FOLLOWING Bobby Isaac’s victory in a Dodge in the final race of the 1969 season and Pete Hamilton’s victory at the Daytona 500 in a Plymouth, Chrysler’s resurgence in NASCAR’s major Grand National stock car races has continued with further wins by Richard Petty in a Plymouth at the Carolina 500 at Rockingham, NC, by Bobby Allison in a Dodge in the Atalanta 500 and by Hamilton again in a Plymouth at the Alabama 500. Ford, in fact, have scored only one major victory this year—when A. J. Foyt won the Motor Trend 500 on the Riverside road circuit—and following the massive cutback in their racing budget it is obvious that this year they will not achieve the virtually complete domination of NASCAR’S major races that they did last year—when they won all but two of the 17 races over 300 miles. Quite apart from the large reduction in their racing budget, Ford is handicapped by the fact that their 1970 model cars proved to be far less aerodynamic than their 1969 models and they are therefore racing with the older models. Dodge’s 1970 winged Daytonas are little changed from their 1969 models, but Plymouth’s Superbird is an improved and even faster version of the Daytona. Ford’s most successful driver this year has been Cale Yarborough, whose Mercury finished second to Petty in the Carolina 500 and was very unlucky not to win the Atlanta 500. In the latter race Yarborough was leading by one lap with only 10 laps to go when he made a quick insurance stop for a few gallons of fuel. As he was leaving the pits a NASCAR official held up one finger as a signal that he was still leading, but Yarborough misinterpreted the signal to mean that he had committed an infraction and was to return to the pits the next time around. He did, and this extra stop cost him the race—by half a second !
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Running special tests conducted by Chrysler Corp., Buddy Baker, in a winged Dodge Daytona, roared through three laps at 200.096 m.p.h., then 200.330 m.p.h. and finally 200.447 m.p.h. to establish world closed course speed record at the high-banked, 2.66-mile Alabama International Speedway. The Daytona was prepared by Chrysler engineers, not by Baker’s usual car owner and Chief mechanic, Cotton Owens, but it was in all respects a legal NASCAR stock car powered by a 7-litre Chrysler Hemi engine similar to that used by all other Chrysler competitors. This engine, which has been in production (and on sale to the public) for more than four years, produces over 600 h.p. when all the production parts have been carefully matched and tweaked by a good NASCAR mechanic. Power of this magnitude is obviously necessary to propel a 3,900-lb. car over 200 m.p.h., but the achievement of the 200 m.p.h. mark really lies in a combination of factors : the engine, the very slippery and aerodynamic shape of the car itself, the steady improvement in tyres, and the fact that the angle of the banking and the radii of the turns at Alabama International Speedway were specifically designed to enable cars of this size and weight to achieve speeds of this magnitude. Baker gave much of the credit for the record run to the aerodynamics of the car, which has a sharp, shark-shaped, 18-in, extension to the nose, an under-nose spoiler to prevent too much air getting under the body, and a car-wide wing mounted on fins above the boot. “I could not believe the car was handling so well,” Baker said. “It stuck to the track beautifully and I ran around the inside grove the first two laps. The car did not feel like it was airborne but was unusually stable, not bouncing around as most do.” Baker’s 200.447 m.p.h. record run broke the previous mark of 199.466 m.p.h. established by Charlie Glotzbach, also in a Dodge Daytona, shortly after the Alabama track opened last year. It is a record that may stand for some time because in all future races Grand National cars will run with the window glass removed (as a safety measure), which will obviously increase the drag, and next year the maximum engine size for Grand National cars will be reduced from 7-litres to 6-litres.
The second USAC Championship race was run over 60 laps of the 2.5-mile Sears Point International Raceway and Dan Gurney, who was the most successful driver in USAC road races last year, again proved his mastery of road circuits by scoring a thrilling victory over Andretti. Mark Donohue, driving Roger Penske’s Lola-Chevrolet, won the pole position in 1 min. 36.34 sec. (93.384 m p h. and a circuit qualifying record), which was over a second faster than Andretti’s 1 min. 37.70 sec. in his Hawk-Ford, but Donohue’s engine ingested some foreign matter late in practice and he retired after only one lap of the race: Andretti, too, was in trouble, having lost his clutch late in practice, and he ran the entire race with it out of action. Gurney, whose Eagle was powered by a Stock block, 5.25-litre Gurney-Eagle-Ford Compared with the 4.2-litre d.h.o.c. Ford in Andretti’s car, qualified third fastest at 1 min. 37.76 sec., with Al Unser’s Colt-Ford fourth at 1 min. 37.8 sec. and John Cannon’s Vollstedt-Chevrolet fifth at 1 min. 38.21 Sec. With Donohue crippled from the start, Gurney scion passed Unser and the clutchless Andretti and quickly opened up a comfortable margin. Behind him, though, Cannon seized the opportunity to show the potential of the stock block Chevrolet engine and for half the race he fought a tremendous duel with Andretti for second place. He was actually in second, and chasing Gurney, when he was forced to retire with vapour lock problems brought on by several very slow laps behind the pace car, which had been sent out to control the field during a caution period. Before he retired, though, Cannon, who won the Continental Championship race at Sears last year, pressed Gurney to a new lap record of 1 Min. 37.0 sec. (92.523 m.p.h.). The slow laps behind the pace car also wiped out Gurney’s lead and in the more slippery conditions prevailing in the second half of the race he had Andretti hounding him all the way to the chequered flag, which he reached just 1.5 sec. in front. Al Unser’s Colt-Ford was third, 5.5 sec. behind Andretti, with Gordon Johncock’s Eagle-Ford the only other car on the same lap as the winner. Johnny Rutherford’s Eagle-Ford and Dick Simon’s Vollstedt-Chevrolet were fifth and sixth, two laps down. There is just one more Championship race, at Trenton, NJ, before the USAC contingent settles into Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis to begin their month-long preparations for the 54th annual 500-mile race on May 30th.—D. G.
ATLANTA 500 – NASCAR Grand National Championship
500 miles over 328 laps of 1.522-mile Atlanta International Speedway
1st: B. Allison (1969 Dodge) .. 328 laps – 139.544 m.p.h.
2nd: C. Yarborough (1969 Mercury) .. 0.5 sec. behind.
3rd: P. Hamilton (1970 Plymouth) .. 326 laps
4th: L. R. Yarborough (1969 Ford) .. 325 laps
5th: R. Petty (1970 Plymouth) .. 321 laps
6th: J. Hylton (1969 Ford) .. 320 laps
Fastest qualifier : C. Yarborough, 34.260 sec. – 159.929 m.p.h.