DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., July 3, 2001 - The Dodge Charger Daytona won its first NASCAR Grand National race at Talladega in September 1969. Before the season ended, the Daytona posted another win at Texas International Speedway. In the following...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., July 3, 2001 - The Dodge Charger Daytona won its first NASCAR Grand National race at Talladega in September 1969. Before the season ended, the Daytona posted another win at Texas International Speedway. In the following year, the Dodge Daytona continued its winning ways at Atlanta, Michigan and Darlington.
The 1970 Grand National series champion Bobby Isaac, and runner-up Bobby Allison, used the Dodge Daytona on the road course at Riverside and all the major superspeedway events where aerodynamic performance was the critical element. The Daytona also won a 125-mile qualifying event for the Daytona 500 in 1970.
What didn't it win? Ironically, the Dodge Charger Daytona never won one of the major races at its namesake track - the Daytona 500 or the Firecracker 400.
The car was introduced in the fall of 1969, long after both Daytona races were in the history books for that season. For the Daytona 500 in February 1970, there were 10 Dodge Charger Daytonas in the field but the race was won by Pete Hamilton driving the Daytona's sister car, a 1970 Plymouth SuperBird prepared by Petty Enterprises.
For the Firecracker 400 in July, Dodge Charger Daytonas finished second, third and fourth, followed by two Plymouth SuperBirds. A Ford driven by Donnie Allison spoiled the party for Dodge, much the way the Daytona had spoiled the party in Alabama in the fall of 1969 for the Ford Torino Talladega.
By the time the next Daytona 500 rolled around in 1971, NASCAR declared that all the "special" cars - including the Dodge Charger 500, the Dodge Charger Daytona, the Ford Torino Talladega and its corporate cousin the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler - must use wedge engines with no more than 305 cubic inches of displacement.
Car owner Mario Rossi entered a Dodge Charger Daytona in the 1971 Daytona 500 with a 305-cubic-inch engine and driver Dick Brooks at the wheel. The slippery but underpowered car qualified for the race and even led for a time under green flag conditions, but in the end it managed only seventh place. That was the last of the Daytonas at Daytona.
Before their run ended, the Dodge Charger Daytona and the Plymouth SuperBird won 14 races on tracks of a mile or more. During the 1970 season, the wing cars placed in the top-five finishing positions 61 times on tracks of a mile or more in length, compared to 38 top-five finishes for Ford and Mercury. The Dodge Charger Daytona was also the first car to officially break the 200 mph barrier on a closed course, a record set by Buddy Baker at Talladega on March 24, 1970.
According to John Pointer, the retired Chrysler engineer credited with being the father of the Dodge Charger Daytona, the famous Florida race track was the impetus for the car of the same name, but not in a positive way. The Daytona evolved after two consecutive losses in the 500. A greatly improved Dodge Charger lost in 1968 to the first generation of Ford's full fastbacks, and in 1969, the new Dodge Charger 500 finished second to the new Ford Torino Talladega.
"Finishing second was world's better than we had been doing but it was still losing," said Pointer. "I had been doing some sketches for a 1970 model Charger that suddenly became the 1969 model. We announced the new body style just before April 15, the day NASCAR set as the cut-off for current-year models."
For the development of the Charger 500 and the Charger Daytona, the Dodge engineers went back their drawing boards with a new strategy. "If we can't win with what we're selling, maybe we can sell what we can win with," said Pointer.
"I started beating on the sheet metal for the Daytona early in the year and by September we had 502 of them in the hands of customers. There was about a dozen at Talladega for the debut race at the superspeedway."
While the inaugural weekend event at Talladega had more high drama and surprise plot twists than most novels, it did end with a victory by the new Dodge Charger Daytona. Most of the regular Grand National drivers boycotted the event but Richard Brickhouse filled in and drove a Nichels Engineering Dodge Charger Daytona to victory lane.
Pointer was one of several young engineers who joined Chrysler in Detroit after a stint in the company's aerospace program. "I was in the old Missle Division doing re-entry physics work," said Pointer. "By late 1963, we had no new Federal contracts so the business was being phased out. I saw an ad for an aerodynamicist in the automotive business and decided to make the move because automotive seemed a lot more stable than aerospace."
