Dodge Then & Now 2001-08-01

Dodge Teams Add New Chapter to Brickyard History INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., August 1, 2001 - There is a lot of Dodge history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year, a new chapter will be added as Dodge competes for the first time in a Winston...

Dodge Teams Add New Chapter to Brickyard History

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., August 1, 2001 - There is a lot of Dodge history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year, a new chapter will be added as Dodge competes for the first time in a Winston Cup race at the Brickyard.

NASCAR held its first Winston Cup Series race at the famous track on August 6, 1994, long after Dodge's last race in the series before returning at Daytona in 2001. The first official Dodge appearance at the track took place in 1954 when a Dodge Royal 500 convertible paced the Indianapolis 500. The brand returned in 1991 and 1996 when Dodge Vipers paced the field.

Even before the Brickyard 400, Indy, NASCAR and Dodge were connected through the many Indy drivers who tried their hand at stock car racing. The most notable example for Dodge was the 1964 Firecracker 400 win at Daytona by A.J. Foyt.

The four-time Indy 500 winner won the summer race at Daytona in a Ray Nichels-prepared, Hemi-powered Dodge. The race was a thriller with the lead changing 16 times in the last 56 laps. Foyt passed teammate Bobby Isaac for the last time on the backstretch of the final lap as they went on either side of lapped traffic.

"I had made up my mind I wasn't going to be blocked," said Foyt of his Dodge win. "I went down across the apron and slid sideways going up in front of him. I took a flyer down there. I figured I'd take us all out or we were going to win, and that's how we won it. That was a great day for all of us and I really enjoyed it."

Foyt said he raced stock cars in addition to Indy cars because he was trying to making a living, and also because he enjoyed the competition. "I always liked to go in other people's back yard and challenge them, because I always felt like if you run good against the NASCAR boys, you could just go against anybody. I had a lot of friends down there and, I guess, I just love racing. I was running midgets and sprints and everything back then. Whatever I could get my foot in, that's what I drove."

Foyt is now an owner in both open-wheel and stock car racing with the Harrah's cars in the Indy Racing League and the Conseco Team in NASCAR. He said he welcomed the return of Dodge to NASCAR Winston Cup racing.

"I thought it was great," said Foyt. "It brought back a lot of memories. The Dodge people were always great to me. I was awful glad to see them come back because the more competition you have, the better racing is and the more fans you are going to draw. Someday, maybe I'll be back with Dodge; you never know. They've got good equipment."

Legendary driver, mechanic and car owner Cotton Owens prepared cars for no less than eight Indy racing stars. Those who drove Cotton Owens-prepared Dodges were Mario Andretti, Roger McCluskey, Sam Posey and Al Unser Sr. The best result among the group was Unser's fourth-place finish in the 1968 Daytona 500. Owens enjoyed working with the talented drivers from open-wheel racing, especially the Daytona races with Andretti and Unser.

"Neither one of them had been to Daytona before and they wanted to know what it took to drive a race car there," said Owens. "We sat down and discussed it all. They followed it to a tee, how to get used to that draft, and so forth. They knew I had a good bit of experience in stock cars. It worked out real good for us."

John Andretti, driver of the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T, has the most Indy history among today's Dodge drivers. His uncle Mario won the race in 1969 and is still among the best-known Indy drivers. Mario Andretti's son Michael - John's cousin - continues the family legacy in open-wheel racing.

A Godson of Foyt, John Andretti ran in the Indianapolis 500 seven times from 1988 to 1994, finishing in the top-10 four times. He was the first to do the Memorial Day weekend double, racing at both Indianapolis and Charlotte on the same day in 1994.

"I don't think the media took running the 'double' seriously until I qualified for both races," said Andretti. "Then it became a big story. I never did it for the story though. I went to high school right down the street from the track (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and passed it every day going to high school. I ran around there as a kid. It's always been a very big thing in my life. It has always been an important part of my career. That's why I did it."

Andretti's car owner at Indy that day was Foyt, who reportedly said at the time, "I'm just glad I have him first that day."

One of the most interesting chapters in the history of the former Chrysler Corporation at the Brickyard took place in 1952 and 1953, after the sanctioning body for the Indy 500 at that time tried to encourage participation by the Detroit-based car companies.

