Panch's career started in 1955 driving for Tom Harbison, a Pennsylvania car dealer. During this time Panch ran extremely well, out qualifying and outrunning the (Ford) factory cars. As a result Panch was offered a ride driving a Ford for Pete DePaolo.
Panch won his first Grand National (now Winston Cup) race on July 20, 1956 at Montgomery, Alabama. Panch won the pole and dominated the 100-mile event, finishing a lap ahead of Buck Baker.
Panch began the 1957 season by winning the first two races of the year at Lancaster, California and Concord, North Carolina. He posted another victory at Spartanburg, South Carolina in April. On June 6, 1957, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) decided to get out of racing following a tragic accident at Martinsville, in which Billy Myers' Mercury cleared a retaining wall and went into the stands where a group of spectators were.
Following the AMA ban on racing, the Ford team, now being ran out of the Holman-Moody shop in Charlotte gave each of it's drivers a couple of race cars to run the rest of the season. Panch was able to win three more races that year, one driving for Herb Thomas, to finish second in the race for series championship. Despite the six wins and 22 top-five finishes in his 42 starts that year, Panchs' career took a major step backward following the departure of the Ford factory team. In the next three seasons he only competed in 24 races.
"We just didn't have the money to run our own team, and I was just never able to get back into a good car until Fireball called," says Panch. "those were some hard times."
Panch finished second in the second of two preliminary races leading up to the 1961 Daytona 500 and he knew then that he had a great race car. Before the 500, Yunick told Panch to stay back away from Roberts in case he blew an engine or crashed. Yunick said he didn't want both drivers caught up in a wreck. Panch said, "I was suppose to stay about a half lap behind him (Roberts) and that's where I was when his engine uncorked." Roberts, who had won the pole for the 500, totally dominated the race as he led 170 laps before his engine conked out with 13 laps remaining.
"When he (Yunick) told me to go, that year old Pontiac ran as good or better than the new ones as we outran all those new ones," says Panch. "I had just been coasting." Panch finished 16 seconds in front of Joe Weatherly for his biggest win and the victory that provided a much needed boost to his career. A little more than a year after his Daytona 500 win, Panch was hired by the Woods Brothers to drive their Ford. This partnership would eventually yield 8 wins, 11 seconds and 11 third place finishes in 69 starts during the 1962-66 seasons.
"We had a lot of success together," says Panch. "We won some races, and always finished up good when we didn't win. It was like having money in the bank." The relationship came to an end on March 27, 1966 when Ford Motor Co. pulled out of NASCAR because of a rules dispute with NASCAR president Bill France.
For the second time in his career, Panch had been knocked for a loop when Ford elected to withdraw from the sport. But this time things worked out much better for Panch. Richard Howard, vice president and general manager of Charlotte (now Lowe's) Motor Speedway wanted to get some idled Ford drivers in his race and called Panch. "I told him I would love to, but I didn't have a ride. He suggested that I call Lee Petty. I did and a day or two later we had a deal." Panch captured the Charlotte 600 for his 17th and last career victory.
Panch actually drove Petty Enterprises' dirt car, a year old Plymouth. During that race the seat was rubbing some old burns on his back and by that time Richard Petty had fallen out of the race. Panch gave the wheel over to Petty with 42 laps to go.