Long Lost NASCAR Tucker Lost No Longer

A look at the famed NASCAR Tucker as it sits out front of Joe Nagel Jr. Motor Sales in Pittsburgh, PA. The car was piloted at Canfield Motor Speedway in Canfield, Ohio by Joe Merola. Photo courtesy Tom Merola

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Feature Stories 2/10/12

Just over two years ago, we posted a story at Georgia Racing History.com about various interesting and odd cars that have competed in NASCAR over the years.

Far and away the portion of the story that got the most attention was the section on the only 1948 Tucker Torpedo to compete in NASCAR.  The rare vehicle made its appearance in a 200-lap event on May 30, 1950.

Joe Merola, of Wilkinsburg, PA, piloted the Tucker, one of only 50 ever manufactured, in the race.  Well, sort of.  A broken axle sidelined the vehicle on the opening lap.

For those who may not be familiar with the story of the car, the Tucker automobile is arguably the most sought after and coveted American automobile by collectors.  Preston Tucker, the cars’ designer and builder, decided to take on the big Detroit auto makers in the late 40s by designing a car that was light years ahead of its time, including safety innovations that have only hit modern cars in the last 10 years or so.

In the end, the powers that be had the Tucker plant closed down.  Truth be told, they were afraid of his cars because, to be blunt, they were just too darned good.

When the doors closed forever on the Tucker plant, only 50 of the futuristic looking cars had been manufactured.

So the idea of one of those rare cars being on a half-mile dirt track is amazing, to say the least.

For years, the racing Tucker is believed to have been later lost in a warehouse fire in Florida years later.  It’s one of the few Tuckers that do not still survive.

But in an article in the March 2012 edition of Hemmings Classic Car Magazine, Mike Schutta tells the entire story of the so called NASCAR Tucker, and reveals that, after extensive research, the famed car not only still exists (it is Tucker #1004), but had two other brushes with NASCAR many years later.

Joe Merola poses with the Tucker he would drive in the NASCAR Grand National event at Canfield, Ohio. Photo courtesy Tom Merola

The story begins when a Pittsburgh car dealer named Red Harris purchased the Tucker, which ended up on his lot.  Joe Merola, who would pilot the car in the famed event at Canfield, lived not far from Harris’ lot.  For its racing debut, the gray Tucker would be lettered with a number 12, sponsored by Joe Nagel, Jr.’s used car lot.

Merola qualified the car for the Canfield Motor Speedway NASCAR event.  But according to Schutta, the broken right rear axle on the Tucker was typical for the car.  With an engine producing a ton of torque, it Schutta writes that breaking the axle in first gear was commonplace.  Merola and the Tucker Torpedo were out before the first lap was done.

But what else has come to light in Schutta’s article was that the Tucker was to make a second NASCAR appearance – sort of.  Apparently, the same car was slated to run a one lap match race against the winner of the July NASCAR Grand National event at the half-mile Monroe County Fairgrounds in Rochester, NY.

Tucker #1004 in the pits at Canfield Motor Speedway prior to the running of a NASCAR Grand National Race on May 30, 1950.

The event was won by NASCAR legend Curtis Turner.  But in the one-lap match race, the Tucker again snapped the right rear axel before the lap was completed.  So the Tucker never completed one complete lap in competition.

From there, the Tucker would change hands, and at one point spent several years in a barn.  In 1976, the car was restored, and the color changed from its factory gray to maroon.  Years later, the car would appear with several other Tuckers in the filming of the Francis Ford Coppola film, Tucker, A Man And His Dream.

In 1991, the Tucker would have another brush with NASCAR, although nobody realized it at that time.

After changing hands again, the NASCAR Tucker was put on loan to Richard Petty’s museum, which, at the time, was located adjacent to the Petty Enterprises race shops in Level Cross, NC.

Tucker #1004, the NASCAR Tucker, finally ended up in Toyota's Automobile Museum in Japan.

Imagine the surprise of all the folks that saw that car at Petty’s museum had they known the racing pedigree of the car!

Eventually, the car would be sold again, and would eventually find a home at the Toyota Automobile Museum in Nagakutecho, Japan.

The full story of the history of Tucker #1004 is fascination, as is the story of how the car was discovered to still be with us.  You can read Mike Schutta’s great article in the March 2012 issue of Hemmings Classic Car magazine.  Visit Hemmings.com for more info.

It just goes to show that you never know where racing history is going to be discovered, not to mention what history might be sitting right next to you without you ever realizing it.

Brandon Reed is the editor and publisher of Georgia Racing History.com.

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