Marvin Panch, named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers, is the big draw for the 4th Annual Love Chevrolet Racers Reunion and Auto-Fest this weekend at Columbia Speedway in Cayce.
He’ll be joined by drivers from the glory days of the half-mile dirt oval, including Rex White, David “Dink” Widenhouse, Billy Scott, Paul “Little Bud” Moore, Harold Fountain and Paul Lewis.
Emerging driving stars and Midlands residents Danny Efland (Irmo) and Jordan Anderson (Forest Acres) also will attend.
But the primary draw is Panch, the event’s grand marshall.
“I never thought I would still be involved in racing in some way after all these years,” Panch said. “But the kind of events like the one in Columbia keep me on the road and interacting with fans. I’m looking forward to coming to Columbia, especially to talk to some of the old fans who might remember me from when I drove here.”
Panch raced on the NASCAR circuit from 1951 to 1966, scoring 17 wins, but he was not a regular visitor to the Columbia Speedway. He entered five top-level races in Cayce and his best showing was a runner-up effort behind Ned Jarrett in the 1964 Columbia 200.
“I really don’t remember too much from those races in Columbia, except for hitting the wall,” Panch said. That would have been in 1958, when he crashed in two races.
Panch makes his home in Daytona Beach, the site of his greatest achievement in racing — his from-out-of-nowhere win in the 1961 Daytona 500.
Panch’s career hit a rough patch when Ford discontinued factory support of stock car racing in the middle of the 1957 season.
Between 1958 and 1960 he struggled to find a regular gig on stable teams, and entered the 1961 Daytona 500 because he was given a year-old Pontiac to race by legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick. Panch used the opportunity and some luck to win the fourth Daytona 500.
Panch took the lead with 13 laps to go after Fireball Roberts’ car, another Yunick entry, blew an engine. Roberts was the leader for 170 laps.
It put Panch’s career back on track. He hooked up with Ford again and the Wood Brothers, raced some of his own cars and finished with Petty Enterprises.
“I might not have stayed in racing as long as I did without Smokey giving me that car,” Panch said. “I’ll tell you what kind of guy he was. I signed for 40 percent of the winnings and he gave me 50 percent, which is something he did not have to do.”
Panch gave up racing at the age of 40.
“It was time, though it might have been different if the money was as good as it is today,” Panch said. “I don’t regret a thing about my racing days, or my decision to retire and go into the trucking business.”