Under the rules in force before then, production passenger car engines were not competitive with the purpose-built four-cylinder Offenhauser racing engines. To encourage participation by American car companies, the rules-makers introduced a non-supercharged "stock block" formula with a displacement of 335 cubic inches.

"The 335-cubic-inch formula gave all of the Detroit automakers a displacement within striking distance of at least one of their production engines," said Dick Maxwell, head of the racing program for the Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler and Mopar brands from 1964 through 1991. "For Chrysler Corporation, the obvious choice was the 331 Hemi introduced in the previous year."

Maxwell said one of the company's best development engineers, John Platner, was assigned the task of turning the Hemi powerplant into an engine capable of winning the Indy 500. Utilizing Hilborn injection components, Platner and his assistant, Don Moore, developed a tuned-stack induction system for the alcohol burning Hemi. A roller cam, unique rocker arms and valve gear, high compression pistons and a lot of dyno time turned the 180 horsepower production engine into a 400-plus horsepower racing engine.

To test the engine on wheels on the track, the company used Firestone's Kurtis tire-test car. The Kurtis was modified to take the Hemi engine and it was soon lapping in the 132-mph range - very fast for the time.

"The car ran so well in tire testing, Chrysler Corporation decided to try a 500-mile test to simulate the Indy race itself," said Maxwell. "They provided the engine, Firestone the tires and driver Joe James, the 1952 AAA Midwest Sprint Car Champion. Five hundred miles later, they had averaged 134 mph, faster than the winning car in that year's 500."

Soon the word spread throughout the Indy racing community about the speed of the new stock-block car and the complaining started. The Indy sanctioning body listened to the established teams and changed the stock-block formula so that all engines ran at the same displacement - the established 274 cubic inches of the Offenhausers.

The change presented a real dilemma for the Chrysler group. The company's engineers stepped up to the challenge and took their engine down to the new 274-inch limit.

Keeping the bore at the original 3-13/16" size, the stroke was shortened to make the new displacement. The big-bore, short-stroke engine now wanted to be turned a little faster and required some valve gear improvements to handle the 6,500 rpm engine-speed requirements. When it was all done, the engine had lost 54 cubic inches and still made 350 horsepower.

The Hemi stirred interest and enthusiasm in the racing community. Roger Wolcott entered two cars in the 1953 Indy 500 with drivers George Connor, a 14-race veteran, and Johnnie Tolan, a rookie. A Chrysler dealer with factory connections, Murrell Belanger, entered three cars - two Offy powered and one Hemi powered. Joe Sostilio, another rookie, drove Belanger's Chrysler car.

"Despite the confidence of the teams, the new rules had tipped the balance in favor of the Offys," said Maxwell. "While the Hemi still made good horsepower, the shortened stroke killed off enough torque that it was too slow off the corners."

With none of the cars making the field, Chrysler's Indy 500 project came to an end. Even though the company had no plans to take the Hemi to Indy again, development continued in the engine lab under Platner's direction. Firestone continued to use the engine in its tire-testing program at least through the end of 1955. Much of the information learned from the Indy program would carry over to the Chrysler 300 racing programs that were to follow in NASCAR and elsewhere. And some of the information helped teams drag racing with the Hemi in the fifties and early sixties.

"Two major lessons could be learned from this program," said Maxwell. "First, the Hemi had real potential as a racing engine and was a good solid base from which to produce some pretty significant horsepower. The other, of course, is to never show off in front of the rules makers."

There was a private attempt to run a Dodge Hemi at Indy in 1955. Little is known about that engine other than it was entered as a Dodge Red Ram in a Dean Van Lines car driven by Bob Christie. The engine could have been derived from either the 241 Dodge Red Ram or the 270-cubic-inch Super Red Ram. The car did not qualify for the race.

The most recent attempt to field a small-block engine at the track took place in 1969 after a NASCAR driver named Richard Petty defected to a competitive brand for that season. According to Bob Cahill, who retired in 1975 after heading up the company's competitive activities for many years, the defection left a little extra money in the budget and Chrysler Corporation decided to try its hand with a small-block engine at the Indianapolis 500. Never mind the fact that the race was only a few months away.

