On Friday evening, June 8, 2001, four gentlemen gathered in the meeting room at a Best Western near Detroit and reminisced about their years in the business. Those men were George Wallace, who worked for Chrysler from 1953 to 1971. He was involved in Chrysler's racing programs in the 1960s and 70s. Larry Rathgeb, who served as field general of the Chrysler race teams in the 1960s and 70s and was the inventor of the Chrysler Kit Car. John Pointer, who originally worked in Chrysler's missile division, then developed the Daytona and worked at the Chelsea Proving Grounds. Charlie Gray, who worked for Ford from 1956 to 1991, and was in charge of their stock car racing program. Also joining the group was Bill Wright, who worked for NASA at Huntsville and was involved in Chrysler's instrumentation. Ron Killen, Chrysler engineer who also worked with instrumentation was present but did not partake of the conversation. History was made that evening.
Note that this is a translation from a tape recording; some of the names mentioned I am not familiar with so they may be misspelled. I have tried to include additional information in brackets throughout the translation. The evening begins with the men discussing what was going on at the Huntsville, Alabama facility.
George Wallace: Chrysler was quite big in missiles. Chrysler started a missile plant where they built the Redstone rocket. The Redstone was a V2 [V2 was a German missile] with a facelifted body. They also built some of the Jupiter rockets there, I believe, including the first American Satellites. Jupiter was just a hopped up Redstone, which was a hopped up V2. And Chrysler had a big operation at Huntsville. Chrysler had a lot of work on the various programs. Bill [Wright] can tell you what specific programs. With the Apollo program pretty well done, they had just finished building the hardware to go to the moon and Chrysler had a lot of unemployed engineers and people at Huntsville. Another thing, they set up an electronics facility at Huntsville and I believe it's still running today. They still make all the Chrysler radios there and they made all the first electronic ignition systems at Huntsville which we used in the race cars as well as in production cars. Bill Wright had been in Detroit working and he was in my class at the Chrysler Institute and sometime in the late 50's he went back down to Alabama and ended up at Huntsville. They were looking for work down there. And sometime in the summer of '68, he came up to Highland Park looking for work. I was looking for work for them to do. And did we suggest it to him or did he suggest it to us..?
Larry Rathgeb: Somehow we got together and said we need you to do some instrumentation.
George Wallace: The people in Detroit were not that far advanced in instrumentation to be able to build race cars. I'd been trying to do stuff for race cars for 4 or 5 years. We had a wind-up accelerometer that I put in one of the Ram Chargers drag cars. It was designed for elevators and it had a pendulum on waxed paper. We ran it in the Ram Chargers Dodge at a drag race. We finally had someone who knew about instrumentation. So Bill and Harry Miller came over to Darlington for the Labor Day race in '68. We got into the coffee shop in downtown Florence and started to discuss what we wanted to do. We talked to Harry Hyde. Can we try something in your car? So that black box there-we went to the lumber yard and bought some lumber, the saw, nails, screws-all that sort of stuff. We painted it black because instrumentation ought to be black! I still have the saw in my garage! [Laughter] And we put in there a power inverter that was called a Brush Recorder-it was a 2-channel oscillograph-weighed about 30 pounds. It was considered THE chart recorder that was used, certainly at Chrysler, instead of Ford and GM-they had good pieces.
Charlie Gray: We had 8-channel and 14-channel.
George Wallace: We just had 2-channel. [Laughter] The whole idea was, would it work in the race car? So we didn't want to measure engine speed because it might have screwed up the ignition. What did we measure, acceleration?
Larry Rathgeb: Vacuum.
George Wallace: The whole idea was it recorded data in the rather hostile environment of a race car. We put it in Harry Hyde's car and went out and did about 5 to 10 laps. We looked at it, did a little adjusting and did some more. But it basically worked. Harry bitched because we drilled holes in the floor of his car.
Larry Rathgeb: Towards the end, the ink [from the recorder graph] spilled all over.
George Wallace: Yeah, that's right.
John Pointer: Well, that was a given with it.
George Wallace: But it basically worked. At that point, we had a test scheduled at Daytona about three weeks later, actually the first test of the '68 Charger, no it was the first test of the Charger 500. The guys punched a hole and set it up and first we measured throttle position just to see if he really kept his foot wide open like he said. Race drivers sometimes have "foot shrinkage" and sometimes the linkage had shrinkage without the driver's input. We checked manifold vacuum to see wide open then measured engine rpms. Bill had dug up, from the NASA junkyard at Huntsville, a Saturn Rocket yaw meter-it was a round rod stuck to the roof. A couple spots on it were aerodynamically balanced that told how much the ass end of the car was hung out. Cars hung out a lot more in those days with bias-ply tires. That was the start of instrumentation. We ran with the Brush Recorder in the car for awhile, then the Huntsville guys got, what, four or five data recorders? How many were there, Bill? Do you remember?
Bill Wright: Are you talking about the tape recorders, George?
George Wallace: How many companies came down and tested, how many people did we get at that first test?
Bill Wright: Several.
Larry Rathgeb: How many organizations, how many companies were there with their pieces for us to look at? And we finally chose Lockheed.
George Wallace: Three or four, I think. Because these are all aircraft recorders and aircraft people looked down their nose at car people. I mean "We build aircraft and stuff and certainly we don't want it run in an automobile!" Most of them didn't. One of them was recording the noise level and all the sounds of the environment inside of the race car. With the windows closed like we ran it that day, it was worse than the noise and vibration level in the Vietnam helicopter gun ship with the Gatling guns that they were using in the war. It was like 160 decibels. It was fierce. You don't believe that, do you Charlie?
Charlie Gray: No, we had one car that was so quiet, we didn't know the engine was running and we lost it on the track [Laughter]
George Wallace: That's because it wasn't going fast enough! [Laughter] It was a nasty environment in there. The Lockheed work went very well. From then on we had a 7-channel tape recorder.
Charlie Gray: The only reason Lockheed worked so well was because Bill and those folks put those rubber tires, uh...
George Wallace: Those rubber donuts..
Charlie Gray: ..donuts in there.
Larry Rathgeb: We took those little small tires-don't remember what size it was, blew them up-the inner tubes-and put inner tubes on the bottom sides and tops so they just floated in there and they didn't get all those vibrations.
George Wallace: And it worked! The Huntsville guys thought trying to go to telemetry was going to be too messy and time consuming. In a 4,200 pound car, a few extra pounds is hardly noticeable. We also used the package in drag racing and basically the Huntsville guys ran it for us. Ron Killan, back there [sitting in the rear of the room], particularly, after we dragged for a day at the track, Ron would spend most of the night at the motel room feeding the tapes back, filtering out the data and running charts.
Larry Rathgeb: So George could read it!
George Wallace: We found it to be tremendously useful. Up until that point, almost the only way to get data was to put an observer in the car. The drivers..
Charlie Gray: From Chrysler...[Laughter]
George Wallace: The drivers rated notoriously unreliable at reading instruments. Plus the point you usually want to know is at the end of the straightaway, and you try to concentrate on getting around that turn and not looking down there at that tach. We tried movie cameras and it took two days to get the film back at which time you'd forgotten what you were testing, and it shook a lot and was hard to read. It ended up we had several cases when I got the job of riding around in the back seat, hanging on to the roll cage, reading instruments or reading other stuff inside the car. Looking back, I rather enjoyed it. This reminds me of an Englishman by the name of Denis Jenkinson, who's famous for, he rode with Sterling Moss in Mille Miglia in 1956 and won the race. Before he did that, he'd been a road race sidecar passenger in Europe. He was the World Champion when he was the passenger for, I think it was, Eric Oliver for two years. After riding a racing sidecar, anything is safe! He wrote a book in the 50's called "The Racing Driver", sort of analyzed, basically for Grand Prix racing, the attributes and techniques of road racing. He had one paragraph in there that said 'For non-racers to understand what's really happening, there's only two ways-either stand very close or ride along'. I would not like to stand very close to a NASCAR car running around the track. I got more feeling of what the car was really doing by actually riding along, feeling the force. As you go in the turns at Daytona at 180, because at that speed you have a downforce of about 2.1 g's and a lateral force of 1.8 g's. If your head was down when you went into the corner, the weight of your head plus the helmet-an average guy whose neck isn't strong like a race driver-you couldn't straighten your head up. If your head was down, it stayed down, you had to push it up like that [uses hands]. That together with the in-car cameras today, I think I probably had a better feeling than a great many people of what's really in the car. That, and reading the data, you learn an awful lot about the behavior of the car.
Larry Rathgeb: You can't write!
George Wallace: No, you take your clip board along and try to write and basically memorize the numbers. And on the slow down lap, you write it down.
Doug Schellinger: Charlie, did Ford do anything like that as far as having someone ride in the car?
Charlie Gray: First one I remember was Don Sullivan and we went down to Charlotte before it had asphalt on the backstretch. Curtis Turner and Bruton Smith built that racetrack. And the race was coming up and we had a few things we wanted to know. And Don rode the right side with no seat, while Curtis negotiated the racetrack. There was no asphalt on the back stretch. [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: Is Sulli still alive?
Charlie Gray: Sulli died about three years ago.
George Wallace: Dirt certainly wouldn't slow Curtis down, however.
Charlie Gray: Uh, actually about the story he was telling, Bill?
Bill Wright: Yes?
Charlie Gray: Bill's the reason why we had that driver's strike at Talladega in 1969! [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: Blame it on him now... it was really Richard Petty and the PDA [Professional Drivers Association]!
Doug Schellinger: I was going to ask George if there was anybody here who could talk about the pogo effect?
George Wallace: Bill can talk about it more. In the room I have a memo on the subject.
Bill Wright: During our pre-testing there [Talladega], we had recorded data from the three axis accelerometers as well as other things. I'd worked with NASA. Chrysler built the Saturn IV and we had produced data and work for them. And NASA's Saturn IV, during launch, experienced an undulation of the structure during the pulsation from the rocket motor's several million pounds of thrust. The astronauts were losing their vision and losing their breath during the period of acceleration. This occurred around 2 g's at very low frequencies. And we heard about the drivers losing their vision, this triggered this thought in my head. So we went back and got the data from NASA and our data and compared it, and this is right in the frequency and acceleration range that the astronauts had experienced during launch. And it correlated. We found that there were eleven undulations in the [Talladega] track going into turn one, which caused this amplitude of movement and frequency that coincided. And this coincided with the natural frequency of the brain cavity and the chest cavity and that caused the body to be upset and react and the vision to blur.
Charlie Gray: I follow you on that, because we went down and found this. And we were down there [Talladega] on a weekend and found that during testing.
Bill Wright: Yeah, but we hadn't analyzed that yet. And we came back during pre-race and..
Charlie Gray: We went down and tested with LeRoy Yarbrough. And we thought LeRoy had the flu because he was aching all over. And we tested on Monday and Tuesday and we were going to run Atlanta the coming weekend. We had to, in those days, check-in on Wednesday, qualify on Thursday. We didn't think LeRoy could run the race...
