These days, NASCARâs Monster Energy Cup Series features Chevrolet Camaros, Ford Mustangs and Toyotaâs Camrys. Thereâs even talk that Honda may someday join the fold of NASCARâs premier series.
From the very beginning, Detroitâs big three automakers have looked to NASCAR to help showcase their products. From the 1950s through the late 1990s, the philosophy of âWin on Sunday-Sell on Mondayâ kept show rooms hopping in dealerships around the country. The slogan isnât marketed as much in present-day sales.
NASCAR held their inaugural Strictly Stock race on June 19, 1949 and over the next decade, several car designs were featured as common winners in newspaper articles around the country. But seeing the heavy and boxy every day passenger car of that time slide on treacherous dirt tracks was a sight to behold, especially when they rolled out of control.
In the first Strictly Stock event held on June 19, 1949 at the three-quarter-mile dirt track at the Charlotte (N.C.) Fairgrounds featured a variety of automotive brands in its 33-car starting line-up. Jim Roper drove his long black Lincoln from Halstead, Kansas and collected NASCARâs first premier series victory. He entered one additional race at Hillsborough, N.C. and then he drove it several thousand miles back home.
That wasnât really unusual for the times. All of those cars were driven to the track and made race-ready on by taping of headlights, a change of oil, a homemade seat belt (since there was no law requiring them then) and cut off menâs leather belts to keep the doors closed. Often times what was in the drive way was what was raced, with or without the wifeâs consent.
For the Pettys of level Cross, N.C., one brand stood out in part because it was less expensive than many of the rest in 1949.
âDaddy (three-time NASCAR champion Lee Petty) grew up as a Chrysler man,â said Richard Petty, a seven-time Cup champion in his own right. âHe grew up as a Chrysler man, while everyone else liked Fords. I think he just wanted to be different so he messed around with the Chrysler cars. It was just an automatic thing to run Chrysler stuff when we started racing. The Plymouths were the cheapest, lightest car there was and only had 97 horsepower. But he knew the car would make the race. That was what it was all about back then.â
NASCARâs first-ever road course event was held on June 13, 1954 and won by a driver named Al Keller. The race was held on the runways and tarmac of the Linden (N.J.) Airport. Many may not realize NASCARâs first-ever road course win went to a Jaguar that was owned by a renowned orchestra leader of the times named Paul Whiteman.
The Hornet produced by the Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan came to NASCAR from 1951 and 1954. From there, the American Motors Corporation (AMC) of Kenosha, Wisconsin marketed Hudsons from 1955 and 1957.
Hudson Motor Car Company was the first to offer financial support to drivers and teams. The car is credited with 66 wins in 108 starts from 1952 to 1954 and Marshall Teague, Herb Thomas, Dick Rathmann, Al Keller, Frank Mundy and Tim Flock driving them. While Flock won NASCARâs premier championship in 1952, Teague won 12 of 13 AAA events in the car that year.
Some of the odd ones come to mind. Joe Marola entered a Tucker in one NASCAR event at Canfield, Ohio on May 30, 1950 but finished last after falling out on the first of 200 laps. Paul Bass drove a Ford Edsel in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 as is believed to have been the only Edsel to compete in NASCAR. Harold Smith drove a Studebaker Lark to a 31st-place finish in the 59-car field. Eight years earlier in 1951, Frank Mundy scored a win for Studebaker at Columbia, S.C.
Curtis Turner wheeled a 1951 Nash to a win at the Charlotte Fairgrounds that year. The modern-era American Motors race car didnât come back to NASCAR until 1972. Legendary motorsports icon Roger Penske fielded Matadors through 1975 with drivers Mark Donohue, Dave Marcis, Gary Bettenhausen and Bobby Allison. Donohue and Allison wheeled the brand to victory on five occasions. Allison fielded his own Matadors throughout the full Cup schedule in 1977 with strong challenges but no further wins.
âEven today, many fans I meet tell me how much they loved the Matador in the 1970s,â Allison said. âIt was a car routinely challenged for wins but was plagued by engine issues. It did win five times, twice at Riverside, Calif., twice and Darlington and once at Ontario, Calif.â
In decades past, AMC Matadors, Buicks, Chevolets, Chryslers, Fords, Dodges, Hudsons, a Jaguar, a Lincoln, a Nash, Mercurys, Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, Pontiacs and Studebakers routinely rolled into victory lane.
Ben White is a motorsports columnist for The Dispatch.