A lot of people who know Marvin Panch are convinced that a spectacular crash in a 1963 road race (now the Rolex 24 At Daytona) ended his career as a stock-car driver more than anything else.
Competing in the road race prior to the Daytona 500, Panch’s car flipped and caught on fire, trapping Panch inside.
It just so happened that Tiny Lund, another NASCAR driver of note, was at the race, watching with some friends. Lund and some of his friends managed to reach the car, engulfed in flames, before any others, and lifted up the car and pulled Panch to safety.
Panch, who won the 1961 Daytona 500 while driving a year-old car fielded by Smokey Yunick, was burned pretty severely on his back and was unable to compete in the Daytona 500, in which he was to drive the No. 21 Mercury for the Wood Brothers.
“Glen (Wood) and I made the decision,” said Leonard Wood, “to put Tiny in our car (replacing Panch), but Marvin was the one who recommended it. He had an input.
“For what Tiny did, it was the least we could do for him. It certainly turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made.”
Lund went on to win the 1963 Daytona 500, one of the most remarkable victories in the history of the Great American Race.
Panch was scheduled to drive the rest of the ’63 season for the Wood Brothers and did so. He won eight times in 69 starts for the Wood Brothers through the 1966 season.
“He was just too badly burned on his back and I think it hurt him in that race car more than he let on,” said Glen Wood, one of the founders of the famed Wood Brothers race team out of Stuart, Va.
Among Panch’s 17 career victories the last was in 1966 in the World 600 (now the Coca-Cola 600) at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway while driving for Petty Enterprises.
“We had an extra Plymouth sitting around at the shop,” said Dale Inman, crew chief for the majority of Richard Petty’s 200 victories and seven championships, “and decided to enter it in the 600. We got Marvin to drive it.”
With victories for the Woods and the Pettys, Panch scored triumphs for two of the most celebrated teams in NASCAR history.
Panch, who also had 21 poles during his career, won the World 600, the last race he won during his NASCAR career.
In 1985, Richie Panch, who was following in his father’s footsteps as a NASCAR driver, was returning to Daytona Beach when his private plane crashed and killed him and others on board.
“Marvin had a tough time with that accident,” said Kyle Petty. “I don’t remember that much about Marvin, but Richie used to stay with us when I was just 5 or 6 and his sister (Marvette) would babysit us. I was so young, that’s all I remember, but Marvin certainly was a good guy.”