Marvin Panch was born in Menomonie, Wisconsin on the 28th May 1926. He started his racing career in Oakland, California as a car owner in the late 1940ís where he was encouraged to race his late model Mercury, by the late Margo Burke (partner of Bob Barkhimer, star of midget car racing from the World War 11 era and later ran about 22 different speedways as the head of the California Stock Car Racing Association) to see how well he drove the car.
Marvin found that he had a natural talent for racing and won many races all over the west coast in the early 1950ís. He was a favourite with the fans and always pulled big crowds wherever he raced. He won five races when NASCAR went to the west coast and his first attempt at Darlington Raceway on the east coast was in 1953. Although he did not win Bill France was impressed and Bill invited him to go to the east coast for the 1954 season where he would arrange a ride for him. Lee Petty stepped in and offered Marvin the chance to race in the 1954 Darlington race, he accepted and came in third place. Very impressed with the finish Tom Horbison hired Marvin to race his car for the 1955 season. Looking for a driver and liking the finishes of Marvin Pete DePaolo hired him to race in his factory Ford team and Marvin went on to win his first NASCAR race on the 20th July 1956 at Montgomery Speedway. He started in pole position and dominated the whole race. He won a further race for Pete DePaolo in April of 1957 before Ford dropped their support in the middle of the season. He was lucky enough to finish the rest of the season with the well-known Holman-Moody team, winning three more events in the season and finishing second in the final points standings.
For the next three seasons his career was filled with the unknown, having to take factory rides and struggling as an independent driver when suddenly his career was about to take a new direction in a second hand, 1960 Pontiac Catalina. Smokey Yunickís mechanics suggested they race the 1960 Pontiac that they had run with Fireball Roberts the previous year in the Daytona 500. Smokey was sceptical, the car was damaged through Fireball banging a wall somewhere. He said OK provided their prime focus was on the newer, more powerful 1961 Catalina which was to be driven by Fireball in the forthcoming Daytona 500 race. The boys had to work outside, in their own time, after hours. Upon asking Fireball who should drive the car he suggested Marvin. Before the race started Smokey instructed Marvin to stay about a half a lap behind Fireball - he didnít want both cars to be involved in a crash - Marvin stayed back until Fireballís engine blew. Marvin went for it, taking the flag sixteen seconds before Joe Weatherly. Marvinís career was back .
The following year, 1962, Marvin was hired by the Wood brothers to race in the Ford factory sponsored team. In 1963 Panch was rescued from his burning car by Tiny Lund. Although doctors told him he would never race again Panch won at North Wilkesboro later that season.
Marvin stayed with the Wood Brothers Ford from 1962 until 1966 when Ford once again had a dispute with NASCAR and pulled out of the sponsorship. During this time Marvin won eight races, had eleven second place finishes and eleven third place finishes. "We had a lot of success together." Panch said. After Ford pulled out in 1966 Marvin was once again unemployed and Bill France once again stepped in to try to help. He told Marvin about a one-race ride with Petty Enterprises at Charlotte. He accepted the race and ended up winning despite the fact he was driving a car that wasn't set up to run on asphalt. It was his final victory. "I won Charlotte in 1966 while driving one of Petty's dirt cars," Marvin said "That were a real rough ride and the car was slow, but it was tough and I ended up winning the race."
Marvin announced his retirement in October 1966 after the National at Charlotte. Marvin has been awarded the following for his achievements: - Inductee into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1987, Named as one of NASCARís 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and Inductee into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002. Marvin was married twice, the first time to Hester Herrald, they had two children together, daughters Pamela and Marvann.
Marvin was married to his second wife, Bettie Gong Panch, for fifty three years before she unexpectedly passed away in 2006. His son, Richie, also a NASCAR driver was killed in an aeroplane accident along with three other passengers. He was thirty years of age in 1985. Marvin stills lives near Daytona Beach with his daughter, Marvette. Marvin, who won 17 times in NASCAR's top division, has been working with his daughter to document his life in a multi-volume book, which is derived from scrapbooks maintained by his wife during his career.
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