You are on page 1of 8

Robert Cody Stiltner

Barbara Presnel
English 1103
11 Nov. 2014
Who Is Banjo Matthews?
If I asked you who was Banjo Matthews? Could you answer? Not many people knew who Banjo
Matthews was, and those who did didnt know his real name was Edwin. Banjo was involved in the
difficult sport of NASCAR and was very influential during his time involved in the sport. I wanted to dig
deeper into the life of Banjo and find out why he was so good at what he did and why he wasnt
recognized for his accomplishments like he should have been. Banjo got the name Banjo Eyes in
middle school due to his thick glasses. As you can see his nickname changed from Banjo Eyes to just
Banjo. Even though his nickname was Banjo he could not play that instrument.
Banjo Matthews Motorsports Scholarship
My personal connection to Banjo is not just my hometown, it is his scholarship I received. His
scholarship was founded in his name and is the only living legacy of banjo right now. The scholarship is
for any senior in Buncombe County North Carolina who wants to pursue a career in the motorsports
field. I received the $500 scholarship and now I want to donate back to the cause. It is important to me
that this scholarship stays alive. In addition I was also given a NASCAR history book and two t-shirts with
Banjo Matthews sponsors and cars on them. In Asheville there are no monuments, statues, or anything
in Banjos name. The word of mouth is the only thing that is left when it comes to the stories about him. I
want to get him some of the recognition he deserves back in my hometown.

Introduction into the Sport of NASCAR


Before I can get started talking about Banjo himself, it is good to have some background on
NASCAR. I am going to introduce you into a little bit of the sport so that it is easier to understand Banjo.
Most people know that NASCAR was connected to the bootleggers back during the prohibition, but
thats the only thing they know about the sport. Not many actually follow the sport anymore, so it is not
being understood the way it should be. NASCAR is a motorsport where cars race around different size
oval tracks ranging from a half of a mile to a little over two and a half miles. These cars are built to
handle the maximum stress after racing hundreds of miles every weekend. Every car is different
whether it be the make, such as ford, Chevrolet, or Toyota, however they have restrictions in the sport
to how fast and how much power they can make. This allows the sport to be competitive and safe.
In the older days of the sport the cars were not limited to how fast they could go and were not
limited on how much horsepower they could make. Each team had the opportunity to make their car go
as fast as it could to give themselves the best shot at winning the race. This is where the statement
money buys speed comes into play. The more money you had the better the parts you could have and
the faster you could go. This of course made it hard on the low budget teams. Even to this day the low
budget teams are not as competitive as the major teams. Banjo Matthews was a part of those big
money teams after he finished his racing career.
The Different NASCAR Series
There is not just one racing series like there was back in the beginning of the sport. Used to
everyone would race in one race and that would be fine because there was not an excess of cars
wanting to race. Now thousands of racers are out there, so to compensate for that multiple series were
created. These series are usually based on age until the racer becomes an adult at age 18.

One of these series is called the modified series. This is the series that Banjo dominated at such
a young age. The modified series has cars that tend to more of an
open wheel type car, this meaning that the wheel is not covered by
the body. They also tend to have more of a skeleton look you
might say. They are not very aerodynamic, they are basically just
the bare bones of the car.
Another series is called the late model series. The late models are usually raced on dirt that is
really hard packed and slippery. The cars then drift around the
turns of the track making the sport difficult and fun. The looks
of the late models can be compared to putting a modified car
and a stock car together. They dont quite have the skeleton
look, but they are more aerodynamic and more enclosed.
The most famous type of racing is stock car racing. Stock car racing has multiple series inside of
itself. The series that most people are familiar with is the Nationwide series or the Sprint Cup series. The
Sprint Cup series is the top of the line racing. This is what everyone strives to get into. The Nationwide
series is a step below the Sprint Cup series on the difficulty level.
The Sprint Cup cars have a slightly bigger motor than the
Nationwide cars, thus allowing the sport be more dangerous and
more difficult to control. The sport controls the size of the motors
and some of the other specifications of the cars to make the sport
as safe and as fun as possible for the drivers. The name of the series changes every few years due to
new sponsors, but the type of racing stays the same.

Banjo as a Racer
At the young age of 15 Banjo Matthews moved to Miami, Florida. His very first race was at the
Pompano Beach Speedway. Racing in his very own Ford Roadster, Banjo won the first race he ever raced
in. This was a huge milestone in the beginning of his career. Banjo raced in Miami for five years and then
decided to pursue racing as a full time career.
He moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1952. During his time in Asheville, he raced both
asphalt and dirt tracks. He was known as one of the best modified drivers. According to Brian Sarzynski,
author of the Gentlemen, start your memories article, the promoter of the Asheville speedway told
Banjo that he was so good at the modified racing series that they made him start at the end of the line
at the beginning of the race. Not only was he dead last at the start of the race, they made him start the
race facing in the opposite direction. He had to spin his car around before he could start. Against all
odds he won that race. To me that already makes his racing career remarkable.
Although he dominated the modified series he did not do so well during his asphalt racing. Out
of the 50 races he raced in on the NASCAR circuit his best finish was second place. That second place
came at Atlanta. His average finish of those 50 races was 20th. During those 11 years of racing, from
1952 to 1963, he earned approximately $38,000. This stat is not as impressive knowing that the most of
the races had a purse of anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000. This is leaving out the big money races that
were significantly more money. For those that do not know, a purse is the money won for winning the
race. Each person that raced gets a certain amount of money, and the money decreased depending on
how far back in the race you finished. Banjos lack of
performance came to an end when he stopped
racing in 1963 to pursue building race cars.