Bill Wright: Was he a heavy smoker?
Charlie Gray: No.
George Wallace: That was David Pearson.
Bill Wright: There was a doctor there running the ARCA race and we got him in and we talked about it, and he was afraid that some of the heavy smoker's lungs would collapse during this period, because in autopsies, he said, heavy smokers-you could just run your fingers through their lungs to open them up in a heavy smoker. A healthy person, you had to open them up with a scalpel.
Larry Rathgeb: Who was that doctor that was part of the race activity?
George Wallace: Dr. Tarr, Don Tarr.
Charlie Gray: But, we thought LeRoy had the flu because he was so sore and then Larry contacted me and we found out what you guys discovered and he did recover and he actually won the race. Both of us went to [Bill] France to complain. We went back to race two weeks later, and the guys couldn't see properly where the qualifying tires would be and the qualifying run was four laps. Nobody's tires would last four laps. The centers came out in less than four laps. That's why the guys walked out [driver's strike in '69]. Firestone left, withdrew all their tires. Goodyear stayed because they invested money in Talladega and also in Daytona. Of course K & K Insurance stayed because they insured the race track.
George Wallace: Bobby [Isaac] wasn't part of the PDA anyway. Bobby was a real loner.
Charlie Gray: So everybody left. Bill France came and asked me, he says 'I want you to require those guys, the Ford drivers, to race.'
Charlie Gray: I said Mr. France, they're all independents drivers, they're contractors and they got to make up their mind what they want to do. And everyone went home. Richard Brickhouse won the race as an independent and he was considered an outcast after that.
Larry Rathgeb: At that time, Brickhouse removed himself from the PDA and Richard [Petty] said 'You know, we're all in this together and you just can't back out on us now', and he [Brickhouse] said 'Well, I got a deal I can't pass up'. So did you find out what the actual problem was?
Charlie Gray: That the organs in the body were in the natural frequency or whatever we were experiencing at a certain speed when we were testing on the racetrack.
George Wallace: I hear two stories. I hear one that it's tires and I hear another that's driver's bodies.
Charlie Gray: Both
George Wallace: Which was the one why they walked out?
Larry Rathgeb: The tires were the immediate problem.
Charlie Gray: The tires are the reason the drivers walked out. The track caused the problem with the bodies and also caused the problem with the tires.
George Wallace: The undulations caused the problems with the tires too?
Charlie Gray: Yes.
George Wallace: How would these speeds and the harmonics cause tire problems?
Charlie Gray: I don't think it involved harmonics. I think it was the car. The undulations, I think, affected the body. And I think the car skipping over the surface, constantly hitting these things and skipping to the top, and every time it would skip it would grab, and it would jerk tread off the tire. You guys might feel otherwise...
Larry Rathgeb: We had a special tire. [Laughter]
George Wallace: I tend to think the CART problems six weeks ago at Fort Worth were somewhat related to this. Because the drivers there were having vision problems. They blamed it on the g-forces, but I bet if they analyzed some of the data, they might find some of the same frequencies in the CART cars on that track. Those are the two times in major league racing where the drivers have not raced.
Doug Schellinger: Charlie, at Talladega in '69, Bill France had a car, that #13 car. Does anyone know anything about that?
Charlie Gray: Bill France had a car-he had a race car?
Doug Schellinger: Yeah, at Talladega.. Well, he drove it first and I don't remember who drove it in the race..
Charlie Gray: He got in the car and had a suit on and put his helmet on and went out and he ran like 170 mph, came in and said the race track is fine. He's running 30 mph slower [than the drivers]....
Doug Schellinger: There's some people that have a Holman-Moody document that say they sold him the car for a dollar, somewhere prior to that race, that particular car.
Charlie Gray: I don't remember that.
Larry Rathgeb: Bill France also drove a winged car....
Doug Schellinger: Well, that was going to be my next trivia question. You let the cat out of the bag! Does anybody know who was the most unlikely driver of the #88 Daytona in testing?
Larry Rathgeb: That was Bill France! He got into the car, I guess normally with his right foot in and his left foot in and shimmied himself in and got behind the wheel but he couldn't get out. There was no way for him to get out.
George Wallace: He was too big!
Larry Rathgeb: So what he had to do was kind of take his hands and move over to the right side, so that our guys could grab his feet and he came out feet first. [Laughter] And they got pictures of him...
George Wallace: And then there was a phrase in the NASCAR rule book that covered all of this. I'll bet it's still in the rule book. It says: 'these rules apply except in rare instances'. Which means when Bill France says so! [Laughter]
Doug Schellinger: The paperwork still exists, it was August 23, 1969. Bill France, data set up, did a hot lap, did one lap at 68 seconds plus, 140 mph plus and came in.
Charlie Gray: Is that..is that mine?
Doug Schellinger: Yeah, that's your note. [Laughter]
George Wallace: You didn't give any barometer or shock deflects or anything else...?! [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: All your other ones have real extensive notes! [Laughter]
Charlie Gray: Two weeks ago, these two guys came to my house and we visited and they presented some paperwork to me that I had signed way back in the 60's that I thought only three of us in the world knew. I could not believe that they had the Riverside test, I could not believe they had the Daytona tests, I could not believe they had a couple of other documents that only I got!
Larry Rathgeb: The following of these cars in general, did you know there was such a following like this?
Charlie Gray: No I did not. I found out!
Doug Schellinger: Charlie, talk a little bit about when you saw the Charger 500 at Charlotte in '68-tell us a little bit about what happened in that week after that.
Charlie Gray: Well, luckily, Buddy Baker won the race in a Dodge-Cotton's [Cotton Owens] Dodge. But the race was delayed a week, it was a rain out. I was just with Buddy a week and a half before in Florence with Bud Moore and he said you're the only guy that ever told me that I could probably win in the rain. Buddy was a hell of a driver, but I could do a head job on him and I could do a head job on Bobby Isaac too. They were easy, they were a good show and all you had to do was get them wound up. Buddy would smoke two packs of cigarettes in the morning before a race, he would come to the race track at 8:00 in the morning ready to go. He would say 'I got here, Gray'. Anyhow what happened was, in the fall of '68, October race, we showed up in Charlotte. We're all ready to go and the day of the race, Dodge showed up with the Dodge Daytona...
George Wallace: '68 wasn't it?
Charlie Gray: Oh yeah, Dodge [Charger] 500. We knew we had been down aerodynamically, had been down on aerodynamics-always had been on horsepower-and there it was sitting there. They had this slicked up car that was going to be better than what we had. So I showed it to my management and they didn't get too excited because they knew we were going to blow them away anyhow. Well, we didn't. Luckily, Buddy won it the next week. In between the rain out date and the date that we ran, Ralph Moody of Holman and Moody and Jack Sullivan and there were two other guys invented the Talladega. We saw the car, I used to spend a lot of time over there at Ralph's home, and we talked about what we could do, what kind of pieces we could do. I knew that we couldn't spend any money. We had to do something that was easy, so we talked a lot during the week and when we got back the next week for the race, the race was over, we took Kelly over to the Holman and Moody shop in Charlotte and showed him the car. The first thing we saw to redesign is we had to roll the rockers. Where you have the flanges on the bottoms, we needed to get rid of the flanges and roll the rockers. And we did. I forget how much? Someone In Audience: Inch and a half.
Charlie Gray: Inch and a half. I thought I remembered that but I wasn't sure. So the first thing we did was roll the rockers. And we came with Mercury fenders and put them on the Fairlane. And we put the taxi grille, we had a very cheap Fairlane with the taxi grille, it was a plain two light grille, we put that in the front. We made one flat piece of metal that was 4 1/2" wide and added that to the width between the two fenders. Then we just extended the wiring harnesses eight inches. Anyway, there were three unique pieces that were not really in Ford inventory on this car, the two wiring extensions from the standard headlights to the new headlight positions and the flat plate that we had in front. It was a very simple car to build. It met my formula which was 21" height-I used to have a calibrated way I could scrape up against a car and pretty well predict how fast it would go! [Laughter] Anyway, we showed that to our boss after the race and he was all emotional because we'd lost the race. He said 'Can you have it in Dearborn tomorrow?' So before we left, it was on a flatbed headed north. We got on the airplane and went home. I said Jack, you know we have a little problem. At the end of October we need this thing for next year. We gotta get it past Bill France. And he said 'Yeah that's right.' And I said well, I think I know how we can do it. They're building a new race track at Alabama, and it's called Talladega, so we'll name it the Model T. So the Model T was born that night, and it became the Torino Talladega. We got back that night and the next day we went to the design center and a fellow by the name of Bunky Knudsen had come over to Ford-he was our President at that time and Bunky approved it that morning. I wanted to make it the corporate racer-at that time, we had Ford division and we had Lincoln/Mercury division and we had incorporated the two divisions so we all came out of the same race family in '68, but still each one had marketing opportunities there, and neither one had separate cars. So instead of having a corporate racer like I wanted which only had three unique pieces, we rolled the rockers and put these other pieces on and you had the race car you needed because NASCAR would give us the spoiler so we really didn't need anything else. Bunky made the decision, and he was greatly influenced by Yamahime Shinota to completely re-style. So instead of being a $25 conversion, it became not a real expensive conversion, but it cost a whole lot more money than it should have. We had to manufacture caps for the front and then we came in with the Cyclone II and we really didn't take as much effort to building them. We were able to get the number of cars that we needed built...
George Wallace: It was 500, wasn't it?
Charlie Gray: Uh, I think it was 500. We actually could have, I forget what the paperwork says, but we actually could have raced that car at Riverside as I recall, but Bill France wanted every new car-anything new-to be introduced at his racetrack, so Daytona was the first time we could run it. We had to race year-old cars at Riverside and we were fortunate enough to win that race. And we went to Daytona with that car. All of our drivers had a Torino and I believe the first time we ran the Cyclone II was Atlanta. Is that right?
Larry Rathgeb: Uh-huh.
Charlie Gray: These guy know more than I do. [Laughter]
George Wallace: We have all the facts!
Charlie Gray: Anyhow, we introduced the Boss 429 engine but when we showed him, Bill France said you cannot run it at Riverside. So we went to Riverside with the 4V 427, won the race, and then went to Daytona and all of our cars showed up with the Boss 429 engine and they didn't get any farther than the tunnel! Bill shut the gates and said you can't run it and we could not understand. He had not told us beforehand and so all our guys went home. And they didn't want to go but we figured, what the hell, we'll go. So we went home and put in the 4V 427 and in the meantime, they had Pole Day and Paul Goldsmith sat on the pole with 190.001.
George Wallace: What year was this?
Charlie Gray: This was '69.
George Wallace: We had the engineering car there.
Larry Rathgeb: That was our car.
George Wallace: That was our car. That would be the #88 car.
