By Ben White
The yellow 1966 Ford Galaxie owned and built by NASCAR legend Junior Johnson ranks as one of the most controversial in the sport’s 65-year history.
Due to a disagreement over the 1966 rules package, Ford Motor Co. elected to sit out the season, even though they won the Cup championship with driver Ned Jarrett and team owner Bondy Long the previous year.
Johnson built the specially designed Ford and hired the very popular Fred Lorenzen, available because of Ford’s departure, as his driver. A win in a major event with a well-known driver might prompt a return to the sport.
The car debuted at what was then known at Atlanta International Raceway on Aug. 7, 1966. The car was unloaded in the track’s garage area and immediately became the topic of conversation due to its obvious radical body style. The car had a dropped nose, chopped roof, lowered windshield and raised rear quarter panels. Rivals quickly dubbed it “The Banana” because of its yellow color and strange curves.
Lorenzen qualified the car in third and led 24 laps and held a comfortable lead midway through the 267-lap race when an unfortunate mechanical failure on lap 139 sent him hard into the fence at nearly 150 miles per hour.
The car never raced again after Atlanta but is responsible for bringing a very important practice into NASCAR’s inspection process.
“Ford Motor Co. had dropped out of NASCAR due to a rules squabble,” said NASCAR Hall of Fame historian Buz McKim. “NASCAR wanted to lure Ford back in and Johnson was allowed to run it. Ironically, several other cars were disqualified that day. Body templates were put into use due to this car.
“Freddie was leading the race when a tire blew sending him into the guard rail. I remember it was quite controversial and a little comical at the time but the car looked really cool!”