Mercury to join long list of former nameplates, will ‘Chevy’ be next?

Dale Wilkerson                                      June 2010

What wins on Sunday sells on Monday. For years, that was the call from the Detroit area as car manufactures worked to have the best car on the public highways and on the speedways across this great country.
Recently, several brands have fallen to the wayside as Detroit streamlines production. We have lost Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and by the end of the year add Mercury to this list. Back up a few more years and you will find other brands that left the racetrack and then production was stopped altogether with Hudson and AMC at the top of this list. The AMC Matador was a product of Roger Penske’s engineering and Bobby Allison’s grit and determination to be a winner.
Hudson was the car to beat in the early days of NASCAR. The Fabulous Hudson Hornet makes Jimmie Johnson look like an also ran. Drivers and team owners felt the sting of the Hornet for several years before the car was pulled from competition and shortly after from production. That car in the animated Disney movie cars, yes it was real.
Harry Gant won his final races with an Oldsmobile. The car was called the ‘Gant-mobile’ as High-Groove Harry had his Olds running a lot better than the others that were on track. Ricky Craven picked up the last win for Pontiac at Darlington in 2003. It was announced that General Motors was pulling Pontiac from NASCAR about the same time they presented the GTO back to production. The Plymouth brand left the racetrack in the seventies just a few years before the last Mercury rolled down pit road looking for the green flag.
Mercury Cougar’s were raced in the Goody’s Dash Series, and a few still hit the track with the ISCAR series as tracks across the southeast today, but a Mercury has not seen top level NASCAR action since Neil Bonnett drove for the Woods Brothers.
A few teams attempted to bring Mercury back to the track in the mid-nineties. During the 1995 season, with Ford teams struggling, Cale Yarborough had his team build a Mercury Cougar for testing. At that time, the Cougar and the Ford Thunderbird were the same size; just the back windows were different as the Cougar had more of a notch-back look were the Thunderbird was a fastback. Yarborough thought the Cougar would take advantage of the five-inch spoiler but he was never allowed to test this during an actual race. The folks at Ford told Yarborough and any other Ford team that if they came to the track with anything other than a Ford Thunderbird, their factory support would be pulled.
If Yarborough had been allowed to field that Mercury then, and a few more teams had made the switch, who knows, we might still have Mercury’s racing today. I for one would have rather seen a 2003 Mercury Marauder on track than a Ford Taurus, or the current Ford Fusion for that matter. If General Motors had encouraged Joe Gibbs to stay with Pontiac, and they had carried the GTO to the track in 2004, Pontiac’s might still be in production.
Racing has done a lot over the years to help Detroit sell cars. Whether it was the ‘Big Merc’ of David Pearson, the ‘Olds’ of Harry Gant, the ‘T-Bird’s’ of Awesome Bill Elliott and Davey Allison, or the ‘Chevys’ of ole DW or the Intimidator, what these cars and drivers accomplished on Sunday helped Detroit sell more on Monday.
Now what is this new item? The folks at General Motors now want us to stop using the nickname Chevy? I guess instead of Don McClain driving his Chevy to the levee, he will have to find another car that fits the song. I drove my Honda to the levee or perhaps I drove my Kia to the levee or just go generic with the lyrics, I drove my pickup to the levee or I drove my tractor to the levee. Sometimes I think the folks in Detroit just need a good dose of common sense.