This season’s broadcast of the Daytona races were accompanied by a documentary called “Untold Stories: Daytona.”
Contained within were excellent profiles of Mario Andretti and Sterlin Marlin but of greater interest to me were segments on Smokey Yunick and the Aero Wars of the late sixties.
Yunick, the film established, was not a cheater but a great innovator. It was for the free thinkers like him that the rules were written. In the story about the cars themselves, the ways in which NASCAR influenced the auto makers (and vice versa) were discussed. It was an exciting time of growth for the series, to be sure but competition-wise, it wasn’t that great. When one team has a distinct advantage over the others, the racing isn’t close and there are few surprises.
Today people complain about restrictor plate racing and “cookie cutter race cars” but in reality, the competition is closer than ever. Now everyone has virtually identical equipment so advantages must gained in other ways like pit strategies.
Many enjoy romanticizing about the “Run watcha brung days” but truthfully, a lack of rules rarely results in close racing. Left unattended, “open competition” type racing in destined to fail. Let me give you a good example: Some of the races I attended as a teenager were foreign stock car events on a dirt road course. It was basically entry level racing and there was a separate class for the guys that wanted the freedom to hot rod their cars more. This class mostly consisted of VW bugs with over-sized racing tires and pumped up engines. By the time I started racing myself, the “Super Sedans” as they were called, were already in trouble. They had moved from the road course to the 3/8th mile oval and sprouted sprint car style wings. They were fast but that speed came at a hefty price. By the mid-eighties the division was down to a half dozen regular competitors. The class of the field was a Karmann Ghia with an alcohol injected, turbo charged engine. Mounted high above the motor was a long megaphone exhaust pipe that generally trailed about three feet of blue flame! Pretty spectacular. A cool race car… as they all were, but expensive to keep running.
Gary Dillard had raced Super Sedans in the early seventies and had moved up to V-8 powered sprint car style Super Modifieds. When he crashed his Super, he pulled all the components out of his damaged chassis and hung them in his new Super Sedan. This car was significantly lighter than the Volkswagens thanks to a tube frame and a formed aluminum body. For power Dillard turned to a talented local builder named Mark Rohrman who built him an exotic V-4. It was literally half of a fuel injected small block Chevrolet, still displacing three liters. Interestingly, when Dillard got it wound up, it thundered just like it had all eight cylinders. The car debuted on May 3rd 1985 and promptly swept the program. When the V-4 returned a week later, Dillard captured his Heat and the Trophy Dash but broke in the Feature. And that was the way his season went. When the car stayed together, it destroyed the competition. It competed in nine of the twelve programs that year. It won six Features and broke down in the other three. It was truly a magnificent racecar. It was legal because essentially, there were no rules. I think most everyone appreciated what Dillard and Rohrman had created… except those who had to race against it. The VW guys got together and the V-4 was banned for 1986.They were back to racing each other (just the six of them on a good night) for the next couple of seasons.
When the racetrack closed in 1988, all of the participating classes were invited to follow the Race Director to different venue within a couple hours’ tow—Everyone except the Super Sedans.
Sadly, for them the final checkered flag had fallen.