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OURSLER: The Rambling Road

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rarely do the worlds of NASCAR and sports car racing intersect. Yet, in the winter of 1963 they did, that coming together leading to one of the most improbable victories ever in the Daytona 500.

At the time Ford’s motorsport-based “Total Performance” marketing program, which would come to include Le Mans and Formula One, in addition to NASCAR and Indianapolis, was just beginning to steamroller path through the sport. Among the players on Dearborn’s NASCAR roster was Marvin Panch, who was to drive the Wood Brothers’ Galaxy in the 500-mile classic.

But, before Panch, one of the top stars on the tour could strap himself into the 427-cubic-inch Ford, he had to attend to his duties surrounding the second Daytona Continental, the predecessor to the recently run Rolex 24. Briggs Cunningham, one of the wealthy patrons of the road course universe, and a devotee of long-distance racing, wanted Panch to drive his Maserati in the preliminary sports car affair.

During practice, Panch was manhandling the less than perfect machine through the high banked section of the combined tri-oval and infield course when he lost control. The result was a series of flips that left the Italian-built tubeframe coupe on its roof and burning furiously.

Witnessing this was Tiny Lund, a NASCAR hopeful who had yet to make it to stock car’s big time. Lund, along with four others ran to the scene, and in an act of selfless courage, reached into the fire to pull Panch from the blazing wreck. Although Panch would recover, his badly scorched back would not heal in time for the 500 10 days hence.

According to Leo Levine’s history of Ford Motorsport, “The Dust and the Glory,” Panch suggested that Lund replace him. However, others say that given the fact that most of the potential suitable substitutes were already committed, the Wood brothers felt Lund was the best man available, and offered him the job.

Either way, when the cars rolled off pit road for the pace lap, it was Lund, a six-foot, five-inch, 260 pounder, behind the wheel of the Galaxy. A storm had forced a two-hour delay, and the first ten laps were run under caution to thoroughly dry the track before the field was turned loose. When it was it some became and all-Ford show with Freddy Lorenzen and Ned Jarrett to of the giants in NASCAR out front. However, behind them was Lund, drafting his two corporate rivals.

For a man with a reputation of having a “lead foot,” Lund was in full conservation mode, running to a plan worked out by the crafty Wood brothers. As the race wound down, Lund pitted with 40 laps left for the final time. It would be close, but according to the team’s calculations: doable.

Still leading at this point were Lorenzen and Jarrett, but their advantage was illusionary because both would have to pit to make it to the finish. With just a few laps remaining, both came in, leaving improbable Lund at the front of the field.

Even so, there was no time to think about what might lay ahead, except for the strong possibility that he took would run out of fuel before it was all over.

With two laps left, there was barely enough gas to keep the Ford running, the engine cutting out on the banking, but refiring on the straights. Then as Lund headed into turn four on the white-flag lap, the 437 quit altogether, grumbling back to life just as Lund crossed the line to take the checkered flag and an amazing triumph.

The unknown underdog had made it, and in the process had made history; something that would have never happened were it not for a road course practice accident in a car unrecognized by all except for a few true purists.

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Posted by on Feb 24 2012 Filed under Columns, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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