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Curator's Corner / Historic Moments

Long Gone NASCAR Automakers

Back in the day, a lot of now-shuttered automotive brands raced in NASCAR.

Since the conclusion of the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series season the only three automakers, also known as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), competing in NASCAR’s top division have been Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. That’s it.

It wasn’t always that way.

In the first NASCAR Strictly Stock Division (now Cup Series) race at Charlotte Speedway in 1949, the 33-car field featured entries representing nine different automakers, including three luxury brands: Cadillac, Lincoln and Chrysler, who were joined on track by Mercury, Hudson, Ford, Buick, Oldsmobile and Kaiser.

Ford (from left). Hudson, Nash and Oldsmobile were among the myriad OEMs to compete in NASCAR in the early 1950s. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

A year later at the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway there were 12 different OEMs represented, including newcomers Plymouth, Nash, Studebaker and Pontiac, four brands that don’t exist anymore. With that thought in mind, here are eight defunct automakers who won at least one race in NASCAR’s top series.

Hall of Famer Curtis Turner won the second race of the 1951 NASCAR season driving this Nash. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Nash – 1 victory

First/last race win: 4/1/51, Charlotte Speedway, Curtis Turner

Based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Nash Motor Company made cars from 1916 to 1957. A 1954 merger between Nash and Hudson led to the formation of American Motors Corp. Those two nameplates went away permanently in 1957, to be replaced by AMC’s Rambler brand.

Female racer Louise Smith favored the Nash brand and in the inaugural 1950 Carrera Panamericana road race across public roads in Mexico. Hall of Famers William H.G. France (Class of 2010) and Curtis Turner (Class of 2016) campaigned a Nash Ambassador sedan. But the only actual NASCAR points race won in a Nash occurred in 1951 at the old Charlotte Speedway 0.750-mile dirt track, where Turner and runner-up Lee Petty (Class of 2011) lapped the field.

Frank Mundy (left) made a winner out of Studebaker in 1951. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Studebaker – 3 wins

First win: 6/16/51, Columbia Speedway, Frank Mundy

Last win: 11/25/51, Lakeview Speedway, Frank Mundy

Brothers Henry and Clem Studebaker opened a blacksmith and wagon shop in South Bend, Indiana in 1852. Studebaker eventually evolved into an automobile manufacturer and kept building cars all the way up until 1966.

Alas, Studebaker never hit it big in NASCAR, winning only three races, all in 1951. Frank Mundy won at South Carolina’s Columbia Speedway early in the year as well as in the season finale at Lakeview Speedway in Mobile, Alabama. In October 1951, Danny Weinberg drove a Studebaker to victory at Marchbanks Speedway in Hanford, California.

Two pieces of Studebaker trivia: 1. Harold Smith and his Studebaker finished 31st in the inaugural 1959 Daytona 500; and 2. Although they made no inroads in NASCAR’s top division, Studebakers were very popular in the NASCAR Modified Sportsman Division in the 1960s.

Colorful red, white and blue paint schemes made Bobby Allison’s AMC Matador easy to spot at the track. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

American Motors – 5 wins

First win: 1/21/73, Riverside International Raceway, Mark Donohue

Last win: 9/1/75, Darlington Raceway, Bobby Allison

Born out of the ill-fated Nash-Hudson merger of 1954, American Motors Corp. continued cranking out cars until 1988, one year after it was purchased by Chrysler Corp. In its heyday, , AMC produced some decidedly unique cars, including the two-seat AMX sports coupe, the Rambler Marlin, the fishbowl-like Pacer and the all-wheel-drive Eagle. AMC also built what might be the most ungainly stock car ever, the Matador Coupe, which carried many of the design excesses common in the mid-1970s: a long nose, short trunk and opera windows between the B- and C-pillars.

Although the Matador looked about as aerodynamic as a brick, team owner Roger Penske (Class of 2019) made a winner out of it, first with open-wheel star Mark Donohue on the Riverside International Raceway road course in 1973. Bobby Allison (Class of 2011) won one race in a Penske Matador in 1974, then was victorious three times in 1975, including a sweep of both races at Darlington Raceway.

With its fleet of Fabulous Hudson Hornets, the Hudson Motor Car Co. was the first manufacturer to dominate NASCAR. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Hudson – 79 wins

First win: 2/11/51, Daytona Beach-Road Course, Marshall Teague

Last win: 2/6/55, West Palm Beach, Herb Thomas

Founded in 1909, the Hudson Motor Car Company was the first automaker to understand that victories on the racetrack would help sell cars, hence the adage, “Win on Sunday, Sell on Munday.” Hudson actively marketed its NASCAR success in its advertising, and, more importantly, funded its NASCAR operations well enough to ensure success on the track. In the early 1950s, Hudson branded its NASCAR race cars with the phrase, “The Fabulous Hudson Hornet.” As great as the Hornet was, Hudson never developed a replacement for it, and strapped for cash, agreed to merge with Nash in 1954 to form American Motors Corp. After a couple of lackluster years trying to sell rebranded Nash models, Hudson production ended for good in 1957.

Still, in the early 1950s, Hudson’s racing efforts paid huge dividends as the automaker won three consecutive NASCAR Manufacturers Championships from 1952-54. Herb Thomas (Class of 2013) and Tim Flock (Class of 2014) won three consecutive driver championships in their Hudson Hornets, Thomas winning the titles in 1951 and ’53, while Flock was the 1952 champion. In that ’52 season, Hudsons won 27 of 34 races.