Building Race Cars


Matthews was a genius when it came to building race cars. His cars were the best cars in the
entire series. Roland Via wrote an article on Banjo and to me this quote stood out the most:
Craftsmanship was Matthews' hallmark. This is where Banjo Matthews became the legend of the
sport. This is where he was unbeatable. Banjo said himself that "When I was driving I couldn't stand to
get outrun by somebody with better equipment." That quote is the basis of how he ran his race shop. He
started building for the Ford factory team and shortly after that Chevrolet. After the factories pulled out
of the series he opened up his own shop. Banjo opened his shop in Asheville and it was called Banjo
Matthews Performance Shop. Roland Via wrote in his article on Banjo Matthews that Banjo supplied the
body and chassis and others put the motors in them. My guess is that Banjo kept his thoughts a secret
about his cars, because his cars dominated for about ten years.
Cars built by Matthews were unbeatable. From 1974 to 1985 his cars won 262 out of 362 races.
If you did the math you would notice that that is 72 percent of the races that his cars ended up in the
winners circle. In 1978 there was 30 races ran that year and every race had a Banjo Matthews car in the
winners circle. To me thats just mind blowing! At times the cars he built made up half of the racing
field. Banjo also repaired the cars after each race and he did not only just build cars for the asphalt
series, he built modified cars, IROC, and Limited Sportsman cars. His philosophy was to make every new
car as safe and as competitive if not more than the one before it.
Some of the most famous drivers that drove Banjos cars were Fireball Roberts, A.J. Foyt and
Donnie Allison. These three drivers won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. The Firecracker 400 can be
compared to the Daytona 500 in present day. The Daytona 500 is the race everyone wants to win. Its

the first race of the season and the biggest of the series, and Banjos drivers won it three times. At a race
in Rockingham, NC in 1968, a race that Donnie Allison won was one of Banjos most memorable races.
Banjo was not racing of course, but a quote from Allison was "Banjo, standing there with tears running
down his cheeks, says to me, 'I knew that I could win another race.'

Team Owner
Banjo was not just a racer and a builder, he helped others to win their own races. It is said that
his greatest joy was to help someone else. I have heard from people who knew Banjo personally and
they told me that he loved young kids. It was told that he wanted to educate young kids so that they can
grow up and continue what he did for the sport. He wanted his legacy to continue even when he
couldnt.
Banjo was a crew chief for one of the drivers that I know personally, Jack Ingram. Jack Ingram
raced at my hometown track in Asheville. Jack raced for eight seasons and during those he won 31 races
and 5 poles. Jack was known for his temperament and ability to get angry on the track. You wanna beat
and bang? Ill beat and bang with you. You want to race hard but clean? Ill do that, too. This is a quote
from Jack himself.
I grew up hearing about Jack and how he used to race. My dad knew him very well and so did
my uncle. I got told story after story of his life on and off the track. His grandkids are a couple years
older than me, but none the less I know of them too. A majority of Jacks family lives in Asheville since
that is the place he was born and raised.

Asheville Speedway
Asheville Speedway was a big name track back in the late 1900s. This was one of the favorite tracks
among racers. Some of the big name racers raced there such a Richard Petty, Earnhardt, Ingram, and
many others. The speedway is a short track and very
hard to race on. It could be compared to Bristol and
Martinsville in todays racing series. The track was
raced on quite regularly until it was no longer in use
in the 1990s. This is sad, because the racing history
and the racing heritage of Asheville will never be the same. I think to myself that maybe my life would
be even more influenced by racing if the track was still in use to this day. The track is still open, but it is
just used as a park and no longer a race track. The Asheville track has a sister track that is the Hickory
Motor Speedway. The Hickory Speedway is still in use to this day and is where my friends race and
where we spend a lot of our time. The track is used more by young racers that are trying to make a
name for themselves, just like Banjo Matthews did. He created his performance center right down the
road from the Asheville track, and the Banjos Performancenter is considered to be one of the most
famous buildings just short of the Biltmore House.

Banjos Impact on the Industry


Banjo may not be as well-known as I think he should be, but he did make a huge impact on the
industry. Banjo was considered to be one of the 25 building blocks to the sport of NASCAR. He was the
master when it came to building cars. He was a role model to the younger generation and to the locals
of Asheville. He made people want to strive to be like him. He does not have any statues around the

track. I had no idea who Banjo was when I was younger. Not many talked about him, but my senior year
I received his scholarship which is the only thing left of him except his race shop.
References
Bodenhamer, Wink. " UARA Hosting 2nd Annual Banjo Matthews Memorial Race." HMS NEWS. Web. 30
Oct. 2014.
"Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials." Find A Grave - Millions of
Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.
"'Iron Man' Jack Ingram's Career Spanned Multiple Racing Eras." SpeedwayMediacom RSS. 24 Jan. 2014.
Web. 21 Oct. 2014.
"NASCAR Scrapbook: Banjo Matthews - The Henry Ford of Race Cars." Circle Track. 1 Feb. 1997. Web. 20
Oct. 2014.
Sarzynski, Brian. "Gentlemen, Start Your Memories." Mountain Xpress. 24 Sept. 2003. Web. 21 Oct.
2014.
Via, Roland. "Gentlemen, Start Your MemoriesLocals Claim Their Place in Racing History." Banjo
Matthews. 8 June 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.