On This Day In History: Banjo Mathews Passes On Oct 2, 1996

The man once called the “Henry Ford of Racecars” passed away on October 2, 1996. Edwin Keith “Banjo” Matthews began his racing career as a successful Modified driver.

He was so successful that the track promoter of one of the Asheville tracks asked him to back off after winning 13 consecutive races back in the 1950s. The promoter felt that attendance was dropping because the result was a foregone conclusion when Matthews was running.

After retiring as a driver, Banjo Matthews took on the role of car owner and builder. Matthews is shown here working on his 1964 Ford NASCAR Grand National car. Junior Johnson was the driver and the team scored back-to-back wins at Winston-Salem and Roanoke, Virginia.

His pride would not let him throw a race, but it would let him take a handicap to make things more entertaining. So, the promoter started the driver at the back of the pack. To ensure that it was a handicap, his car was also facing backward. The race was started and Mathews spun the car around and drove to the front. He won that race making it 14 consecutive wins in a row.

It wasn’t his driving that earned him legendary status though. As a car builder and team owner, Mathews built some of the best race cars of that time and had the top drivers on his team.

Banjo’s, where money buys speed – How fast do you want to go? – A sign in Mathew’s speedshop

Banjo Mathews took a chance on Donnie Allison, giving him a break in 1968. Allison’s best season in NASCAR came in 1970 while driving for Mathews. He won the World 600 at Charlotte, the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, and the Southwestern 400 at Bristol that year. In 19 starts, Allison had 10 top-five finishes.  Donnie also finished Fourth in the Indianapolis 500.

Daytona Beach, Florida, July 4, 1970: Car owner Banjo Matthews and driver Donnie Allison celebrate their victory in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Fireball Roberts, A.J. Foyt, Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, and Bobby Isaac all drove for Mathews. He built cars for almost everyone that wanted a fast car. At one point from 1974 to 1985, 72-percent of the winning cars in NASCAR’s top division were built by Banjo.

Matthews received the Flock Brothers Memorial Award in 1983 for his contributions to motorsports and was inducted into the TRW Mechanics Hall of Fame in 1989. He won the first Smokey Yunick Award for lifetime mechanical achievement in Winston Cup racing. He was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame. Mathews had been in failing health from 1994 until his passing at a Hedersonville nursing home.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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