When the P69 project was launched, the team enlisted California drag-racing veteran Keith Black to work on engine preparation. Black was the premier engine builder for Top Fuel dragsters at the time. Special aluminum cylinder heads were ordered from Harry Westlake in England. Andy Granatelli provided a four-wheel-drive chassis and Art Pollard was the driver. "Unfortunately, we started too late and didn't quite have the experience or the money to pull it all together," said Cahill.

"Starting off from scratch as we were, we thought maybe we could get a car to qualify for Indianapolis," continued Cahill. "We didn't have any delusions of grandeur about how great it would be. We didn't decide to do this until about February, and the cars have to be ready in April, really, to go to Indianapolis in May and start qualifying."

Cahill said the whole package was fairly capable and should have qualified. The car had made practice laps fast enough to qualify and the team was confident it would make the field during its last qualifying attempt, but Pollard shut the engine off in the middle of the back stretch before taking the green flag for the car's final run. The oil pressure gauge had dropped to zero. Cahill later checked to see what the problem was and determined that the engine was fine. Someone had put too much heavy duty STP oil treatment in the engine and the oil pump couldn't move the thick material.

While it didn't make the Indianapolis 500, the P69 engine ran the full Indy-car season that year, winning a race at Dover Downs during the speedway's first season. Maybe this year a Dodge Intrepid R/T will win a stock car race at the Brickyard.

Chrysler Corporation Milestones at Indianapolis

1926 - An Imperial 80 roadster paces the Indianapolis 500.
1930 - Roland Free qualifies 37th in the first Chrysler-powered car to compete in the Indianapolis 500. The six-cylinder car averages 89.639 mph before going out of the race on lap 69 with a broken clutch.
1931 - George Howie uses a straight-eight Chrysler engine to qualify for the 30th starting spot at the Indianapolis 500 with an average speed of 102.844 mph. Howie finishes a respectable 11th with an average speed of 87.651 mph.
1932 - Juan Gaudino drives the Imperial straight-eight powered "Golden Seal Special" in the Indianapolis 500 but is forced to withdraw after 71 laps due to clutch problems.
1933 - Raoul Riganti drives the Golden Seal Special to the 27th starting spot at Indy with a qualifying speed of 108.81 mph. He finishes 14th with an average speed of 93.244 mph. A Custom Imperial convertible roadster paces the race.
1941 - A Chrysler Newport paces the Indianapolis 500.
1951 - A Chrysler New Yorker convertible paces the Indianapolis 500.
1954 - A Dodge Royal 500 convertible paces the Indianapolis 500, the first official appearance of a Dodge at the storied track.
1956 - A DeSoto Fireflite convertible paces the Indianapolis 500.
1963 - A Chrysler 300 paces the field at the Indianapolis 500 with famed race car driver Sam Hanks at the wheel.
1965 - A Plymouth Sport Fury convertible paces the Indianapolis 500.
1969 - Art Pollard uses a Chrysler 305 (318 cubic inch) engine with Westlake heads in practice for the Indianapolis 500.
1971 - A Dodge Challenger convertible paces the Indianapolis 500.
1991 - A Dodge Viper RT/10 with Carroll Shelby at the wheel paces the Indianapolis 500. Shelby was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame that same year.
1996 - Chrysler President Bob Lutz drives a Dodge Viper GTS Coupe as pace car for the Indianapolis 500.

This week in Dodge history:

* 8/7/55 - Lee Petty, driving a new 1955 Dodge he had specially prepared for the upcoming Southern 500 at Darlington, won his sixth race of the season - a 200-lap event on the half-mile dirt track at Forsyth County Fairgrounds in Winston-Salem, N.C. Petty averaged 50.111 mph and won $1,100 for first place.

* 8/7/64 - David Pearson drove his Cotton Owens-prepared Dodge to victory in a 200-lap event at Rambi Raceway in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The win was Pearson's sixth of the season.

* 8/6/70 - Bobby Isaac drove his K&K Insurance Dodge past a spinning Richard Petty on the 96th lap and went on to win the Sandlapper 200 at Columbia Speedway in South Carolina. The win was the sixth of the season for Isaac. Petty recovered to finish second in his Plymouth, breaking up what would have been a Dodge sweep. Dodge drivers Bobby Allison, John Sears and Neil Castles finished third through fifth.

-Dodge Motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Mario Andretti , Al Unser Sr. , Richard Petty , Bobby Allison , A.J. Foyt , David Pearson , Lee Petty