Lincoln Once Played Strong Role In Auto Racing

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LINCOLN MAN: Jim Roper won the first NASCAR Strictly Stock race in 1949 in a Lincoln. (NASCAR Photo)
LINCOLN MAN: Jim Roper won the first NASCAR Strictly Stock race in 1949 in a Lincoln. (NASCAR Photo)

Since Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in the White House, the Lincoln brand has had little involvement in motorsports.

In the formative years of stock-car racing after World War II, however, Ford Motor Co.’s luxury line was a force in NASCAR and the big dog of the Carrera Panamericana, better known as the Mexican Road Race.

When stock-car racing went legitimate in the late 1940s, the “bathtub” Lincolns with their stout 337 cubic-inch flathead V-8 rated at 152 horsepower were frontrunners. In the first NASCAR Grand National race ever run, at the three-quarter-mile dirt Charlotte (N.C.) Speedway June 19, 1949, Jim Roper of Great Bend, Kan., was credited with victory in his ’49 Lincoln.

The 1950 season opened with a Lincoln victory at Daytona Beach, Fla., courtesy of former tank commander Harold Kite, who was driving his first Grand National race. Attempting a comeback in 1965, Kite was killed at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Tim Flock in a Lincoln won the second race of 1950, again at the old Charlotte dirt track, but thereafter Oldsmobile dominated the season. Lincoln’s last hurrah in NASCAR came at Daytona in 1951 when Flock was the fastest qualifier and led comfortably until a chaotic pit stop. According to Greg Fielden’s “High Speed At Low Tide,” the pit confusion could be traced to Flock’s crew having downed a jug of moonshine in premature celebration. Marshall Teague’s victory that day marked the beginning of NASCAR’s Hudson Hornet era.

Meanwhile, Lincoln was about to embark on a new racing venture south of the border in the 2,000 mile Carrera Panamericana. In 1951, Troy Ruttman drove a 1948 Mercury to fourth place in the Carrera after leading at the halfway point in Mexico City.

Ford mounted a full assault on the stock-car class in 1952 to showcase the first of the Y-block V-8s, contained in a handsomely restyled Lincoln Capri.

Prepared by Californian Bill Stroppe, the factory-backed Lincolns swept the class, with Stroppe’s cars driven by AAA National Champon Chuck Stevenson, Johnny Mantz and Walt Faulkner leading the private Karl Kiekhaefer Lincoln entry of Bob Korf.

There were 22 Lincolns in the 1953 Carrera, four of them from Stroppe’s shop for Stevenson, Faulkner, Jack McGrath and Mantz. They finished first through fourth in class. Chuck Stevenson became the first and only two-time winner in the history of the Carrera.

Despite a difficult 1954 race for Lincoln, Ray Crawford and Faulkner finished first and second.

The 1955 Carrera was canceled after the LeMans disaster in June, and all Lincoln-Mercury racing activity was henceforth under the Mercury brand.

A few modifieds have used big-block Lincoln power with success and in the late 1990s a Ford Thunderbird Winston Cup car was fitted with Lincoln Continental sheet metal, but it was never approved by NASCAR.