Just how fast could a bewinged Dodge Charger Daytona go – without interference from NASCAR, that is? One championship-winning team set out to discover its top speed nearly 50 years ago and accumulated dozens of speed records for their effort. Now, the car that the team used, the K&K Insurance 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, has racked up one more honor, the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Automotive Heritage Award.
Though it didn’t specifically ban wing cars from participating in NASCAR, Bill France’s ruling that Daytonas, Superbirds, and all other such “special cars” be limited to 305-cu.in. engines for the 1971 season, effectively did. The advantage of the Hemi and other big-block V-8s proved too much for the racing teams, so rather than run the smaller engines, those teams – and the manufacturers supporting them – dropped the wings and other aero devices.
Perhaps the hardest-hit of those teams was Nord Krauskopf’s K&K Insurance team, which won the overall NASCAR championship in 1970 with 11 outright wins, 13 poles, and 38 top 10 finishes. Bobby Isaac, who started out racing on dirt tracks, drove Krauskopf’s Harry Hyde-prepared Daytona to that championship and won the National Motorsport Press Association’s Driver of the Year award in doing so. (Hyde, the team’s crew chief, took NASCAR’s Mechanic of the Year award.)
In the process, Isaac drove the Daytona to a record qualifying speed – 199.658 MPH at Talladega – and in the offseason after winning the championship, Isaac took it back to Talladega to set a closed-course speed record of 201.104 MPH, a record that would end up standing for more than a dozen years. The team clearly had it in mind to continue to explore the upper limits of the aero-enhanced car’s capabilities, but after France’s rule change, Krauskopf found it “unsettling” that he couldn’t continue to race his record-setting car, according to Steve Lehto’s “Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird: Design, Development, Production and Competition.”
“Members of the K&K team had speculated about how fast the #71 car really was and what it could do if unlimited by NASCAR rules or racetracks,” he wrote.
The team continued to compete with its 1971 Charger – though only in the big-purse races – but in September of that year, Krauskopf took the Daytona on a cross-country detour to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where he’d secured USAC’s blessing to spend a few days seeing just what the Daytona could do.
Though the salt was wet in places, forcing the team to limit their efforts to a 10-mile straightline course instead of a 12-mile stretch, Isaac responded with a 216.945 MPH record for a stock-bodied car with a flying-start, followed by a 182.174 MPH record for a stock-bodied car with a standing start. He then started chasing endurance speed records on a 10-mile oval on the salt, sliding the car like he would any dirt-track car around the oval’s curves. In total, Isaac and the team left the salt with 28 records and a good idea what their car really was capable of.
Tim Wellborn, who’d idolized Isaac since seeing him race at Talladega when Wellborn was 12, managed to obtain the Daytona from an Alabama museum some years back and, with Chrysler’s backing, later put a Chrysler 528-cu.in. Hemi in the car. He’s since flown it to Europe for multiple Goodwood events, shown it at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, and put it on prominent display in his Wellborn Musclecar Museum. In addition, in September 2016, he returned the Daytona to Bonneville for a Fox Sports mini-documentary on the car and a chance to run it on the salt one more time.
Casey Maxon, the historian for the HVA, presented Wellborn with the HVA’s National Automotive Heritage Award during the July 13-14 Chrysler Nationals at Carlisle. For more information about the award, visit HistoricVehicle.org.