Driver Paul Goldsmith (in car) and car owner Henry “Smokey” Yunick (R) chat with a pair of unidentified men during Speed Weeks at the Daytona Beach-Road Course in 1958
ISC Images & Archives via Getty Image

How NASCAR Helped Save Pontiac in the 1950s


Advertisement

It's hard to believe that General Motors killed off Pontiac more than 10 years ago. The last Pontiac to roll off the assembly line was a normal G6 needed to fill a fleet order. There was no special ceremony or major announcement. It was just gone.

You would think that GM would have put a little more effort into a proper farewell to the maker of cars like the Trans Am, GTO, G8, Solstice, the crazy Fiero, and the ugly, but daring, Aztek. We think of Pontiac as a strong brand that was gobbled up by the Great Recession that started in 2008, but that's not exactly the case. A few years back, the guys over at the YouTube channel Donut Media put together a video about the history of Pontiac, and it includes how NASCAR saved the brand from meeting its maker back in the 1950s. Check it out for the ultimate history lesson!

As host Nolan Sykes breaks down in the video, people were starting to think that only older folks drove Pontiacs, and that ultimately put a serious dent in sales. To revitalize the brand, Pontiac decided to get involved in NASCAR with the help of legendary mechanic Henry "Smokey" Yunick. For 40 years, Smokey ran a Florida-based truck repair shop called "Smokey's Best Damn Garage in Town," was a member of over 30 Halls of Fame, was the NASCAR Mechanic of the Year twice, and won 57 NASCAR Cup Series races as a crew member, including two championships in 1951 and 1953. Needless to say, the guy knew his cars.

Advertisement

With the help of Yunick, Pontiac's success in NASCAR ultimately led to the GTO sparking off the original muscle car era and ushered in a massive increase in sales. So, basically, the most famous stock car racing auto sanctioning body helped save Pontiac and created one of the greatest eras in automotive history. Thanks, NASCAR!

MORE: The 6 Best NASCAR Drivers of the 1960s

Related Videos