Charlie Gray: So we showed up after they'd already qualified for the pole, and the last one of our cars to qualify on the last day was David Pearson and he beat that time. He qualified at 190.091. And nobody could believe we were there with a 4V 427 that would run that fast. Of course in the race, LeRoy won it and it was very strange because that morning, it had run through the pre-race activities, and when he took the carburetor off, he came running into the garage and he said 'Charlie come over and look at this' and one of the jets had fallen into the carburetor. When he took the back bowl off, one of the jets was laying in the bowl. And if they had started to race with that thing like that, it would probably have made a lap or whatever. And so we put it back together and went out and during the race-if you guys remember LeRoy won it-but during the race, the left front fender started flopping. It came loose and Junior [Johnson-car owner] can get excited when he wants to. So I ran back into our shop and came out with a whole tray of bolts and said Junior, which bolt do you want? Course they were getting ready to black flag him, but Junior took this one lag bolt, screwed it in, took the tape, taped the center in place and LeRoy continued on his way. With 30 laps to go, LeRoy came in for tires and Charlie [Glotzbach] was running second in Cotton's [Cotton Owens] car and with 18 laps to go, a tire equalized [on LeRoy's Ford] and it was so bad that it shook the knob off the gearshift, so he came screaming into the pits. In those days, you could run any combination of tires you wanted. You could do whatever you wanted. We had left side tires and right side tires, and he was a little loose. And Junior put a left side rear on the right rear. And LeRoy was cutting off a half second a lap and he caught Charlie going into the last lap and the famous quote from Glotzbach was 'LeRoy's cheating!' [Laughter] That's the kind of guy Charlie was, I mean, he was a wonderful guy, he was upset, sure, but he just wanted to make some kind of comment-and he was a Chrysler guy! [Laughter] Anyway, we went on to victory, the winner's circle, LeRoy would not have made another lap. The whole center was coming out of the right rear tire. The left side was on the right to tighten it up and we won the race.
Doug Schellinger: What's your perspective on Richard Petty going to Ford in '69?
Larry Rathgeb: I know how it happened. It was a phone conversation between Ronnie Householder and Lee Petty and Lee said 'I want the [Ray] Nichels' contract'. Do you understand what that is?
George Wallace: Uh-huh.
Larry Rathgeb: Nichels was the prime contractor [for Chrysler]. He was the guy that built all the cars, he distributed the parts, warehoused the parts, he was the guy that was making all the big bucks.
Charlie Gray: Like Holman and Moody [at Ford].
Larry Rathgeb: Right. He said, 'I want the Nichels contract'. And Ronnie said, 'No'. There was a lot of in-between talk and finally Lee came to him and said 'Hey, if I don't get it, I'm going to leave. I'm going somewhere else'. And Ronnie says 'Take your choice babe, go where ya want'. And that was the end. Both guys hung the phone up and Lee went to Ford. And at that time, I suppose it was about that time when it was all announced, I was with Bobby Isaac and we were out hunting quail in the woods somewhere and we did that for a couple days and then we had to drive down to someplace in southern Georgia for a race, I don't know where it was, with Cotton's car. We were pulling through Atlanta under a bridge on I-40 and here were the two Petty trucks, they were out for a relief call. So I said 'Pull over quick, pull over!' We pulled over by the trucks and Richard buttoned up and he ran up to our car and said 'Let me in, let me in. I'll get in the back seat'. So he jumped over the seat and got in the back and said 'Let's go.' So we took off and he then explained what had happened. He told me about that conversation and what had happened. He said 'Dad had made contact with some folks up there at Ford so he knew he had a place to go, he wasn't going to be out in the cold'. He [Richard] also tried to convince me all along to come to work for them, you know, 'I'll pay you the same kind of money you get at Chrysler, just come to work and kind of help me set the car up and do these things and we'll just have a wonderful time for the rest of our lives'. But I just can't do that-I've got so much time in and I just can't do that.
George Wallace: Twenty years later you did.
Larry Rathgeb: That's right! By golly, I did!
Charlie Gray: Ok, now would you like to hear the Ford side? [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: We insist!
Charlie Gray: I agree with everything that Larry is saying. Anyhow, I know secrets around the race track, and these are fine people. And for two years Maurice and Dale had been working on me, wanting to come and run for Ford. And I said no. And it became a standing joke. As I was telling these guys, I'm a firm believer in loyalty. I thought the Petty's belonged with Chrysler. I thought Fireball Roberts belonged with Pontiac, I thought that Junior Johnson belonged with Chevrolet. And I got overruled. Richard never pushed it. Lee never pushed it. But the two boys [Dale and Maurice] did. I kept telling them no and a fellow by the name of Bunky Knudsen became our president and he said 'Hey, they're going go to work for us.' And so I said, fine, we accepted them into the family. I knew exactly what was going to happen. But I figured they were trying to use us as a tool, some kind of leverage so that they could get that deal [Nichels contract] and I didn't blame them one bit. They deserved it, they worked for it, they should have got it. It should never have come down to that, uh, they should never have had to resort to what they did to get what they needed to get out of Chrysler.
Larry Rathgeb: But they did.
Charlie Gray: They did and it worked. And I knew that they were doing that but we were happy to have them.
Larry Rathgeb: They did a good job for you.
Charlie Gray: They won Riverside for us, and I will say this, we gave them a car so late that they really decided they couldn't change it before we got there. They had to run a straight vanilla Ford car. And to Richard's credit with the way he drives a car and takes care of a car, which is what you have to do at Riverside, he knew it was strange, he knew it did not feel like his Chrysler and he stayed there until everyone wore themselves out and uh, he won it. I remember the afternoon of the last practice, Maurice wanted to know what I thought about taking the 810 [cfm carburetor ]off and putting the 750 on because Richard wanted better feel and he put a smaller carburetor on that engine just so Richard could have better feel and it worked. Richard liked that and they went on to win the race.
George Wallace: Who would have thought Richard had won Riverside.
Charlie Gray: Well, yeah. The guy who'd won Riverside every time up till then, except one year was [Dan] Gurney. And Gurney started with Holman and Moody, but Ford won it every year. The story on what happened there was Gurney was a natural road courser. Of course he drove Formula 1, he was wonderful, he knew how to take down a car. The Formula 1 cars were very fragile back then. I was stationed in Germany for the last three years in the 1950's and went to most of the races and I knew how fragile those things were. And Gurney knew how to take care of a car. He drove first for Holman and Moody and after that he drove for Wood Brothers, and he won every year. I mentioned before that we had Ford division and Lincoln/Mercury division. In those days, until the mid part of '68, Ford division competed against Lincoln/Mercury division just like they competed against Chrysler, just like they competed against Plymouth and Dodge and Chevy. So Gurney had a deal with Lincoln/Mercury division to sell the "Gurney whatever". And he signed with them and Bud Moore built two cars to take to Riverside. Curtis Turner was in one and Gurney was in the other. Until then, he'd always driven a Ford division car and we had nothing against that. If he wanted to do that that was fine. Anyhow, we went out to Riverside and Parnelli [Jones] was running for Bill Stroppe and Mario [Andretti] was running for Bill Stroppe. Cale [Yarborough] was driving for the Wood Brothers and Cale crashed in practice. Stroppe, bless his soul, was struggling. So we took Parnelli's car and gave it to the Wood Brothers. I'll never forget it-Parnelli used to give Bill a tough time. He'd go out and run a couple laps, come in and say I think we should do this, this should be done and so on. And about 20 minutes later get back in the car and go back. Well, when he was running for the Wood Brothers, he never had a chance to get his seat belt undone. I've never seen people that could change things so quickly and do it right. And he had to ASK for a break because he'd come in and they'd say bring it into the garage and before he could get out, they'd have it changed and back on it. He knew he had a winner. And he won that race in '67 for the Wood Brothers. It was the only time that Gurney had not won it for them. What happened to Gurney was two funny things...his sophisticated timing system was a stop watch. John Brunin Sr. was the timer and he was up in the tower and he actually was timing with a stopwatch and doing qualifications. Gurney cut a heck of a lap. Brunin missed him by a second. Instead of sitting on the pole, he started 4th. And Dick Hutcherson who was doing the course at LeMans, and David Pearson who was driving for Cotton started on the front row. Well, when he missed them by a second, Dan, who was running Lincoln/Mercury at the time, he took off and said 'I've got a lot better things to do.' But, no he didn't sit on the pole. During the race, the Wood Brothers, as you know by reputation, are very good. Bud was pitted and the Wood Brothers were right behind him, they got a caution and both came in halfway through the race, and the Wood Brothers got by in front of Dan and Dan of course was very frustrated because he didn't have the pit work that he'd had in previous years and he over-revved the engine leaving the pits and dropped a valve and Parnelli won the race. I still have the right front primary brake shoe at home off of Parnelli's car from that race. I was amazed at how he took care of the car. Uh, the other car, Curtis-Curtis [Turner] and Joe Weatherly had been good buddies. And Joe Weatherly got killed at Riverside in '64 in turn 6.
Larry Rathgeb: Yep. January.
Charlie Gray: Curtis took the wall in turn 6. Didn't kill him and he drove the car on back around, but he took the left side off the car. So then Richard, in '69, uh in '68 Gurney was back with the Wood brothers and won again and in '69, Richard won it. In 1970, AJ [Foyt] won it in a Ford for Jack Bowsher. Now AJ was leading the race in '69 until he ran out of brakes. Now I don't think we ran the adjusters the way you guys [Chrysler] did. We ran the Chevrolet adjusters and cut every second notch off and we'd turn them over backwards.
George Wallace: We did that.
Charlie Gray: Ok. Anyhow, so these things would self adjust. And we never knew how much shoe we had. You could have a full shoe or you could have that much because they'll self adjust and AJ ran out of brakes. Well, you have to appreciate the fact that in 1965, AJ almost killed himself at Riverside because he ran out of brakes, and in turn 9 in those days there was a big old hole and you went off to the left, and he was coming up behind Marvin Panch and behind Junior and he had the choice when he lost his brakes of either killing them or going in the hole. He chose the hole. And we thought we'd lost him.
Larry Rathgeb: Paul Goldsmith did the same thing in testing, but that was in turn 2.
Charlie Gray: Anyhow, he did recover and we brought his wife in, Lucy and so forth. But so AJ had crashed in '65 and this was '69 and we knew we had a brake problem and I saw the fact that we were doing the same thing we did in '65. In 1970, we went back and a couple weeks before the race, Jack called--and these fellows know Jack Bowsher by reputation-he probably builds the cleanest engines and cars you've ever seen, and he said 'Charlie, I think we know how to win the race this time. We know we got the drivers, and we know we got the cars and so forth.' And I said what are we going to do Jack? And he said 'I'm going to leave the [brake] adjusters off.' You're out of your mind, you know, to leave the adjusters off. The more I thought about it, the more I knew he was right. Because AJ would run her down in the corners, he'd step on the thing and this time, instead of the adjusters making him think he had a full shoe, they'd let you know where you were because they didn't adjust. So about halfway through the race, we had a caution and he's coming down the straightaway in front of us and he's pounding on the dash, which means no brakes. [Laughter] And what he's done is he's just used up that much of his shoes and so he's pounding on the dash-no brakes-and Jack and myself are laughing at each other. We have a fellow that we called the German that works with Jack-a very good guy-and when we brought AJ into the pits, they were telling him to come out and he couldn't figure out why they wanted him out, and he couldn't figure out why the guy with the jack was standing in front of the car. So when he did get it stopped, the timer on the car went out, the German went on one side of the car and Jack went on to the other and AJ knew then he had full brakes. We adjusted it down to get full brakes, started around the race track, he came back and if you've ever seen AJ smile, you know there's only one AJ and he's all teeth. He knew he'd been had and he knew he could win the race. So he had the brakes and he lasted and he won the race.
George Wallace: And Gurney drove for us in that race.
Charlie Gray: Yeah, he did.
George Wallace: Because Bill signed up Gurney for his '70 Trans Am and part of the deal was he'd also run at Riverside. He was entered like that.
John Pointer: He left the front air dam on, didn't he and tried to run it?
George Wallace: He tested with it, which was fascinating.
Larry Rathgeb: Yeah, there he was. And to think we lost Bobby Isaac because of it. We were so intrigued with the kind of response we got from Gurney that we were sitting there talking about it and Isaac was back there listening, we didn't realize that. The next morning when we got up, Gurney had left to go to Germany to meet his wife and Isaac was gone. And I asked the [hotel] desk, why is Mr. Isaac not in his room? And he said 'Well, he checked out last night'. Bobby flew back to North Carolina.
Charlie Gray: Dan was a very meticulous kind of guy and he knew exactly the way that he wanted his shifter, he knew exactly the way he wanted his seat... and I saw the first time we went to Riverside with the Wood brothers, they had three cars there that time, they had Marvin Panch, they had Gurney and they had Curtis Turner, and Marvin of course, he drove for them all the time and he had his seat the way he wanted it and when they arrived with Gurney's car, it took them a couple of hours to get the seat, the shifter and everything exactly how he wanted it, so finally he was satisfied and he left. And Curtis had been over there the whole time watching and Leonard [Wood] says 'Ok Curtis, let's fix up your seat' and he says 'Mine's perfect.' [Laughter] And Curtis was that way, his favorite saying was 'I'll compensate'. Now in the race, Gurney was leading, Curtis was running second. Curtis tried every way in the world to get by him, could not get by him. If you go to Riverside, you come down through the S's and there's a six and then over here a seven, and then there's an eight back here and it's all real estate in here and there's about a one-foot bank. Curtis decided he was going to get by Gurney. He went over the real estate instead of going around seven and eight, he took a short cut and he got by him, but he also took out the bottom of the car. [Laughter] But he was bound and determined he was going to get by him.
George Wallace: He did what he wanted to do, didn't he?
Charlie Gray: Yeah. [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: Let me ask you a question about that. You said something about you had the brake shoe from the right front primary? Weren't they using discs about that time?
George Wallace: No, I didn't have any discs on the shelf until about '73 or '74...
Larry Rathgeb: Didn't we get discs before then?
Charlie Gray: Penske brought them out. Anyhow, I had the discs developed, sitting on the shelf, ready to go, tested them, they did work and my management said don't use them. They will elevate the cost of racing.
George Wallace: Where's the safety factor?!
Charlie Gray: Riverside is one race but when you start talking about Martinsville, and you start talking about Wilkesboro where you run up a slope on the back stretch and run down a slope on the front stretch, that's where you really needed the brakes. I wasn't allowed to put them on a car and unless I'm very badly mistaken, Roger Penske introduced them on his Matador in 1972 at Riverside.
George Wallace: I was out at B & M at the time and left Chrysler. Chrysler's Airheart shop was only about two blocks from us. In fact, I'd run into someone, he was delighted to have someone come and look at his cars who knew what a Grand National brake was up against. Richie Panch was running Airheart's brakes, he showed me the ones he'd run at Martinsville. At the end of the race, there was still 20% of the lining left.
Charlie Gray: But that was only front.
George Wallace: Yeah. The rear brakes don't take that much load.
Larry Rathgeb: That's standard. We only had front discs through that time.
Charlie Gray: Fireball [Roberts] told me a long time ago 'I can ruin any brake you guys have ever had in ten minutes'. And I believe him. When Ford went to Elkhart [Lake, WI], you'd come down the back stretch at 170, 175 and you gotta get into turn 9. Parnelli [Jones] had it figured out, I'll tell you about that later. But Banjo Mathews, bless his soul, said I think I can come with a different brake and I gotta admire this young man for putting the flange in here, we had to weld ours in. So we always went to Riverside every December to get ready for the January race because the engine would change a little bit and the rpm band would move or whatever, all of those things. And I had a wonderful fellow who was the manager of Manual Transmissions called Henry Gregory, and he always had five sets of gear blanks sitting there ready to be cogged, all I had to do was tell him what ratios I want. And he could cog those in a week. And we'd have five transmissions at Daytona. We had ratios all the way for first gear from 2.54 to 1.81.
George Wallace: Did you ever get out of the pits with 1.81?!
Charlie Gray: That was one problem. We raced...
Larry Rathgeb: Starting in second gear!
Charlie Gray: Well, it was like 1.81-you have the ratios written in that Riverside report. This is generally what we ran, we had two sets of ratios, something like 1.81, 1.41, 1.10 and then all of drive. The other one was like 1.92, 1.46, 1.20-something like that. The only problem was exactly what he said, coming out of the pits, and you could do in the clutch and Parnelli did that in '69. But, we'd go up there every year to get everything right, and you know, we had 8 channel recorders and we had 14 channel recorders. And this guy had one of the test reports. I don't know how the heck he got it! But he didn't have my graphs. [Laughter] So we got everything straightened out but we knew we had a big problem and Banjo says 'I think I can help you solve it.' We got Stroppe and Parnelli together and we got Bendix up there with us, and John Wanders and myself took a week between Christmas and New Years, which was supposed to be a vacation, and I left the day after Christmas and I got back on New Years day. So we developed a brake and we ended up with Bendix red dot 11" by 3 1/2" or 11 1/2" by 3", I forget, and it really worked. We had a lining so hard that we had 1,900 psi line pressure. And we figured that we weren't going to worry, the lining was going to wear out the drum! Parnelli was about the only guy who could push on that thing and get it down. So we backed it off and came in with the more forgiving lining and at the end of the race, I have that right front primary and I still have it at home in the basement and I'm very proud of it. The whole idea is to keep this thing, it gets so much heat, is to keep it from warping. But you take those brakes under the cars back then, from Martinsville or whatever, instead of being nice and straight, they're liable to be curled over, rumpled around or whatever and then it just falls off..
George Wallace: The center play would push right through here so you're getting bent here. [The guys are looking at a brake part]
Charlie Gray: But you see the structure he has here? See this flange he has here?
George Wallace: That's a very good design.
Larry Rathgeb: Yeah, we had disc brakes when we went out later. We had a 4,200 pound car that we had to stop. After the first discs came in, Richard [Petty] called and said 'Hey can you get me a set of the rear discs. I need a set of rear discs'. We quickly put together some A-Body front discs and they weren't separated, they were just one single disc, and took some simple kind of pictures that I had, put it all together and brought it down with us and we put it on the car. And Richard went to Daytona and he won the race because he was leading and he wanted to pit and most guys back off starting going into three so they can get into the pits. He didn't back off until the middle, between three and four and he cut into the pits hard and smoked the tires getting it in, and the other guys just had to go on by.
George Wallace: There was no speed limit in the pits in those days.
Larry Rathgeb: He got into the pits first, he was out first and won the race, mostly because of being able to do that.
Charlie Gray: What year was that?
Larry Rathgeb: Oh, I can't remember..
Charlie Gray: After we left [racing]?
Larry Rathgeb: Oh yeah, I'm sure it was.
Charlie Gray: I'm not sure what you guys did, but Daytona is the only racetrack we ran those other linings. Of course the reason why we never ran them at Atlanta is because here you are on flat earth and now you touch the brakes, and you're doing 180° all the way around, you get one stop and then you have to go ahead and then you have to run awhile to let them cool down before you get another stop. Or you couldn't make the stop.
Larry Rathgeb: You couldn't really stop. You'd fail the system. The fact is, he did win the race for them by getting a set of disc rears as well as disc fronts.
George Wallace: We did test a very interesting set of brakes once at Milwaukee. It was half a rotor. It was a system that was developed by Copper Development Authority Association. It had tested in the Formula 1 with March. We ran a test at Milwaukee with Norm Nelson and Roger McCluskey. They were better than any disc we'd had up till then and they still didn't live. They were a broken "U" copper colored disc.
Charlie Gray: We tested them at Ford, that was at the spring event in '65, '66..we had the four part still, we were using the four part piston.
George Wallace: Is that right?
Charlie Gray: Yeah, we tested them, copper discs...
George Wallace: Copper alloy.
Charlie Gray: They came out of the Copper Association of the Brass Association. We chewed em right up, our pads chewed right through them.
George Wallace: We were in '70 or '71 so they'd had some time [to try the copper discs], and we chewed them up but it wasn't bad. Actually the thing I remember about the test was it was a Goodyear tire test basically because, whenever you could, you scheduled a test with Goodyear tires so they'd pay for the track. [Laughter] Basically McCluskey was testing the-he was the number one driver for Norm Nelson--and he was testing the tires and Norm Nelson was testing the brakes. Oh, it was '71 because winged cars were dead in NASCAR. And USAC allowed them. They weren't near as fussy.
Charlie Gray: They ran one at Daytona.
George Wallace: Yeah. But McCluskey was driving the '71 Plymouth and Norm was driving the old car because he'd had it in the shop and it had the brake pads, and they were amazed at a track as slow as Milwaukee how good the winged car was. This was about 2 weeks before the USAC races coming up at Milwaukee, and after they ran the winged car and the brake pads, Norm got on the phone to [Ronnie] Householder and said 'Can you get me a second winged car for the race?' Householder got one out of Petty [Enterprises] up there and I believe McCluskey and Nelson finished one and two in the winged cars.
Larry Rathgeb: That was in what...?
George Wallace: Under a 120 mph lap, wasn't it?
Larry Rathgeb: We had the same situation at Rockingham if you remember, when we went down and Householder said 'We're going to run a standard car, I don't want to spend a whole lot of money using the winged cars down there. Saves a buck, just as well use standard cars'. And we said no Ronnie, that's not the thing to do. We should use the other car. And he said 'Fine, you bring your car to the track and I'll send Mario Rossi down with his car to the track and then we'll see who runs the fastest. In four days of testing Mario [in the standard car] could not keep up with us [in the winged car], there was no way. We even changed engines in those vehicles to prove that it was the vehicles, not the engines.
Doug Schellinger: And your vehicle would have been the engineering car?
Larry Rathgeb: Yes, the engineering car, the #88. Greg's #88 [now Greg Kwiatkowski's Daytona].
Larry Rathgeb: We had at that time, a Charger 500 that we'd developed. [To John Pointer] Why don't you go ahead and tell that story, how that was developed, then I'll go on, ok?
John Pointer: Well, it really goes back to mid '67 and at that time Chrysler was willing to spend a whole weekend testing with a hand-made program car which was in all intent, a Charger. Build it up, make the drag test, tear it down and get it back to where it belonged by Monday morning. And it turned out that '68 Charger was significantly slicker than anything we'd seen before. But the driver did mention, as I read it, that at 100 mph the car felt kind of floaty. Well, George did the calculations and thought boy, this ought to do 183-184 mph, when the existing record was 181. Well, Rathgeb thought that too. And a guy from Daytona did some testing in November was it?
George Wallace: September, first of September.
John Pointer: The first test, well the story I'm told-I wasn't there-was that they heard Buddy [Baker] shut off altogether the first time that he got into turn three. When they looked he was way up against the wall.
George Wallace: Close, not against! [Laughter]
John Pointer: Well, when they looked there was a little spot up against the bumper..but never touched. Anyway, Buddy came in like this [points at something white]-about that color-I looked at him and there was no blood in his fingertips. And he told George that he liked to broke his jaw getting off the gas...
George Wallace: And his knee got it too!
John Pointer: And what seemed like floating behavior at 100 mph turned into frightening behavior at close to 200mph!
George Wallace: His car, we got 2X4bbl manifolds out of that deal which we were always arguing with NASCAR about-we wanted to run a production Hemi with our 2X4bbls, but Bill [France] would only let us run one. I think on one occasion for about six months we ran two-we wanted to see how fast the car was so we put two on-what, another 40 hp?
John Pointer: Yep.
George Wallace: Buddy was definitely going fast when he decided to get his foot off.
John Pointer: Oh yeah, he was cookin'. We made up a sheetmetal air dam which made a tremendous difference. I'd been in contact with George and he shipped the car to me for the development of the air dam. And this is the first time I'd had the real race car to work on. Before I'd been using production cars with big fat race tires on it. So we got the car there and put the engine in it and thought it would be a good idea if we take it out for a shakedown. Larry reminded me of this when he was talking about the Sermet brakes, and I'd been told that these things didn't work worth a damn when they were cold, only when they were hot. We went trundling down to the oval. In those days, you'd hit a grade crossing in the northbound straightaway in the middle of the track and an S-turn before you got to the first stop sign. We went burbling down there-a tremendous racket in these cars, got to the first stop sign, gawdawful smell. Just awful! And I heard the driver turn around and say something about brakes. And I thought, well ok, the brakes are cold, they're not going to work real well. Keep on going. So we went across, got out on the oval, ran it up to 60, 80, 100, 120, ran it up to 130-our normal test speed was 120. We coasted down, coming off the oval, again there was a cloud of smoke, ghastly smoke. Jerry the driver muttered something, I couldn't make out what it was. Back up to the barn. And I decided, just to keep peace in the family, that I would never run the race car in the garage. With the door open, Jerry gave it a rap on the throttle, cut the engine as soon as he got in and coasted the whole length of the garage. Got opposite our parking space and dumped it into first gear and dumped the clutch. What the hell was that for, Jerry? 'I've been trying to tell you, you crazy son of a bitch, we didn't have ANY brakes!' And when we opened the hood, we saw this brake line coming out of the master cylinder had cracked somehow and every time he hit the brakes, it was pouring it [brake fluid] on the exhaust manifold. Don't try and light your charcoal fire with that stuff! [Laughter] But anyway, the first instruments that I had George reading were a pair of welding rods. One was fastened to the upper ball joint on the left front wheel and went to a little piece of tubing through the hood so the driver or the observer could see what was going on. And we had quarter inch stripes on it.
George Wallace: Eighth inch.
John Pointer: And we had a similar dipstick sticking up through the differential tunnel . That's what George got to look at. Sometimes it was way up there when we were going through the turns.
George Wallace: We did it only on the back stretch. We had it figured out that at 180 mph where it'd go. Buddy says that after that the rpms would hold it the whole length of the back stretch. It's not very long at 180 mph.
John Pointer: No, at 120, that was plenty of time for me to observe the pressure it developed on an air dam. And we got down there in December of '67 and when we finally put the final air dam on it, Buddy came back and he was just smiling from ear to ear. He wanted another gallon and a half [larger air dam]. No, it wasn't Buddy, it was Darel Derringer driving that thing. Then we had to sell the idea to the NASCAR people in the person of Bill France Jr..and he was kind of dubious and felt that it wasn't all that appropriate, till we pointed to the Camaro he had drove up in and it had a front air dam that was even bigger and he had never even noticed it!
George Wallace: It was an Indy Pace Car replica, white with orange trim, I forget the year..
John Pointer: '68 convertible.
George Wallace: A very nice car. Billy didn't realize that he had one on his car.
John Pointer: George came up and whispered in my ear, 'He's got one on his car, he's got one on his car!' [Laughter] So he [Bill France] said 'You can't use that, that's not production, you know we only use production stuff'. And I said what about the car you drove up in? What about it? Isn't that a spoiler on it? 'Why it has NOT got a spoiler'. And he walked out there and got down on his hands and knees and he said, 'Damn it guys, there IS a spoiler on here!' [Laughter] We got to Daytona in February and we were just happy to think we could go 3 mph over the speed limit, the car was on the mat all the way around, we had high hopes for the funds, and sure enough, we were running 183-184 mph just like clockwork. And the drivers were happy. And these guys were running 187, the Wood Brothers were running 189, and there was one Plymouth that was not built to the print that was also running 189. Well, the Plymouth was behaving itself pretty well and Richard [Petty] seemed pretty good, but the Fords looked awful. They were way outta shape. That was the year Mario Andretti, I think, lost it coming out of turn 2 and didn't stop spinning until he got in four..
Charlie Gray: He won it in February.
George Wallace: That was '67.
Charlie Gray: Ok what year you talking about?
George Wallace: '68. We had the [Charger] fastback.
Charlie Gray: Ok, what'd he do?
John Pointer: Spun it coming out of turn two, did everything available and finally came to a stop out in the middle of turn four, and took the car back up and fixed it or drove a new car or a new paint job and came back. Then he lost it again during the race to Buddy Baker.
Charlie Gray: If you say so..I can't remember. He lost it in the July 4th race in '67. He won it in summer '67, Goldsmith took it on July 4th and I can remember him coming by us, we were at the end of the pits, and he's got it sideways like this and he's looking at me. I'm sure he wasn't looking at me but he was looking at the pits, and I don't think he was looking really in the pits, he was just trying to see what was coming...
John Pointer: In '68 it seems like, if that was the blue and gold car..
George Wallace: Yeah, number 17. David Pearson's car.
John Pointer: They put an upper spoiler on the Ford to tame the back end, it would fix the front end up and now it was pushing. My recollection is that they ended up compromising on a car that was kind of loose at both ends.
Charlie Gray: What year?
John Pointer: '68.
John Pointer: Tiny Lund was the first fast Ford.
Larry Rathgeb: But he still beat us! Ford still had one quicker than the one we had. Then we called you and said hey, let's kick this damn thing!
John Pointer: I remember when Tiny finished a qualifying run, whoever the announcer was would take the microphone and go 'Well Tiny how does it feel to go that fast?' And I think the words were, 'I can't hold my breath for four laps'. I figured from that, well, that car's gotta be pretty awful. Maybe we got a chance to try to make it easier to drive. But it worked. We had Al Unser.
Charlie Gray: Al Unser was the fastest one at 186.
Larry Rathgeb: Speaking of Al Unser...
George Wallace: That was their engineering.
Larry Rathgeb: The important thing we're trying to bring up here is that at the race in 1968, during the course of the race, we took one of the Charger 500s down to the Champion garage.
George Wallace: The Charger 500 didn't exist at that point.
Larry Rathgeb: Ok, we took a Charger, a standard Charger. Put it in the Champion garage and he went out for a huge piece of Plexiglas. A huge piece and measured it out and had it cut so we could tape it over the back of the Charger.
John Pointer: Larry was all for it, and I was willing to give a go and George said no, no, no.
Larry Rathgeb: And then we did something about getting another grille and putting it in place up front and taping it in place. So we did the whole thing, we moved the grille forward and we put a good backlite on it and without NASCAR knowing a thing about it, took it out of that garage...
John Pointer: No, we didn't do that [sarcastically]..
George Wallace: We cut you [Rathgeb] out of it because we didn't want to wash our dirty linen in public [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: You convinced me?
George Wallace: Yeah. Well, I thought we had.
John Pointer: I got the car back and it evolved into what eventually became the Charger 500 almost immediately after the race. There had been some talk about interpreting the rules in a liberal manner and I remember watching the '68 500 on the closed circuit TV and Al Unser came into the pits and I saw three full cans of gas go into that tank [Laughter] and it had run a 100-mile qualifier non-stop.
Charlie Gray: What year was it?
John Pointer: '68
Charlie Gray: It was supposed to be 125.
John Pointer: Ok, whatever it was, he ran non-stop.
Charlie Gray: They ran 100 non-stop...
John Pointer: Because he was behind Don White.
Charlie Gray: And Don White won the race again. But that'll never happen again.
John Pointer: Well, he only got 3 1/2 mpg and with a 22 gallon tank, it doesn't add up to 125 miles. [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: It's hard to believe you guys convinced me not to run that car because I know we said hey, let's go ahead and do it. It was all right there in that garage.
John Pointer: We cut it. We cut it and we had everything ready to go and then George prevailed on us.
Larry Rathgeb: George, you were a candyass, you know that?! [Laughter]
George Wallace: And all we were really doing was admitting how little we knew, if you will, doing development work during the factory race.
John Pointer: Anyway I got the car back and one of the first things I tried was this plastic backlite.
Larry Rathgeb: That was cut at Daytona beach.
John Pointer: Yeah, it was cut at Daytona beach. It [the Charger] came back up [to Detroit] on the truck and it stopped at the Woodward garage just long enough to have a couple of the things taken out and pull the track engine out and put a Street Hemi in it. The first thing I tried was that full backlite. And we've had yarn on the backlite before and it was going berserk. And after the run, the mechanic that was observing in the backseat went around the tunnel and started picking at the tufts..
George Wallace: Thought they were stuck..
John Pointer: Yep. He said they were lying there like they were taped at both ends. So then we knew we had it done. I mocked up a piece of aluminum for the car's grille and we started cutting around to see what we needed for it's cooling system. And it turned out that for racing, all we needed was that little slot below the bumper. And we fooled around with bowing the front fenders, eventually we had the A-posts covered. And the car tested at 194, and qualified at 190 and so I go well, that's worthwhile. In the meantime, I've gone back and started sketching up what was going to be the 1971 version, which became the Daytona. In the '69 500, my recollection is that the way LeRoy Yarbrough got past Charlie [Glotzbach] was under a caution flag. And it involved him going down pit road at about 160 mph [Laughter]
Charlie Gray: That sounds like Fred Lorenzen.
John Pointer: Well, LeRoy had been a lap behind and by going in, he timed it perfect, the pace car had just went across the start/finish line, he went blasting down pit road, came out ahead of the pace car and caught up with the back of the pack. And then later slingshotted past Charlie and then Charlie tried to do a reverse slingshot at the finish line but didn't quite make it. The bottom line was, for whatever reason, the Charger 500 was immediately dubbed the loser.
Charlie Gray: LeRoy won the race.
John Pointer: Well, he was certainly ushered into the winners circle. [Laughter] Anyway, I'd already started tinkering with what became the Charger Daytona. In January '69, almost immediately after the race, they needed to put the burners under what is now a 1969 model. They got to announce it and started taking orders by the 15th of April...
Larry Rathgeb: Let's go back to when George and I were..George said 'Larry, they got the 500. They can't beat the 500'.
George Wallace: I don't remember that but I'll take your word for it.
Larry Rathgeb: And we said, hey, we have to do something. We've got to do something that will do better aerodynamically.
Charlie Gray: Thank you very much for showing me the car in October to give me time to work on it [the Talladega]! [Laughter]
George Wallace: It was introduced as a normal model because it came out when the new models came out.
Larry Rathgeb: So we didn't really get to look at it until we got out there and saw the physical pieces and they really worked it up and they did a good job. We gotta do something. We say we don't want to play with the motor because the motor's reliable and we don't want to make it unreliable, so we'll do it aerodynamically and we called up this guy [Pointer] from the proving grounds and we called Bob Marcell who was the man with the aerodynamics at Highland Park and we said if you guys work individually-don't contact any of us- but bring us some sketches that reworks an existing car, anything that's legal for NASCAR, rework that car as best you can to show us how we can beat this Ford thing that they got. And we called both Plymouth and Dodge people. We called Dale Reeker at Dodge and said Reeker, we're having a meeting, you guys want to come in and show us some sketches as to how we can do something with a car to beat the Fords? And James Pickford was at Plymouth and he was at Jefferson Avenue and Sam Peacock was his boss, and we said you guys come on to this meeting. And everyone was there except Pickford. So I called Pickford and said hey, Pick, you gotta get up here, the meeting is going on and you're not here. And he said, 'Well Sam told me that we have Richard Petty for the next year, 1969, and we don't need engineering so we're not going to go to that meeting. You guys go ahead and do with Dodge whatever you want'. Unfortunately, Richard Petty went to Ford that year, shortly after that.
Larry Rathgeb: And by that time, it was too late, they [Plymouth] couldn't get back into the program.
George Wallace: We had to build 2,000 of the silly things that next year.
Larry Rathgeb: That year we had to build 500 of the cars. And after we had our meeting, one guy [referring to John Pointer] came in with a by-plane wing in the back.
John Pointer: No, no. I didn't know where it was going to end up, that's why there were two [wings]!
Larry Rathgeb: Well, it looked like a by-plane and the other guy came in with a single wing and both of them had something like a Corvette nose on them, on a Charger 500. And I said hey George, if these two guys both think the same way, this has gotta be the car and we talked about it a little bit more and he said 'Yeah, that's it'. And we took all the drawings, and Reeker and I went to see Bob Rodgers, and we got in a meeting with his department to see him and said 'Mr. Rodgers, this is the kind of thing we'd like to do for this year and introduce it at the Talladega race in September'. And he said 'Well I'm really happy that somebody in this organization is considering what it's going to take to beat the Fords. What do you want to do next?' And I said well, we'd like to see Mr. [Bob] McCurry and see if he agrees that we can get the dollars to get the job done. And he said 'Fine, you get on your way up there. I'll call up and you'll get in'. Went to see McCurry and went in and told him what it was and showed him the drawing and he said 'Good God, do you guys really think this thing can win?' [Laughter] Yes sir, we really do. And he said 'Well, go ahead and do what you gotta do.' On our way out, he said 'Just a minute. I want engineering to build that car and if anybody gets in your way, let me know right away'. And as we started, we were in it maybe a month or so, and the styling people came in and said 'Halt all your operations. We don't like this. We want to make some major changes to this design for appearance purposes.' We called McCurry right away and he said 'Don't even think about that, don't worry about it, just go on with what you're doing'. And that was the last we heard from styling.
George Wallace: Styling was allowed to put the stripe on it.
Larry Rathgeb: That's all they could do! [Laughter]
George Wallace: This is, I think, the only car in the last 50 years in Detroit ever to be built without styling approval. Engineering and styling frequently work at opposite approaches. Styling usually wins unfortunately.
Larry Rathgeb: Well, in that case they didn't. But the next year, Plymouth needed a car because they wanted to get Petty back and they said 'What will it take to get you back-Lee, Richard, Maurice, the whole family?' And they said 'We want the Nichels contract and we want a car like the Dodge car. We don't want to run a Dodge, we want to run a Plymouth but we want a Plymouth just like that Dodge car. I want a winged car'. And we went to Plymouth and said you're going to have to build a car to get Richard back. And by that time NASCAR said no more 500, you gotta build 2,000 of them. So we had to build 2,000 cars and I certainly didn't want to be involved with it and I don't think George did either. So we turned it over to Scott Harvey. Scott Harvey was the man who had to do the work on developing it for production. And styling, of course, was involved. They got so involved, they made the car three mph slower than the Daytona.
Charlie Gray: Who actually built the cars?
Larry Rathgeb: Who built the cars?
Charlie Gray: I mean, who put the front end on, Creative Industries?
John Pointer: Creative did [installed] the noses for the SuperBirds..
Larry Rathgeb: I know that Creative Industries did the Daytona. I don't know who did the SuperBirds.
John Pointer: The SuperBirds were a mish-mash out of Lynch Road [assembly plant]. They had Coronet hoods and front fenders on a Plymouth body. They must have been driven absolutely crazy..someone was really teed off. [Laughter] For generations, keep the Dodge and Plymouth parts separate. Now they were deliberately mixing them. When they put the cars in the repair holes, they were built without backlites or grilles or headlights.
George Wallace: The backlite on the SuperBird was stock, wasn't it?
John Pointer: No, it was bubbled. But it didn't go all the way to the back.
George Wallace: The opening was stock.
John Pointer: Yeah, the opening was stock. But it was bubbled.
Larry Rathgeb: More so than your plastic piece.
John Pointer: That backlite, that weird thing was concave around the edges and convex in the middle.
George Wallace: You probably did that because you couldn't bend the glass, right?
John Pointer: No, I think they did it deliberately. It was the styling.
George Wallace: I always give him credit for it being that way because we had a production problem. [Laughter]
John Pointer: I think they were made in laminate.
Charlie Gray: [Shows Larry a picture] NASCAR was not the only sanctioning body back in those days. USAC ran cars, ARCA ran stock cars, IMCA ran cars, but a fellow by the name of Bill Taylor, Bill Taylor is the guy that ran the stock cars for USAC. And a real fine guy. He and his wife both. He meant well, he actually was offered the job to be the director of racing in NASCAR, I thought 1968, and he said 'I have a moral obligation to finish up the season with USAC and I'll come with you as soon as USAC's season is over', and they said 'Nope, gotta have you right now.' So he lost the job, he stayed with USAC. Anyhow, there was a fellow by the name of Rudy Hare that ran Dodges and Al Unser drove for him. And we were racing at IRP, and this is a road course of course, and the big deal was that a couple of guys, Fords, had left the gas cap off and they had to come back in the pits-somebody, I forget who it was. And Bill Taylor was very adamant about the fact that if you had a loose gas tank lid you had to come back in the pits. Well, these are pictures that I sent to Bill, and that is Al Unser Sr. in Rudy Hare's Dodge at IRP and there's the gas coming out and there's the cap hanging. And I said 'Bill, that fellow behind Al must be getting some great fuel economy with the extra gas coming through the air!' [Laughter] This one [a different picture] says ' Bill, that can't be his radiator leaking' and that is very clear! [Laughter] This one says 'Bill, what's that rule on gas leaks?' Well, I ran into Bill and Mickey down in Atlanta about four years ago. And he reminded me of this, I'd forgotten all about it. And they were in the process of moving and he'd got these pictures together and sent them back to me. He said 'They're originals and I think you oughta have them'. Anyway, Bill was good people, he just made a mistake [with the gas caps] and I helped him realize it.[ Laughter]
George Wallace: Bill Taylor is the guy who also ran at Atlanta in the Mobile Economy Run.
Charlie Gray: That's the same old Bill. He was just a super guy.
Larry Rathgeb: There was another fellow that ran for Rudy Hare, a Canadian, he was killed at Riverside.
George Wallace: Brake exploded.
Larry Rathgeb: What was his name?
George Wallace: Billy Foster.
Larry Rathgeb: And you know why.
George Wallace: One of the rear brakes fell off...
Larry Rathgeb: The right front...
Charlie Gray: Both fronts. What they had done..you know what actually killed him?
George Wallace: Hitting the wall.
Charlie Gray: Well, yeah that's what happened, knocked him out, but that's not what killed him. He suffocated. His helmet, when he hit the wall in turn nine, they did not have nets on the left side. And he ran down in the corner and you could see the pieces coming out of the car. And when he went into the corner of course, he went up against the wall and his head came out-the same thing killed Joe Weatherly at corner six-and when he hit it, it knocked him out and rotated the helmet on his head and he drowned in his own vomit.
Larry Rathgeb: What had happened was that Rudy had drilled holes between the steel spider and the cast iron drum itself to lighten it and try to get more air through there and I said really, that's the wrong thing, please don't do that. We have brought all-new drums out here. They're all thin, they're big, they're heavy, a lot of mass to them, they'll take a lot of heat. Please see Ronnie and get that done. And he said well, ok. I talked to Ronnie and told him we'd better get those things distributed, Rudy's got some holes in it and I'd rather he didn't run it. He said 'Ah, we'll worry about that later'. That's the way Ronnie was-we'll worry about that later. So we went off and when he hit the brakes that hard, the thing just sheared, the drums stopped but the wheels kept rotating, tore through those holes and it just kept on going, it didn't stop. It had rear brakes but that was not near enough, the front brakes were finished. And as Charlie said, you could see the pieces coming off.
Charlie Gray: He couldn't turn. I mean, he might have had the wheel turned but there was no way the thing was going to turn. He was just going too fast.
George Wallace: Well, there was that five or six foot high solid steel pole that he hit hard.
Charlie Gray: There was something else about that, that car collapsed itself around that pole like a cord, I mean, it just rolled right around there.
Larry Rathgeb: It [the car] got back to Nichels, they cut all that stuff away, cut all the stuff off of it, pulled that knuckle out, it was a cast design knuckle and they washed it all off, and magnafluxed it and put it back on the shelf.
