Photos: Pace Cars of the 1950s
by Tom Jensen September 20, 2021
From before the birth of NASCAR and into the sport’s first decade, Detroit automakers provided the awesome cars that led racers to the green flag.
Pace cars have been a staple of race tracks from the beginning of competition and for a very good reason: They are necessary for the smooth and orderly running of races.
Here at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, fans occasionally inquire about pace cars and their history. Over the years, pace car selection has been left up to each individual track. Pace cars were not chosen or mandated by NASCAR, and as a result, there is no official database we’re aware of with a detailed list of which pace cars were used at each race.
Some tracks did keep excellent records, most notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In general, though, information on specific vehicles is spotty, at best, and the further you go back in history, the less available such data is. That said, pace cars are an interesting footnote to NASCAR history, so we’ve pulled together 11 photos of them from the 1950s and even one that pre-dates NASCAR. Enjoy.
Pace cars were used years before NASCAR was founded in 1948. Hall of Famer Raymond Parks (2017) was at the Daytona Beach & Road Course in 1941, when this Cadillac coupe served as the pace car.
Large and in charge, this massive 1950 Buick Roadmaster Convertible was the perfect choice to serve as pace car for the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington International Raceway (now Darlington Raceway), which at the time was the best-paying race in all of NASCAR.
While convertibles were a popular choice to serve as pace cars in the early 1950s, Martinsville Speedway employed a Nash Ambassador sedan as to lead the field to the green flag in a 1953 NASCAR Modified Division (now Whelen Modified Tour) race.
Michigan’s Flat Rock Speedway opened in 1953, with the track employing the popular Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible as its pace car.
Hall of Famer Herb Thomas (2013), driver of The Fabulous Hudson Hornet, won the fourth race of the 1954 NASCAR premier series season at Atlanta’s Lakeview Speedway, but it was a Dodge convertible that served as the pace car.
The 1954 International 100 at New Jersey’s Linden Airport, the only NASCAR premier series race ever won by a Jaguar, was paced by a Buick Skylark convertible, the flagship of the Buick division of General Motors.
Here’s something you don’t see every day: A photographer climbed on the hood of the Oldsmobile pace car to get a shot prior to the start of the 1955 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
NASCAR was still racing on the hard-packed sands of the Daytona Beach & Road Course in 1956, when a Dodge Royal Lancer Convertible was the official pace car for Daytona Speedweeks.
Charlotte Fairgrounds, a 0.500-mile dirt track in North Carolina, employed a Ford station wagon as its pace car for the 1956 racing season.
The premier series first raced at Wisconsin’s Road America in 1956 but did not return to the road course until 2021. The pace car for the first race was a stylish Dodge convertible.
The pace car for the inaugural Daytona 500 was a 1959 Pontiac Bonneville convertible, the top of the line offering from the sportiest division in the General Motors lineup.
Legendary CBS newsman and avid auto enthusiast Walter Cronkite wheeled this 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible when he was grand marshal for the first July 4th Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway.