A Daytona 500 Once Featured Ferrari and U.S. Armed Forces Sponsored Cars
The 1991 Daytona 500 holds a unique distinction among all iterations of the Great American Race — if nothing else, for the uniqueness of the sponsors that adorned several cars. At no other race before or since can you find a NASCAR car with Ferrari emblazoned on it, or cars representing (then) all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Gulf War was ongoing during as the 1991 NASCAR season prepared for its season debut with the Daytona 500. Operation Desert Storm, the second phase of the Gulf War, had begun in earnest on Jan. 17, 1991, exactly one month before the green flag flew. NASCAR’s longtime sponsor, R.J. Reynolds, from which the Winston Cup got its name, decided to honor those serving in the Gulf War in the season’s most prestigious race. R.J. Reynolds financially backed five cars for the event with each bearing “sponsorship” from each of the five U.S. Armed Forces branches (of course, there was no Space Force at the time).
The cars of Mickey Gibbs (Air Force), Greg Sacks (Navy), Alan Kulwicki (Army), Buddy Baker (Marines) and Dave Marcis (Coast Guard) were each decked out in fitting liveries representing the five branches. R.J. Reynolds noted that if any of the five cars didn’t qualify for the race, they would find a replacement car to ensure all branches were represented, the New York Times reported.
NASCAR cars representing the military isn’t uncommon. The Air Force and Marines were longtime sponsors of teams. The National Guard and Civil Air Patrol have also donned sponsorship on cars. But the 1991 Daytona 500 was certainly unique in that all five branches were showcased during the same race.
What isn’t common at all, however, is seeing Ferrari’s logo around a NASCAR track. Particularly when the Ferrari script is positioned just above the Chevrolet “bow tie.” And that could also be seen at the ’91 Daytona 500.
Phil Parsons sought to make a comeback in 1991. He was released from Morgan-McClure Motorsports after just three races in 1990. Parsons, brother of famed driver and broadcaster Benny Parsons, attempted to qualify for the 1991 Daytona 500 with sponsorship from Ferrari. Kind of.
Parsons’ No. 96 Chevy Lumina stock car was not backed by Marinello, of course. Rather, it was a California-based Ferrari dealership, Los Gatos Ferrari. The Ferrari dealership was one of the first and most successful dealers of prancing horses in the U.S. Its story, and its influence on popularizing the Italian brand in the states, is highlighted in the 2022 book, “The Dealer: How One California Dealership Fueled the Rise of Ferrari Cars in America.”
Apparently looking to expand their client base, Ferrari of Los Gatos sponsored Parson’s entry into the Daytona 500.
The Ferrari red stock car saw action during the leadup to the 500, but Parsons was forced to race his way into the main event in the twin duels. His 22nd-place finish in the second duel race wasn’t enough to make the cut. As such, he failed to qualify for the 500.