Pointer's early work involved learning to measure the aerodynamic performance of a car very precisely. "I had never dealt with anything less than Mach 12," he recalls. Despite the slower speed, Pointer says the aerodynamics of a race car is also much more complex than anything he had dealt with before. He spent about four weeks doing a literature search, only to find that nobody had done it (applied aerodynamic principles to race cars).
"I thought to myself, 'If I give up, I'm a failure,'" recalled Pointer. "'If I try and fail, I've got lots of company. If I succeed, maybe I'm a hero.' In about four weeks, I had a working system. It was crude, but I had determined what we needed to know and how to measure it."
Pointer's early work found many aerodynamic flaws in the cars of the mid-1960s. Once the flaws were corrected, handling became a problem. "Wind tunnel testing told us the early Charger was slick as a whistle, but it was also uncontrollably loose. More wind tunnel testing discovered a tremendous amount of rear lift.
"It turned out that a 1-1/2" rear deck spoiler was all it took to balance the car out," said Pointer. "That led to the introduction of rear spoilers on NASCAR machines."
Sam McQuagg won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona in 1966 driving a slope-backed Dodge Charger with a rear deck spoiler.
The introduction of the 1968 Charger led to new problems. "It was a whole new critter," said Pointer. "The drivers told us the front end was kind of floating," said Pointer. "It turns out the front end was lifting so much it wouldn't respond to the steering wheel at all. In solving that problem, we came up with the first front air dam."
Despite making the Charger slick as a whistle and improving the handling with front and rear downforce, the competition went even faster with a new fastback configuration. That, in turn, led to the development of a new nose, wing and name for the Charger. The result was a pair of cars that won most of the big races in an 18-month period. The Dodge Charger Daytona and the Plymouth SuperBird were the final salvos in an aero war that provided plenty of entertainment for NASCAR fans everywhere.
<pre> This week in Dodge history: * 7/4/53 - Lee Petty drove his 1953 Dodge Coronet to victory in a 200-lap race on the half-mile dirt track at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, S.C. Nineteen cars started the race but only five were running at the end. Buck Baker finished second. * 7/7/56 - Lee Petty drove a 1956 Dodge to victory at the Fairgrounds track in Spartanburg. This time, 18 cars started the race and seven were running at the end. It was the second win of the season for Petty, who was the only driver to win in each of the first eight years of NASCAR Grand National racing. * 7/4/64 - A.J. Foyt won the sixth annual Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway driving a Ray Nichels 1964 Dodge. The race was Foyt's 10th career Grand National start and his first victory in the series. Foyt was followed across the line by three Dodges and two Plymouths, giving Chrysler products a sweep of the first six places. * 7/4/66 - Sam McQuagg won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona with a rear deck spoiler on his Dodge Charger. Earlier in the season, the Dodge teams had complained that the Charger had a tendency to lift off the ground at high speeds. The new spoiler made the car stable and McQuagg led most of the race. * 7/10/66 - David Pearson and James Hylton dueled in their Dodges but Pearson had the upper hand at the end of a 52-lap event on the 2.85-mile paved road course at Bridgehampton, N.Y. Pearson and Hylton finished first and second, respectively, the same position and they would each have in the championship rankings at the end of the season. * 7/9/70 - Bobby Isaac and the K&K Insurance Dodge took the lead from rookie Benny Parsons on the 136th lap and went on to victory in the Thompson Speedway 200 in Thompson, Conn. Isaac was also the pole winner for the 108.4-mile event on the .542-mile paved track. His pole speed was 87.029 mph. Attendance for the race was 8,000. * 7/4/71 - Bobby Isaac won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway with a new wedge engine prepared by crew chief Harry Hyde. Following Isaac across the line were Richard Petty, Buddy Baker and Pete Hamilton, all driving cars equipped with Chrysler wedge engines. * 7/4/75 - Richard Petty and his Dodge came from deep in the field to lead the Firecracker 400 when it counted - the final laps. The win was Petty's eighth of the season and gave him a 456-point lead in the Winston Cup point standing over Dave Marcis, now driving the K&K Insurance Dodge. * 7/4/77 - Richard Petty and his Petty Enterprises Dodge took the lead from Darrell Waltrip with 19 laps to go and won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. The race was also notable for having three female drivers in the same NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National event for the first time since 1949.