This isn’t a good Corvair story but it is, in its own little way, a story that involves our beloved automobile and its NASCAR racing career.
When the three new compact cars all came out in 1960, there was a lot of excitement. So much so that Bill France, the major-domo of NASCAR, invited the automakers to compete in a series of highly-publicized endurance and road races. Ford (Falcon), Chevy (Corvair), and Chrysler (Valiant) took the bait, and each manufacturer quickly whipped up performance-enhancing goodies. Though Ford and Chevy efforts seemed half-hearted, Chrysler engineers really came on strong with the Hyper Pak option, which included a cam, pistons, intake with a 4-barrel carb, and exhaust package for the Valiant's cast-iron 170-inch low-deck Slant Six. Races were scheduled for the compacts as part of "Speed Weeks" at his Daytona Super Speedway which culminated in the crown jewel of NASCAR, the Daytona 500. The first race was on the 3.8 mile road racing course, followed an hour later by a 20 lap sprint on the high-speed oval.
In an all-time first, CBS TV carried the road race live on national TV, sponsored in Detroit by Dick Shalla Chevrolet. Eight Valiants were entered, lead by driver Marvin Panch in a car sponsored by a Daytona Beach Chrysler-Plymouth dealer named W. Brewster Shaw. Entries included a number of Corvairs and Falcons as well as a few foreign imports.
Qualifying ended up with Panch in pole position with the other Valiants filling the front of the starting grid. After a couple of laps, it became clear that no other cars had much of a chance. The race was pretty much a procession of Valiants, which Mr. Panch led from start to finish. In fact the first seven places were taken by Valiants, while a Volvo driven by female journalist/race driver Denise McCluggage came home in 8th. It was so dull and boring that CBS cancelled any future coverage of the Compact Series races. Too bad they didn’t have the presence of mind to broadcast the high-speed oval race with the big cars, which was far more exciting.
Although NASCAR sponsored several compact-car races through 1961, the two held in conjunction with the 1960 Daytona 500 clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the factory-hopped-up 170 Slant Six. The first was a 10-lap race over a 3.81-mile road course with the winner showing an average speed of 88.134 mph. The second race, a 50-mile charge around the 2½ -mile Daytona tri-oval, opened some eyes. Again, Valiants dominated the top positions, with Panch's Valiant again claiming the victory with an astonishing 123.282-mph average speed with top speeds approaching 130-mph. Not by any of the Corvairs or Falcons, of course!
By the end of the 1961 season NASCAR quietly discontinued the Compact Series races and all excitement about the new compact cars rode off into the sunset. One would think that the Chrysler folks would have tried capitalized on their hands-down victory with a great advertising campaign or some such, but nothing was ever mentioned again.