Cheating the Wind and NASCAR at the Same Time
A taste of NASCAR muscle
As a NASCAR sedan has all the sleekness of a falling brick, a small improvement in aerodynamics can compensate for horsepower otherwise lost to a competitors. In the 1960s Ford engineers did the math: a 5-mph increase in lap speeds could be achieved either through a 15 percent reduction in drag or by generating 85 additional horsepower. I know where I’d be looking.
The quest to make NASCAR cars more aerodynamic began with the addition of races at superspeedways were added to the schedule. At those massive, long, foot-to-the-floor tracks any aerodynamic advantage, not matter how small, was pursued with a vengeance.
Smokey Yunick’s 1967 Chevelle
The folk tale about this car makes for a great story (on the surface), but isn’t true. In reality the facts are even better. Rumors were that Smokey, one of the most ingenious minds ever involved in motorsports, had built a wind-cheating scale replica of a Chevelle to race at Daytona.
Careful analysis has found this story has no basis, but here’s the real deal: the car was extensively worked over for improved aerodynamics. The front bumper was pulled in closer to the body and extended and the entire front lowered to act as sort of an air dam. The underside of the car was as smooth as possible, again reducing drag, the body was shifted on its chassis to optimize the aerodynamic center of pressure, and the roof subtly shaped as a downforce generating spoiler. NASCAR never let the car race and it was sold to an amateur dirt track racer in Georgia.
Junior Johnson’s 1966 Ford Galaxie
After banning the engine for a few seasons as NASCAR wasn’t satisfied that the Hemis that Plymouth and Dodge teams were using were reflective of those installed in street cars, they capitulated and allow the Hemis back for 1966. This infuriated Ford, who pulled out of NASCAR for the season.
Partly as a demonstration to Ford that they could be competitive with the Chysler Hemis, and partly as a thumb of the nose at NASCAR for allowing the Hemis back, Junior Johnson, perhaps one of the most clever men to build a race car, constructed a Galaxie that would make up for horsepower with aerodynamics. The angle of attack was altered, the roof lowered, and the entire rear deck was widened so it looked almost like a Porsche 917K when viewed from the front. It ran just one race, starting third and ending with a DNF and an agreement between Junior and NASCAR not to bring the car back. Ford returned in 1967 with Mario Andretti wining the Daytona 500 in a Ford Fairlane.
NASCAR Body Templates
As a result of these types of shenanigans NASCAR added to its technical inspection a set of body templates for each car model competing. These templates were fitted to the cars to ascertain whether any body panels had been tampered with. While this eliminated gross cheating, it didn’t eliminate teams from seeking an aerodynamic advantage that didn’t exist within the rules.
Dave Marcis 1976 Dodge Charger
Lost in the news that A.J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip had achieved their top two qualifying times with a little nitrous oxide, and subsequently had their times disallowed, was Dave Marcis, third fastest qualifier, for an illegal bypass flap in front of the car’s radiator. No one paid much attention, as Foyt and Waltrip were the big stories, but no one really considered that a relatively minor aerodynamic aide could come close to making up for the added juice nitrous provides. Created by crew chief Harry Hyde, with the flap closed, the radiator was blocked, a huge aero advantage, entirely changing the air flow around the front of the car, and caused the motor to come up to temp faster on the short qualifying run.
Bill Davis 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix
In the run up to the 1995 Daytona 500 an electric motor connected to a hydraulic pump were discovered hidden in the rear of car owner Bill Davis’s Pontiac. The system would allow the driver to raise or lower the decklid, providing an opportunity to balance the aerodynamics of the car during the race. Not only was Davis fined, driver Randy Lajoie was as well, for a combined total of $35,000. NASCAR was quoted as saying that the hydraulic pump was one of the most ingenious devices they had come across.