. We were there to take a few photos as well and have put them into a small Quicktime movie that is listed below. If you have a broadband connection, we have included a link to download a larger version.

Marvin will be taking the car on tour this year, so keep an eye on our web site, as we will post a schedule as soon as we have it.

From the SMOKEYYUNICK.com Website: View the additional photos of the 1960 Pontiac Catalina by clicking one of these links:   Small version (362k): click here       Broadband version (1.0 MB): click here




One of NASCAR’s earliest stars who was also named one of the organization’s Top 50 drivers of all time, Marvin Panch, has died at the age of 89. He was reportedly found unresponsive in his car New Year’s Eve day, and was pronounced dead of natural causes.

Born in Menominee, Wisconsin, he attended high school in Minnesota, where he played baseball and football, then later boxed without any great success. After relocating to California, Panch found himself working in an auto repair shop that naturally gave him exposure to the local auto racing scene.

He started out as a car owner, but when his driver didn’t turn up one day, he drove, won and thereafter was a driver. He won the California NASCAR late model championship in 1950 and ’51. In 1957, fresh out of the service, he landed in Charlotte where, driving Fords, he finished 2nd in the points to Buck Baker in NASCAR’s then top division, Grand National. Continuing to race Fords he registered seven wins in the late ’50s, but then won 1961 Daytona 500 in Smokey Yunick’s second Pontiac after team leader Fireball Roberts’ engine blew, effectively gifting Panch the victory.


By 1963 he’d returned to Ford as part of the company’s Total Performance campaign, driving for the Wood Brothers. He was also scheduled for a select schedule of endurance races in a Ford-engined Maserati (above) entered by Briggs Cunningham, but it all went wrong during practice for the Daytona Continental when the car flipped and caught fire. Trapped unconscious in the inverted car, Panch was rescued by a group of bystanders that included Tiny Lund, Steve Petrasek, Bill Wimble, Ernie Graham and Jerry Rayburn. Unable to drive in the 500, Panch insisted the Woods hire Lund to take over his car, and Tiny completed the fairy tale by winning the 500. (Editor: Perhaps the greatest sports story of 'paying it forward').

Upon healing, Panch returned to the Wood Brothers ride and took it to Victory Circle that fall, winning the 400-lapper at North Wilkesboro, the ninth of his 17 NASCAR wins over his 15-year career. He left the Woods in March of ’66 and then won his final race, for Petty Enterprises, at that May’s World 600 in Charlotte.

Panch — by then living in Port Orange, Florida — retired at the end of the year and turned his attention to his business interests, living out his days until New Years Eve when it all came to an end. To his family and many friends in and out of the sport, Vintage Racecar extends its sincerest sympathies


The Air Crash
The Tragic Story in the loss of his son, Richie Panch


September 1, 1985: Richie Panch, age 30, a Nascar race driver, was flying a Piper PA-28-235-B plane with ID numbers N9340W and flew into heavy rain and squall line over Rion, South Carolina and came apart in mid-air. Pilot error, poor judgment and planning was blamed. Four people died in the accident, including Richie Panch's close friend Dale Singleton, a famous motorcycle rider, two-time winner of the "Daytona 200". 

Richie Panch Legends Page



His Beloved Wife Bettie
Well loved in the motorsports industry

Bettie Gong Panch, beloved wife of NASCAR legend Marvin Panch, passed away unexpectedly Friday morning (June 9, 2006) at the Haywood Regional Medical Center in Waynesville, NC. As a long-time summer resident of Riverside Campground, Canton, NC, Bettie was actively involved in the local community unselfishly volunteering her time at the Cruso Friendship Club, Folkmoot USA in Waynesville, and the Cruso Craft Co-op. Bettie was also a member of the Riverside Red Hat Society. Bettie was preceded in death by her son, Marvin Richard Panch. She is survived by her husband of 53 years, Marvin; her daughter, Marvette Panch Bagwell; son-in-law, Kevin Bagwell; siblings Lilley Pon, Edward Gong, May Lee, Howard Gong and his wife Elizabeth, Wallace Gong and his wife Pearl, Bill Gong and his wife Maryan, Jane Chan and her husband Ron, Priscilla Gong; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Celebration of Life Ceremonies for Bettie Panch will be held on:
Friday, June 16, 11:00 am, Cruso Community Center, 13186 Cruso Road, Cruso, NC - Potluck dinner and music. Contact Harry and Betty Canfield at (828) 648-8903 for more information.
Sunday, June 18, 1:30 pm, May Lee Residence, San Rafael, CA - Celebration of Food & Music. Contact Auntie May Lee at (415) 492-9637 for more information.
Thursday, June 29, 8:00 am, Pancho's Rancho, Daytona Beach, FL - 8:00 am service followed by breakfast and music. Contact Marvette at (386) 295-5500 for more information.
Memorial donations may be made to either the Haywood Habitat for Humanity, PO Box 283, Waynesville, NC 28786 or the Living Legends of Auto Racing, PO Box 290854, Port Orange, FL, 32129-0854. More at the marvinpanch.com site.(6-12-2006)

Bettie was a founding member and past President of the Grand National Racing Wives Auxilary, which became the Winton Cup Racing Wives Auxilary. Go to this website for interest information: http://www.marvinpanch.com/mom.htm

Bettie, 2nd from L
Who are the others?

Marvin Panch Grand National Driver Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1951 25 3 of 41 0 1 2 0 0 0 1,075 36 13.0 8.0
1953 27 2 of 37 0 0 0 0 275 0 160 60 15.0 23.0
1954 28 10 of 37 0 3 7 1 2103 17 4,747 17 12.5 9.3
1955 29 10 of 45 0 4 4 0 1597 15 4,384 14 12.4 10.7
1956 30 20 of 56 1 10 13 1 3298 150 11,519 10 10.8 12.6
1957 31 42 of 53 6 22 27 4 6890 449 24,307 2 8.2 8.5
1958 32 11 of 51 0 5 5 2 1833 157 4,114 18 8.2 14.0
1959 33 4 of 44 0 0 0 0 640 0 1,050 66 14.8 26.5
1960 34 11 of 44 0 0 1 0 1482 22 3,225 26 24.3 25.6
1961 35 9 of 52 1 3 6 1 1517 129 30,478 18 6.8 14.3
1962 36 17 of 53 0 5 8 0 3642 172 26,746 9 9.0 14.5
1963 37 12 of 55 1 9 12 2 3510 291 39,102 13 3.9 3.8
1964 38 31 of 62 3 18 21 5 6499 648 34,836 10 6.5 8.9
1965 39 20 of 55 4 12 14 5 4743 856 64,026 5 4.0 10.4
1966 40 14 of 49 1 4 6 0 2808 183 38,431 17 8.4 14.2
15 years 216 17 96 126 21 40837 3089 288,200   8.8 11.7

Marvin Panch Convertible Series Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1956 30 8 of 47 1 3 3 0 807 194 2,625 31 9.4 10.1
1957 31 5 of 36 0 1 4 0 563 18 1,145 32 8.2 10.8
1958 32 7 of 19 0 3 4 0 1211 3 2,940 22 7.0 11.0
1959 33 4 of 15 0 1 2 0 429 0 1,485 16 13.8 10.0
4 years 24 1 8 13 0 3010 215 8,195   9.2 10.5


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