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NASCAR is one of the most exciting forms of motorsport in the world, with cars topping 200 miles per hour and banging into each other as they jockey for position, it is truly the car equivalent of a real “fight to the finish.”
There have been many different changes to and iterations of NASCAR since it first got started in the late 1940s, with tons of different makes and models competing for the top prize.
Sedans, coupes, and even trucks have found their way onto the oval for some bare-knuckle racing action.
For the past few decades, NASCAR has usually been home to thundering V8 muscle cars, with big, square bodies and minimal aerodynamics, but did you know it wasn’t always just for mainstream American (and, more recently, Japanese) marques?
Before NASCAR went to tube frames and plastic bodies, the chassis were pretty much “stock” cars that were modified to race around the oval. This meant just about anybody that wanted to go racing could bring a car and compete, including any manufacturer that had a performance-oriented machine.
Naturally, that lead to a few different manufacturers trying their hand at the motorsport that today would not befit the brand at all.
Porsche loves to go racing. In fact, the brand essentially started out as a manufacturer for racing bodies and accessories for Volkswagens. So it should come as no surprise it’s tried every form of motorsport there is, including a NASCAR race in 1951.
Lining up what would have been some of the first post-war foreign-versus-American car races, Edgar Otto Sr. purchased and then pit vehicles such as Jaguars, Aston Martins, and Porsches against their U.S contemporaries. One particular race was held at Langhorne Speedway, Pennsylvania, and apparently featured a Porsche 356 on the starting grid.
Not much more is known about the car itself, the driver, or how it fared in the race, but it’s safe to say it would have been a fabulous sight to see a tiny, bubbly sports car rub shoulders with the likes of Ford and Mercury.
1957 Chevy Bel-Air Convertible
In the mid- to late 1950s there was a complete division in NASCAR for convertible cars. During the Daytona 500 of 1959, there was actually even a separate qualifying session just for drop-tops, as 20 of the 59 vehicles entered had no roofs. Yes, it was this ratio spurred the formation of the preliminary Twin 125s event, still run at Daytona today under the label “Budweiser Duels”.
Pretty much any of the convertibles used in this race could be chosen for their weirdness, but we’re singling out Joe Lee Johnson’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, due to it racing with all the chrome still attached. Guess he didn’t think he would be crashing it anytime soon.
The “International 100” NASCAR race took place at Linden airport track on June 13, 1954, and featured several foreign cars competing against American iron. As the track was a road course, the lighter and more nimble vehicles were more likely to take the win, but the favourite above all was Al Keller’s Jaguar XK120.
The XK120 was an aluminum-bodied and ash-framed example, an extremely rare and quick car in period. With 21 of the 43 vehicles being foreign-made in this race, the Keller would have his work cut out for him.
However, Keller ended up taking the win by almost a full lap, along with the $5,020 in purse money. Keller remains the only man to win a NASCAR race in a British vehicle.
Want more examples of NASCAR races that encouraged foreign vehicles to sign up? A Volkswagen Beetle was entered in the July 1953 race at Langhorne Speedway, piloted by Dick Hagey.
No, this wasn’t a scene out of The Love Bug, but it definitely could have been the influence for that film, in which Herbie coincidentally wears the number 53, like the year of that race.
Out of 35 vehicles on the field, the Beetle miraculously finished 18th, despite only being motivated by 30 horsepower on its rear bumper. It remains the only Beetle to run in a NASCAR Grand National race, which is now known as a Sprint Cup race.
The Citroen ID is a simpler version of the DS, but still carried a 70-horsepower four-cylinder that powered the front wheels. While the vehicle doesn’t have the most sporting pedigree, that didn’t stop Citroen from taking ID and DS vehicles to pretty much every racing event it could, including the Monte Carlo Rally, and, yes, NASCAR.
Not one but two Citroen ID-19s raced in the Crown America 500 on June 1, 1958 at Riverside. Not only did they compete, they finished 18th and 19th overall, and won their class (which must have been, like, front-wheel-drive class). They were piloted by Bill Jones in the No. 100 car; and Ralph Roberts in the No. 101 car, and must have been quite a sight with their hydropneumatic suspension compressing around every turn.