"200.447 m.p.h." by Larry Rathgeb

Gary's note- I was handed this at SDAC-4 by someone from Chrysler.

The following is the text of a speech presented to winged car members, and Ford/Mercury owners, at the 1994 Talladega 25th Anniversary Celebration. The speaker is Larry Rathgeb, Chrysler Engineer in charge of the circle track racing program during the days of the NASCAR Specials.

"Hello all you wonderful people!!! Let me assure you that I’m truly thrilled to be here tonight to share with you what I see as a four way celebration. First, the Daytona/Superbird Club’s 2Oth Annual Meeting. Second, Talladega Speedway’s 25th Birthday. Third, the 25th Anniversary of the introduction of Charger Daytona to race competition. And finally, the 24th Anniversary of the first 200 m.p.h. lap made with a stock car driven by Buddy Baker, in a Charger Daytona, on March 24, 1970, at the Talladega Speedway. I know because I was there.

In 1976 Gary Romberg and I had the pleasure of addressing the Daytona/Superbird Club membership here in Alabama at your 2nd Annual Meeting. The story we told at that time has since become the "standard of the industry" account of Chrysler’s winged things. During the ensuing years, and with the addition of some literary license taken by individual journalists and storytellers, that chronicle has been repeated many times over in automotive journals and at trackside and fireside.

At your 2nd Annual Meeting Gary and I related those events that brought the Chrysler Corporation to a point of need for that special aerodynamic racing vehicle. We spoke of the social, and engineering relationships and accomplishments that were a part of that history that led to the September, 1969 race introduction of the Dodge Charger Daytona. We reflected on the Superbird development; gave accounts of the 1970 race season, winged car accomplishments, made mention of Nascars rules for and against the hemis, and finally recited the tale of the Mario Rossi/Dick Brooks 305 cid Winged Car entry at thee 1971 Daytona race- The ultimate act of defiance that resulted in "no more bird in the Nascar ballgame" and that was the end of the story.

During it’s short racing career the car accounted for a great number of achievements, not the least was the first 200 mph closed course lap made by a stocker.

It all started for me in early February of 1970 when Frank Wylie phoned to ask if I thought the engineering car was capable of a 200 mph lap at Talladega. My answer was yes, of course, to which his reply was "give me a call back with a cost estimate for engineering’s uncut, and give me the earliest start date that will not interfere with the Grand National schedule." He said he wanted Buddy Baker to drive and he assured me that NASCAR would provide free use of the track, and that they would confirm our speeds with their timing equipment at no cost to Chrysler.

The speed run was scheduled to follow the race at Atlanta. Buddy and I drove from the Atlanta track to Talladega. The engineering car was trucked in from Huntsville by mechanics. Larry Knowlton, who is with us tonight, and his then co-worker Fred Schrandt, performance engineer George Wallace, and fuel systems engineer Gary Congdon flew down from Detroit. Dodge performance coordinator Bob McDanial and a local photographer were in attendance at Wylie’s request. Goodyear sent tire technician Darrell Derringer and a single tire mounter out of Charlotte, and NASCAR’s lead inspector Bill Gazaway and chief timer/scorer Joe Epton drove over after the Atlanta race.

Our work day on March 24, 1970 was 9 hours. We arrived at the track at 8:30 a.m. and left for the motel at 5:30 p.m. There was no lunch break—we ate hamburgers on the job. Our first run was at 10:30 a.m. and the seventh and final run was at 5:00 p.m. Each run consisted of five laps: one out lap, one in lap, and three timed laps. A single run of five laps took approximately five minutes which says that the car ran for only 35 minutes of the 9 hours day.

At 4:25 p.m. on March 24th the record was established. We stayed an additional day at Gazaway's request to study a forthcoming NASCAR rule which later removed all side glass from GN race cars and slowed the cars by 3 mph.

To occupy Buddy during the remaining eight or more hours we gave him a full roll of duct tape and with the exception of engine air inlets, told him to tape the car at any and all places where he thought it might help the speed. I must say he did an outstanding job -- he even had the HOOD taped shut.

At the 30th lap the speed was 200.096 mph. At that point we could have quit for the day. Our job was done. But now there was a question as to the real value of the body taping that Buddy has so carefully done so we made one more run with all the tape off. All three timed laps of that final run were over 200 mph. The record came at lap 34 with a speed of 200.44795 mph. When Buddy came back to the garage he threw the rest of that roll of tape into the trash.

In searching through my files last week I discovered an interesting letter dated March 26, 1970 from my boss of that era to Gale Porter then Chief of Chrysler racing operations, that lists the expenses incurred by engineering for the performance of the Talladega record run of 3-24 & 3-25. The total cost was $3350.00.

While searching through my old files I also retrieved some 8x10 black and white stills of the event, all the original lap data sheets, a copy of the contract with Buddy Baker, and his invoice to Chrysler.

I suppose we could let official history go as written, but, well, now that Frank and I are both retired I don't think there'll be any penalty or retribution for the changes I'm about to make public.

As a start, the press release should have read:

From the Chrysler Corporation Engineering
Engineering Division
Huntsville Circuit Racing Operations
Woodward Garage
109 Pratt Avenue
Huntsville, Alabama 35805

That's where the car was stabled and maintained and although engineering does show an engine shipment to Cotton Owens as part of the cost incurred for this project, the Cotton Owens Garage had no input other than the use of it's driver.

Secondly, the purpose of the March run was not to test transmission (the official reason given for the testing), it was to achieve a 200 mph record which in turn would provide positive publicity for Chrysler's new Charger Daytona and for NASCAR's new, and yet unproven, Super-speedway.

I’m not sure which one of the parties made the first contact, but I am certain that the successful 200 mph speed run was beneficial to both organizations.

Thank you for visiting Donovan's Dodge Garage