George Wallace: We only saw one cracked knuckle in the whole time, and it was the one you chrome plated for me. Going away present from Chrysler..instead of bookends, it was 12 pound knuckles. Great bookends, no books could knock them over. [Laughter]
Charlie Gray: Bill Foster was the first race friend that Mario Andretti had, and Mario was in that race and I remember he and I had a little chat and he got in the car and went and qualified.
George Wallace: Bill Foster was a very up and coming Indy driver. He was expected to be the next superstar at Indy.
Charlie Gray: Um, I mentioned before that Foyt had crashed in 1965, he had a brake problem as it turned out. One of the things that happened in that accident is that he broke his back. He fractured a couple of vertebrae in the lower part of his back and fractured another one up high and of course, he broke his heel and a couple other things. And that was in January. And he had never driven a rear-engine car at Indianapolis as of '65. He had won '61 in a roadster, he had won '64 in a roadster, '65 was his first time in a rear-engine car and a doctor told him not to go because if he just so much as touched the wall, he'd be paralyzed for the rest of his life. And AJ sat on the pole.
Larry Rathgeb: What year was it that the little green car from England won it?
Charlie Gray: Which one?
George Wallace: Lotus.
Larry Rathgeb: '65
Charlie Gray: In '63, it was a true pushrod engine and it ran very well and Parnelli was a very good friend of mine but Parnelli would not have won the race for the owner because he had a severe oil leak and he was spraying the racetrack down and Roger McCluskey spun coming off of four in the oil and his car owner's kept him from being black flagged. He stood at the base of the stand, in those days the flagman was on the inside the race track, and Jimmy couldn't catch him because he was back there fighting the oil, so the first year Parnelli won it was '63, Jimmy ran second. In '64 Collin Chapman was sold a bill of goods by Dunlop. They said they had tested the tires thoroughly, they were very good, but 30 laps into the race they came loose and ripped the complete suspension out of the back of the car. In '65 Jimmy won it, in '66 Graham Hill won it. Stuart was leading it until about 12 laps to go and lost a rocker arm. Graham Hill won it and both of them were rookies.
George Wallace: Rookies only in the Indianapolis sense of the word. Also you have the Wood Brothers up there running the pits..
Charlie Gray: That is a major point. Because Formula 1 was, and I was a little bit close to Formula, the way Formula 1 was based, you couldn't have any pit stops. I can remember being in '58 or '59 and Bonjo, in the last Maserati race, ran off and left the field and half way through he got out of the car and they put gas in it and so forth. And he was the only one that stopped. Hawthorn didn't stop. Peter Collins didn't stop. None of them stopped. Sterling had already fallen out. Bonjo got back in the race car and won it. My point is, they could care less about pit stops. Came '65, we weren't racing in NASCAR, because we had a dispute over the engine and the body, and a weight problem they tried to impose on us, so the Wood Brothers were sitting down there idle and we asked them if they'd like to come with us and Collin Chapman, they said yeah. We got there three days before the race. Couldn't even get the wheels on and off the car. We had to sit there and rock them and so forth, they had little burrs on the thing that threads. They had quick knock off hubs in those days and they were all burred and I remember Leonard [Wood] got his little files out and they reworked all the threads, reworked the centers and everything and that's really what won the race. One pit stop and he got them out in, I forget how many seconds, but they changed the tires and gave him fuel. And Jimmy, after the race, said he knew after that pit stop, that if he didn't break he was going to win the race. The Wood Brothers are quite good at whatever they did.
George Wallace: NASCAR had outlawed the Hemi.
Doug Schellinger: I wanna talk about a speed chart. Someone gave me a speed chart.
Larry Rathgeb: Doug Patterson. If you look at the Petty car that won the race in 1964, it was sponsored by Patterson Motors. Doug Patterson was a classmate of mine from the class of '60. And he and his brother-after he graduated in '60-he and his brother went back down to Daytona Beach, which was their hometown and opened up an agency. And they sponsored the Richard Petty car that said Patterson Motors on it. And he created that speed chart. And on one side it said brand X speed, and on the other side it has Chrysler speeds or Plymouth speeds, I think. Does it have Plymouth speeds?
Doug Schellinger: Plymouth speeds.
Larry Rathgeb: Plymouth speeds. And it was good to have it there because through the years when we went down there, in 1966 we had a lot of trouble and I had one of these in plastic to protect it.
Doug Schellinger: The trick of it is, if you look at the speed chart, the Plymouth speeds are all faster than the brand X side. [Laughter]
Larry Rathgeb: That's the point, that's what it's trying to say!
George Wallace: And they were at that time!
Larry Rathgeb: It was just an outrageous increase in horsepower for the Hemi over what the Ford had and that's why we won the race. That was the only reason. The succeeding races, at shorter race tracks, proved that we didn't have a car that could handle. It was a horrendously bad car. The next race I think was at Atlanta, and Richard used something like 62 or 64 tires to get through that race and wasn't anywhere near the first ten. And that's when Householder came back and said 'Get that GD kid down here to the race track and have him fix this problem that he put us into'.
Charlie Gray: Are you the GD kid?
Larry Rathgeb: I was the GD kid. [Laughter] In 1963, Householder came to engineering with a box full of parts from Ray Nichels, they were Pontiac pieces. Knuckles, long knuckles for one side and short knuckles for the other side.
George Wallace: Yeah, Ray Nichels was running the factory Pontiac before he came to us.
Larry Rathgeb: So he laid those on the table and he said 'Gentleman, I want to hire your drafting time. I'm not hiring your engineering time, I'll hire your drafting time. Once I have your drafting people I want you to put these pieces into a Plymouth car, I need a packaging job done'. And I, being the low man on the totem pole, that job was given to me to oversee. I did the job, put it together, and we put the stuff through the computer..
Charlie Gray: Computer!?
Larry Rathgeb: Yeh, we had a computer about as big as this room. We had what we called a Front Susp program and it gave us all of the geometry both in numbers and curves and there was another part of that program that gave us the structural capabilities of the various parts and pieces of that suspension. So I called Mr. Householder and I said I think we're in trouble. I said this suspension as it came out is very, very poor and it could easily break because it's not good from a structural standpoint. And he said 'I didn't ask for your comments on that. Do you think you can do the job?' I said yes, sir. He said 'Then get the prints to me as quick as you can. I gotta get those to Nichels so he can build the cars!' So we did. And they won, one, two, three, and we can't argue the point. But after that, when he began to lose races he called my boss, Jack Gilmore, and says 'Gilmore, get that punk kid down here and fix my problems'. And I said to Gilmore, I don't have to go to the racetrack. I know what their problems are and I can fix them right here. I can do that job, I don't have to go to the racetrack. He said 'Do the right thing. Go to the racetrack. Go to the racetrack. Don't start any trouble.' So I went to the racetrack. And we saw some awfully bad things, you know, and the floor pan was bouncing up and down as the torsion bar twisted instead of reacting to the body, it was just bouncing up and down. This was very bad. Of course the thing, when the car went up and down, the toe was like this. [Shows us with his hands] For an inch of travel, there was an inch of movement in the wheel. It was really bad. So bad that they couldn't keep tires on it. What Petty did was he took some old rubber pieces, rubber biscuits from some floor mounting or industrial refrigeration unit and he put one on top of the upper control and one below it so he prevented the movement, so all he had was the rate of these pieces of rubber. So if he didn't move then he didn't have any movement so he was better off that way. That was his solution. Cotton Owens put a Chevrolet lower control arm and some air bag, whatever, when I went to the racetrack and looked at that I got a big lump in my throat and I said there's no way that they will ever get any kind of similarity between these cars. And I went back and said Jack, we're really in trouble. Jack said 'Well go see your boss and see what he wants to do'. And he said 'Well, why don't we go ahead and design a whole new car. Let's just go ahead and do it.' He said 'I think I can talk to some people and get enough money, enough slush money, that we can go ahead and do that.' So we designed a car. Front to back, top to bottom, side to side, full race.
Charlie Gray: What year was it?
Larry Rathgeb: It was 1964. Early '64 right after February, right after the Atlanta race.
George Wallace: Don't forget the great rigidity of the frame, the way..
Larry Rathgeb: Well, yeah, I mean it was..
George Wallace: Less structural rigidity than a production car.
Larry Rathgeb: They had taken the structural rigidity of a production car and cut it in half.
George Wallace: Without a whole lot of trouble we doubled it and went off and ran it.
Larry Rathgeb: We called it the one, one, one and a half car. We took the wheel base and moved it forward on the body by one inch. We took the engine and moved it back from production by one inch. And lowered the car an inch and a half and cut off everything underneath six and a half inches and put it [all of the structural parts] up on top [of the floor pan]. So we had a very strong car.
Charlie Gray: Do you understand why you had six and a half inches underneath?
Larry Rathgeb: That was called the idiot stick. They would run it underneath the car and that's where everything had to be and we said well, it's senseless to have this steel this much higher and the frame down here, and we'll just bring the whole thing down. We let everything down and chopped everything off. And that's the way it was. We didn't have anything underneath the steel, the bindings were gone, everything was gone.
George Wallace: I would expect this kind of ease when you use one of those unibody cars and sacrifice part of the body..
Larry Rathgeb: Well anyway, we had a good suspension front, good suspension back, shortened the rear spring segments and got more stiffness out of it, all of those things that go along with good geometry. And we said that we wanted to use this car and Ronnie Householder said ' Well, the first thing that we gotta do is make sure it's as good as the Nichels car." And we went down to Nichels and had him test at Darlington and Nichels said 'I want the first three days. After that you guys can have two days.' Ok. Goldsmith was the test driver. And on the third day, Goldsmith was running slower than he was the first day and Nichels time was up. I said we need some time. Paul got in the car, our car, and he ran it, he ran about six or seven laps and came back in and he went up to Ray and said 'Ray, I don't know whether it was because they were good or because they were lucky, but this is the car. He said 'Let's just go home and build this car. Let's just go home and do it.' So that's how we tested the car. We had a lot of other arguments in between. And they had Nichels build some other kind of car. Householder called up Nichels and said 'Build seven more of them.' And he built them and then they went to test at Milwaukee, they were going to run in September, it was a big deal.
Charlie Gray: It was the last race.
Larry Rathgeb: Yeah, I think it's two of three races during that time. And they went up and hired a whole bunch of Indy drivers, they had hired Foyt, they had hired...
Charlie Gray: Unser
Larry Rathgeb: Bobby drove. We had hired a whole bunch of people. We figured well, I'm really going to wrap it up with that car when we went to test and man, were we slow. Very, Very slow. We couldn't understand why we were so slow. And Householder said ' Get down to Nichels Engineering and fix it.' And I said I can't, I can't do that. And he said 'Get down there!' So I went down there and we worked all night long trying to make the tie rods longer. The tie rods were three inches too short. And the thing went up and down like this. Anyway we went back up there.
Charlie Gray: Make it rigid...and finish the job!
