While Mercury Marine founder Carl Kiekhaefer’s success in NASCAR is legendary, his desire to conquer automobile racing was initiated by running in a 1951 race in Mexico.
The Carrera Panamericana was a 1,933-mile race that zigzagged over some of Mexico’s most treacherous and desolate roads. In their first attempt at the Panamericana, Kiekhaefer and crew got off to a bad start, driving the race cars and support truck 4,000 miles from Wisconsin to Mexico, arriving hot and exhausted. Though the team finished in a respectable third place, Kiekhaefer was incensed by being beaten by two Ferrari cars.
The following year, he returned by airplane and had the cars transported by truck. Team Mercury finished third again, this time behind two Fords, despite illegal modifications made to the Fords and discovered by post-race inspectors.
That was enough for Kiekhaefer, who moved to NASCAR where he believed rules were honored. But after dominating the fledgling circuit for two years, rule changes he perceived as aimed directly at him drove Kiekhaefer from the sport forever.