Race fans will be treated to a very special pair of legendary NASCAR drivers at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, June 22-24.
Donnie Allison and Marvin Panch, two of the best drivers in NASCAR history, will be featured throughout the weekend, most notably in a very special autograph and Q&A session in the Wine Country Winner’s Circle on Friday, June 22, and at the Club 7 trackside bar and lounge on Sunday morning, June 24. They will also be featured during pre-event ceremonies on Sunday.
The raceway began its NASCAR Legends program with Bobby Allison and Ned Jarrett in 2011, and this year it will feature Donnie Allison and Panch.
Allison, 72, raced in an era which featured him, his brother (Bobby) and Red Farmer as the “Alabama Gang,” which started out riding into short tracks and shooting down the competition. They also ran with Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and others on the superspeedways.
The Alabama Gang was a good part of stock car racing lore in the sport’s next era, but it was named by chance.
“Bobby, Red and I were all over the South,” Allison said. “Jack Ingram said at one race, ‘Here comes the Alabama Gang’ and it stuck. Bob Harmon, a promoter, kept it going. In 1962, the three of us ran 106 races and won 96 of them. Bobby won 34, I won 32 and Red won the rest.
“The Alabama Gang was those three names and it became a NASCAR thing. At the time it was taking place. I didn’t associate it with anything in particular.”
Allison still recalls Memorial Day weekend in 1970 as the highlight of his career. It was during a short period when the Indianapolis 500 ran on Saturday and the World 600 at Charlotte was on Sunday. At Indy, in his first race in Indy cars, he finished fourth and took Rookie of the Year honors. He then flew to Charlotte and won the World 600.
“That was quite a month,” Allison said. “As a racecar driver, all we cared about was winning. I never ran for the championship. If I have any regrets, that would be it. In our day, any one of 12 drivers could win a race. Today, it’s 35 or 36.”
Panch, 86, a Wisconsin native who also lived in Oakland for a while, was voted as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. He entered the scene in the early era as NASCAR was just getting started, running against familiar historical figures like Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner.
In all, Panch had 17 wins, 21 poles, and 96 top-five finishes in 216 starts, but his greatest victory came in 1961 when he captured the Daytona 500. He was in impressive company – Junior Johnson won it in 1960 and Roberts in 1962.
His final triumph came in the 1966 World 600, when he drove one of Richard Petty’s dirt cars to victory in the season’s longest race.
Panch and Allison will take part in an autograph and Q&A session for fans in the Wine Country Winner’s Circle on Friday at 1:30 p.m., and will be featured in the Club 7 trackside bar and lounge on Sunday morning. Both drivers will also take part in a Q&A during pre-event ceremonies on Sunday.
Sonoma Raceway PR