Marvin Panch's '60 Catalina represents a highlight of Pontiac's history in NASCAR, as this race car (recreated with many original parts) won for Pontiac its very first Daytona 500.
Panch's nearly impossible project began in early 2001 when he contacted Smokey Yunick and asked him the whereabouts of the original '60 Pontiac Catalina that he drove in the Daytona 500. Yunick shared the horrible story of how, just as Panch had received the '60 Catalina as a hand-me-down after Fireball Roberts ran it during the '60 season, Yunick had campaigned the Catalina sometime after the 1961 Daytona 500 with a different driver. Panch was shocked to hear that his Pontiac race car was severely damaged in a wreck during an Atlanta race in the early 1960s and had been sent to a salvage yard.
But Yunick was as smart as the gold he painted on his race cars. Before sending the Catalina to the junkyard, he stripped it of many of its valuable racing parts and stored them away in a back room at the same garage that he made famous with the name "The Best Damn Garage in Town."
According to Kevin Bagwell, Panch's son-in-law, "Marvin located another '60 Catalina chassis, and Smokey gave Marvin the original race parts to use on the recreated race car." Panch went to work on a two-year project, enlisting the expert knowledge and help of Doug Bendle and many members of The Sixty Owners Society-a group of likeminded and spirited Pontiac owners who specialize in the one-year-only characteristics of the '60 Pontiac.
When Nascar said "stock car,"...
When Nascar said "stock car," they meant it. The 1961 Daytona 500 winning '60 Catalina was built alongside the regular consumer models at the Pontiac, Michigan, plant and was then shipped to Smokey Yunick for speed, handling, braking and safety modifications. Notice the headlights were removed and replaced with sheetmetal. The Daytona 500 was a daytime event and headlights just got in the way.
Nascar driving didn't pay...
Nascar driving didn't pay much in the early 1960s, but at least you got your name on the door of your race car. Smokey Yunick gave Marvin Panch half of the $21,050 earnings for winning the Daytona 500. Today, the purse for the Daytona 500 win is $1.5 million dollars.
Wait a minute. There's no...
Wait a minute. There's no soda pop, beer, builder's supply company or phone company logos on this Daytona 500 winner. What gives? Before the 1970s ushered big corporate sponsors into NASCAR, the racing teams depended upon the help of aftermarket parts manufacturers to supply some of the parts needed to prepare a stock car for the Daytona 500. Monroe, Grey-Rock, Champion, Perfect Circle, and Pure Oil were all sponsors of the day. Also note that the tail, turn signal, and reverse lights were removed and replaced with body-color painted sheetmetal.
Robert Connell of RC Restorations in Kentucky took on the task of restoring the body of a '60 2-door hardtop Pontiac Catalina built at the Pontiac, Michigan, plant. The sheetmetal restoration was completed in 2002, and the race car was transported directly to Panch so that he could oversee the installation of the original race components saved by Yunick.
Panch called upon the help of his old friend, Karl Stairs, one of the four race mechanics who helped build the Daytona 500 winner. Stairs and his son used the original parts and the restored Catalina body to accurately recreate the car.
It is difficult to tell the difference between the original '60 Catalina and its faithful recreation. According to Bagwell, the only difference the public can see is the handpainted "In Memory of Smokey Yunick" lettered by Buz McKim.
Bagwell noted, "This is the only Smokey Yunick-prepared race car that had a four blown tire symbol painted on the front left fender. In its first year of racing action in 1960, Fireball Roberts drove it as the Number 22 car. During that year, Fireball crashed the car four different times due to a blown tire. Sitting idle in Smokey's garage after the last wreck, four of Smokey's mechanics volunteered to rebuild the car so that Smokey could run two cars in the Daytona 500. As a reminder of the past year's tire issues, they painted four blown-out tires on the front fender with the addition of one word ... POW!"
Marvin drove the year-old car in the 1961 Daytona 500 and made history.
Ergonomics was a foreign word...
Ergonomics was a foreign word to 1961 Nascar drivers. Marvin Panch used a stock Pontiac bucket seat with a custom-made right-shoulder brace and pad, and a '60s-era racing harness to stay in his seat at lap speeds exceeding 174 mph. There were no fire suits for the drivers in the 1961 Daytona 500. A simple old-fashioned fire extinguisher was mandatory equipment.
Four mechanics worked long...
Four mechanics worked long hours to prep Panch's Catalina for Daytona track duty. Karl Stairs is still alive today and provided many hours of detailed memories that made this recreation of the Catalina historically correct.
An extra-large fuel tank vent...
An extra-large fuel tank vent for quicker refueling was mandated by Nascar.