Those who don't learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
So I guess that would explain how NASCAR drivers don't need anymore to take a glass cutter and cut dime-sized holes into their race cars' windshields, so they can see where they are going.
"But you couldn't look into the hole very long," said Marvin Panch, "because the blowing sand would hurt your eyes."
Panch, voted one of the 50 greatest NASCAR drivers in 1998, took a moment Thursday to jog down NASCAR's memory lane, like racing on Daytona's beach. Such nostalgic trips into a sport's history too often yield little charisma for the time and place. Pictures of leather football helmets, woolen baseball uniforms and basketball shoes that rose above the ankle — though all well and good — scream DORKY, hardly evoking the romance of the time. Unless clunky and awkward raises your gooseflesh.
NASCAR, however, ran nearly the same speeds then as they do today, and the eyes widen when one considers how that happened.
You know, like going 200 miles an hour in a tomato can. Comparatively, of course.
The on-board medical supplies consisted of band aids and peroxide.
"The ambulance was a station wagon," said Panch, 86.
Or in some places, the ambulance was a hearse. Yes, a hearse.
I'll pause now, so you can create your own Tim Burton Kodak moment. Johnny Deep, of course, drives the hearse.
Protection from fire? Well, there was a fire extinguisher in the car. And a fire suit? It was more of a fire limb.
"I don't know what the solution was," Panch said, "but it felt like starch."
A driver would dip his arms in that solution, let it harden, then race. That was his fire suit.
"You're looking at my uniform," said Panch, who rubbed his short-sleeved shirt between his thumb and forefinger.
HANS device? Full-body fire suit? Helmet with microphone, noise-suppressant equipment? Can you imagine that, Marvin?
"Huh?" Panch said to that question.
"Huh?" is what he said a few times while on the dais answering questions from the media at a San Francisco restaurant. Panch would be asked a question, turn to fellow trailblazer Donnie Allison, and ask, "What did he say?" Panch is very hard of hearing in both ears and doesn't deny what caused it.
"Racing," he said.
Panch shrugs. Whatever. When you reach 86, you shrug a lot. Why not? If you made it to 86 and spent the wild hair of your youth racing tomato cans at 200 miles an hour with a hearse waiting for you if you screwed up badly, you would shrug, too, because all the heavy lifting is over. What's left are the stories that feel like a newsreel being played in front of you.
Like the worst crash in Panch's life. And it wasn't even in a tomato can. In 1963 he spent two months in the hospital as a result of the accident, the burns so severe.
"It was a Ford experiment," Panch said. "They put a Ford engine into a Maserati. Wanted to see if I could set a track record at Charlotte. I went around a couple times but told them the car didn't feel right, but I decided to go anyway."