Soak it up: Marvin Panch passing another reminder of sport’s rich history

Marvin Panch behnd the wheel of a Wood Brothers Racing car at Darlington in May of 1965.

I’m saddened by the losses our sport has suffered of late. We lost our dear friend from FOX Sports Steve Byrnes, former driver and broadcaster Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison’s wife Judy Allison and now Marvin Panch. For somone like me who has been in this sport pretty much my entire life, it makes you stop and reflect.

Marvin Panch, for example, drove for the Pettys, the Wood Brothers, Junior Johnson and some others. He also won the 1961 Daytona 500 and was a mainstay in our sport for many years after completing a driving career that included 17 total victories in NASCAR’s Premier Series.

People forget that back in the day we ran drum brakes and Marvin worked for a company called called Grey Rock Brakes. They would send someone to the track to fit the brake shoes to the drum so that you could have brakes through the course of a race. 

As antiquated as that sounds, about all the teams ran Grey Rock Brakes. Marvin was in charge of their program. He was always very personable and helpful playing a vital role in our sport at that time.

I also think folks probably forget and the newer fans never realized that Marvin had a son named Richie who drove in the Cup Series from 1973 to 1976.

Wood Brothers Racing pumped about return to full-time racing in Sprint Cup

Richie had a ton of talent and was following in his Dad’s footsteps. I knew Richie and watched him get his career started. He looked to have a bright future ahead of him, but unfortunately we lost him in an airplane crash. It was just so tragic for Marvin and the family, plus for our sport. Richie had car owners like the Wood Brothers and Junior Johnson eyeing him as a possible driver at one point, but sadly there was another one taken from us way too soon. 

You have to remember, the process was completely different back in the day than it is now. Today car owners will take a 19- or 20-year-old kid and give him a great car and team to back him up. In my era as a crew chief, that didn’t happen. The car owners back then waited and watched to see who developed before they would hire them. 

When we lose someone like a Judy Allison, it’s just tears our heart up. She was the matriarch of the Allison clan. She suffered more heartbreak than any mother or wife should ever have to, but there she was always with a smile on her face and moving forward. 

For those fans who maybe don’t know some of the names I’ve mentioned, I challenge you to pick up a magazine, a book or Google them on the Internet. Learn more about the folks who gave it all to make our sport succeed. These were families driving all over the country simply trying to make ends meet. They didn’t have to do it. They wanted to do it because they had the passion of racing in their blood.  

Jeff Gordon dishes on why he's so excited to join the FOX Sports broadcast team

We hear so much about the RTA and what they are getting ready to do for the car owners in our sport, which trust me, is a great thing. But these same car owners have to look back and thank those who sacrificed and laid the groundwork for them to get to this point in our sport. 

There are a lot of positives on the NASCAR horizon, but when you lose some of the folks that have passed away, you have to stop and reflect. That’s a fiber of our sport that is lost with only the memories remaining. 

I can’t urge you strongly enough that if you get a chance to talk to a Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip, Glen or Leonard Wood, Harry Gant — folks like that who helped get our sport to where it is today, ask them to tell you stories of what our sport was like back then.

When you think about it, you have living history right in front of you. Take advantage of that. Listen and absorb all you can. Trust me, you’ll thank me one day.