Mercury teammates Tim Flock (No. 15) and Billy Myers finished second and 19th, respectively in a 1957 NASCAR Convertible Division race at Darlington Raceway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Mercury – 96 wins

First win: 6/18/50, Vernon Fairgrounds, Bill Blair

Last win: 8/3/80, Talladega Superspeedway, Neil Bonnett

Created in 1938 by Ford Motor Co., the Mercury brand slotted in between the high-end Lincoln and the mass market Ford brands. The early Mercury coupes of the 1950s were favorites of hot rodders and customizers, who chopped the roofs and lowered the bodies to create a genre of custom cars known as “lead sled.” Ford pulled the plug on the Mercury division in 2011 after decades of unprofitability.

From the beginning, Mercury had a strong presence in NASCAR, competing in the inaugural Strictly Stock Division race in 1949. Its greatest success came from 1968-78, when Wood Brothers Racing, the team founded by Glen Wood (Class of 2012) won 59 races with drivers Cale Yarborough (Class of 2012), Donnie Allison (Class of 2024), A.J. Foyt and David Pearson (Class of 2011) competing in Mercury race cars prepared by Leonard Wood (Class of 2013). Although Mercury stock cars won nearly 100 NASCAR Cup Series races, no driver ever piloted a Mercury to a championship, nor did the brand ever win a Manufacturers Championship.

In the late 1970s, the Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 helped drivers like three-time Cup Series champion Cale Yarborough dominate NASCAR superspeedways. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Oldsmobile – 115 wins

First win: 7/10/49, Daytona Beach Course, Red Byron

Last win: 8/16/92, Michigan International Speedway, Harry Gant

Michigan entrepreneur Ransom E. Olds opened Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing in 1897 but left the company he started after a dispute with the family of his majority stockholder. Following its founder’s departure, William Durant acquired Oldsmobile in 1908 as part of his creation of General Motors. Oldsmobile famously introduced the Rocket 88 V-8 engine in 1949, an innovative powerplant that was a favorite of racers and moonshiners alike.

Oldsmobile was a force to be reckoned with in NASCAR, winning the first two Manufacturers Championships in 1950-51 and a third title in 1955. After a long fallow period in the 1960s and ’70s, Oldsmobile burst back in the late 1970s, when it excelled on superspeedways.

From 1978-81, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling car in America. In the 1990s and 2000s, however, Oldsmobile sales declined, and the brand was discontinued in 2004.

The last driver to win a Cup championship in a Pontiac was Tony Stewart, who did it driving for fellow Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs in 2002. Photo courtesy of Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Pontiac – 154 Wins

First win: 2/17/57, Daytona Beach-Road Course, Cotton Owens

Last win: 3/16/03, Darlington Raceway, Ricky Craven

General Motors created its Pontiac division in 1928. For its first three decades, the brand served as a stodgy but reliable middle-class offering that was slotted between two of its GM corporate cousins, slightly above Chevrolets and slightly below Oldsmobiles. In the late 1950s, Pontiac discovered high performance sold cars and retooled for a more youthful and sportier image.

Once Pontiac started building high-performance cars, it quickly got involved in NASCAR. Pontiacs won 30 of 52 races in 1961 followed a year later by a 22-victory season that included a Manufacturers Championship and Fireball Roberts’ (Class of 2014) sweep of the 1962 Daytona 500 100-mile qualifying race, the Daytona 500, and the Firecracker 250, all at Daytona International Speedway.

Rusty Wallace (Class of 2013) drove his Pontiac to a Cup Series championship in 1989, as did Tony Stewart in 2002.

Alas, GM’s 2009 bankruptcy doomed the Pontiac division, which was discontinued in 2010.

Richard Petty led the Plymouth brigade to post record numbers in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Plymouth – 191 Wins

First win: 10/2/49, Heidelberg Speedway, Lee Petty

Last win: 8/12/73, Talladega Superspeedway, Dick Brooks

Last but not least, we close with a mind-blowing stat: Although Plymouth hasn’t won a NASCAR race in nearly 51 years, the automaker still ranks fourth in all-time Cup Series victories, behind only Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge, and ahead of Toyota.

Launched in 1928, the Plymouth was a division of Chrysler Corp. intended to compete with other economy brands of the day, specifically Ford and Chevrolet. Plymouth is perhaps best known for its legendary muscle cars of the 1960s and ’70s, including the Barracuda, Road Runner and GTX, each of which was available with the famed 426-cubic-inch Hemi engine.

During its glory days of the 1960s and early ’70s, Petty Enterprises was the standard bearer for Plymouth in NASCAR, with Richard Petty (Class of 2010) scoring the bulk of his record 200 Cup Series victories driving Plymouths. Most notably, Petty won the 1967 Cup Series title on the strength of 27 race victories, including 10 in a row, records that have never since been approached, let alone broken. Yet for all of Plymouth’s success in NASCAR, its only Manufacturers Championship came in 1971, the year Petty won the third of his record seven Cup Series driver titles.

The end of the muscle car era, followed by the sale of Chrysler Corp. to Mercedes-Benz spelled doom for Plymouth, which was shuttered in June 2001.

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Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.