Larry Rathgeb: I wasn't going to go there... I can't fix your suspension, it's your problem, you created the car. Anyway, we went up there and one by one we finished the job. One by one, they all fell out, the upper control arms started to break, the drivers just couldn't handle it and they finally came in and parked them and at the end of the race we didn't have a car left. And after that they said ok, we'll build the engineering car and it became the standard car.
Charlie Gray: Again, this was '64?
Larry Rathgeb: '64. The latter part of '64. Then I had to go out then with boxes of parts and prints to all of the places, the southern shops, and one of the first ones we did was Ray Fox, we built a car for Ray Fox. And Buck Baker drove that car in the first race.
George Wallace: How big was the steering wheel in that car?
Larry Rathgeb: About that big around [hands as far apart as possible]. Laughter. We built a whole bunch of cars at the same time Nichels was working overtime building other cars so by the beginning of 1965, every Chrysler runner, and we have a lot of runners.. Householder, we gotta give a lot of credit because he was an ex-USAC midget champ.
George Wallace: A good guy.
Larry Rathgeb: One of the finest. And because of that he knew just about everybody in the fraternity, he knew everybody. So we had probably some of the finest stables and finest name drivers in all of the sanctioning bodies throughout the country. USAC, Stock Car, ARCA, IMSA, NASCAR West, NASCAR Daytona, all of those.
Charlie Gray: He made a lot of converts. Norm Nelson..
Larry Rathgeb: Yes he did.
Charlie Gray: Ernie Derr...
Larry Rathgeb: Yep. You bet. All because of Householder. And knowing he was there, he was able to convince them.
Doug Schellinger: When you talk about the Lee Petty conversation to Householder, is one of the reasons Nichels had the contract because of his relationship with Householder?
Larry Rathgeb: Oh yeah. They were buddies. I mean, they were good friends.
Doug Schellinger: Is that because of the open wheel connection going way back?
Larry Rathgeb: Yes. And Nichels built a lot of Indy cars.
George Wallace: Larry, are you aware that Ray Nichels was crew chief of the A311 car? You know, the 1953 early Hemi they tried to run at Indy.
Larry Rathgeb: No.
George Wallace: It was the Firestone test car.
Larry Rathgeb: No, I didn't know that. He was with one of the guys that was killed, Lukovich was it?
George Wallace: He might have.
Charlie Gray: He was killed in '55.
George Wallace: It was a fuel injected car.
Someone in Audience: Howard Kemp was the car owner.
Charlie Gray: He'd been driving #14, he moved to #4 and as a matter of fact, he got killed in #4. Foyt had had the #14, this was twenty years later, and he had finished up fourth in points and then he told me he was going to change his Indy car number to #4 and I said AJ, I'm not superstitious but I'm careful, and he left it #14 and it's been #14 ever since.
George Wallace: In '53 Firestone was the only tire supplier.
Charlie Gray: And the tires were about that wide [holds fingers about 5" apart]
George Wallace: And they did tire testing with the Offy's and all, and kept using up equipment because the Offy's were good for about 550 miles. I don't know who put it together, but Ray Nichels ended up being in charge. A Chrysler Hemi, what we called the A311 program, was the first high performance Hemi of the old Hemi. And we put that 331 Hemi in a Curtis Craft chassis for Firestone and we used it for a test car for about six years. That thing would run about 2,000 miles before we had to take the engine apart.
Charlie Gray: What year was that?
George Wallace: I think we did it first in '52 or '53. And in '53 we were going to try to run the engine in the race. The rules then were four and a half liters unblown, three liters blown, four and a half liters unblown plus the Novi. And that was the pre-Granatelli Novi. His general thought was he was going to let us run four and half liters per Offy plus a lot of stock block that could be five and a half liters, just over 331 like the Chrysler engine. Unfortunately, somebody went and ran the engine in another car and broke all, went faster than the existing lap record and suddenly, AAA was running then before USAC, suddenly decided if you're going to run a stock block, you will run exactly the same size as everybody else. We built a bunch of short stroke Hemis, and they were in several cars, none of them were really good cars, the good owners found no reason to get involved with the stock block and because of that did not make the race. But the work they did on the program, the A311 program, was probably what started most of the Chrysler drag racing stuff. And all of those parts managed to get liberated by, mostly by our friends the RamChargers [drag race team] and they were put to extremely good use.
Larry Rathgeb: Ronnie probably was involved in that too and that's why he and Nichels were so close. Because he was performance for Chrysler.
George Wallace: He came out in '55.
Larry Rathgeb: '56.
George Wallace: Yeah, '55 or '56. In the end of '56 the AMA, the Automobile Manufacturing Association, all got together and said 'We aren't going racing any more.'
Larry Rathgeb: Above board...
Charlie Gray: Yeah, Ford was winning all the races in NASCAR.
George Wallace: Ford was the centrifugally blown engine.
Charlie Gray: '57 was when we came out with that engine. '55 and '56 Turner signed Joe Weatherly and a guy by the name of Buddy Shoeman, I think they won 40 some straight races and that's where the name Pops came from, every hear of Pops? Turner would call Joe Pops and Joe would call Turner Pops, and it wasn't because he thought he was a papa or whatever. Well all of these Pops were running down the straightaway, they would pop each other right into the wall. And it would really pop, they put on a show! And we decided we weren't taking Ford outta racing. And by the way, when we got back into racing we didn't do it through the back door, we went to the AMA and told them 'We're going racing'.
George Wallace: Yeah. GM is the one who never admitted that they there were into racing. I don't know if Chrysler said officially we're going back racing but we certainly made no secret about it. Especially during that period when we weren't racing, Ronnie Householder was running fleet sales.
Larry Rathgeb: And police work.
George Wallace: Yep. He was doing a very good job in that area.
John Pointer: I remember there was one case where he set up the pursuit cars for the California Highway Patrol and he set them up as if they were race cars. In fact, they had a heavy understeer to power them through the corners and the cops were used to driving like rallye drivers, where they're out in the race deep in the corner and then they get on the throttle. These poor guys, they'd go into the corner and then cut the wheels..
Larry Rathgeb: And then they'd go straight! [Laughter].
George Wallace: It's known as push! [Laughter]. Charlie holds up a piece of Road Runner artwork on a small bumper sticker. It shows a coyote with a Ford emblem on it's sleeve holding a Road Runner by the neck with the caption "Beep, Beep Your Ass!"
Charlie Gray: Do you guys remember this?
George Wallace: I remember the rubber chicken that AJ had hung up in the garage.
Charlie Gray: I think what you're referring to is we were at Atlanta and we tried to take the families once or twice a year, because we were gone so much, I was gone an average of 32 weekends a year, and those weekends began on Wednesday and ended Sunday night sometimes. I was never home in January and hardly ever in February and we were testing in December, and as I mentioned before, the vacation between Christmas and New Years we tested again. So we tried to take the family whenever we could, which wasn't very often, but we did take them to Atlanta and the little blue Road Runner was there and even though Cale won another one for the Wood brothers and we were all about to leave the race track and there was this little blue Road Runner down here in the line of traffic right next to us. And I'm talking to my wife and I reached down and got one of these things [the sticker] and she said, 'Don't do it'. And I said I'll be right back. Laughter. And she said 'Charlie, don't do it.' And when I went out the door, she didn't think she'd ever see me again. I went over and gave it to this guy. It was hotter than blazes. He rolled the window down and I gave it to him and he got a big kick outta that. [Laughter]. The door on the bus was open..I could have made it back! [Laughter]. He took it in great humor and I did it maliciously. [Laughter]. ..My wife was trying to look out after my own good health...I'd like to tell you how we evolved and these gentlemen told you how they evolved....going way back in '60 a wedge car won, that was Junior, '61 a wedge car won at Daytona; that was Marvin in a year old Pontiac; '62 a wedge car won, that was Fireball in a Pontiac; '63 a big line of Fords, one, two, three, four, five; '64 we got our legs cut off by Chrysler when they showed up, we had no idea they were going to come with the Hemi. I think they had five engines and NASCAR let em run and they whipped us something bad. They showed up fast, they ran fast, they won the race, I don't think they lost an engine.
George Wallace: Uh, you don't know how close that was! [Laughter].
Charlie Gray: Anyhow, that's your secret! In '64 they did really well at Daytona. In '65 we decided that we needed to run with them so we brought us a 90-day wonder which is a single overhead camshaft 427, that was a wonderful, wonderful engine. Mr. France did not let us run it. We announced it in time, we had the numbers in time, he said it was too close to being a race engine and the other thing it was a race carburetor..
George Wallace: We had a Hemi before that..
Charlie Gray: No, I'm not talking about your Hemi, I'm talking about your carburetor. And that was a race carb. Anyhow, he wouldn't let us drive in Dallas in '65. He wouldn't let these fellows run either. He took their Hemi away from them, he thought that was even up. They stayed home. We did not. So in '65 the track was ours and we did really well. In '66 we went to Daytona and we actually would have won the race, but a guy by the name of Jim Hurtibise was driving Norm Nelson's car and Goodyear hadn't been around that long and he kept throwing the centers out of his left rear tire and he knocked the windshield out of the Curtis' Ford and he knocked the windshield out of Marvin Panch's Ford and knocked the windshield out of Dick Hutcherson's Ford and they [Chrysler] won the race. [Laughter]. He knew that we could not run with him and you had to see our cars!
George Wallace: #43 was the car that won the race.
Charlie Gray: You had to see our cars! They were anything but stock cars. They were like wedges. The fronts were pulled way down and so forth. We were not proud of them, but we could run with them on the short track. We knew that we couldn't run with them on a mile and a half. We were leading Atlanta the next race only because of fuel and Freddy was leading and had won it three years in a row and he didn't last because there was a caution and Hurtibise won it again, won it in Norm Nelson's car. We had a little meeting right after that at Ford and decided that we were not going to go racing. I was not very popular with my two immediate bosses. And my supervisor said 'You're right.' And we called Mr. France from his office and said we have decided not to race until we can be competitive. We had a big Ford, we couldn't run competitively aerodynamically, they put a weight restriction on us and I don't even remember what it was, and they wouldn't let us run the single overhead camshaft 427. So we knew we could not be competitive so we stopped. We had tried a Fairlane two years before that but it was springing up on the upper arms, Larry can tell you what kind of loads we probably had to run, because of the short arms and the rest of it.
Larry Rathgeb: You ran a couple of races with, didn't you?
Charlie Gray: No we didn't.
Larry Rathgeb: In '67?
Charlie Gray: No I'm talking about '63. So we knew we couldn't go back with a unisized car, we knew we couldn't make it work, so during '66, we were busy with LeMans and I was left to my own devices. We sawed the front end off a Galaxy and narrowed it up and stuck it on the Fairlane. So we had the same suspension under this car that we had under the Galaxy. It was just narrowed. The first one we took to Bristol with Curtis driving it and rejected it because it was too wide. We went back and told them ok, we gotta have certain points and they finally let us use some of our points. Of course the whole idea was where the hell did they go? Where the hell did the guy with the oil can go? But we got that worked out and we ended up with two cars at the end of '66, they gave us two 4V's. So we immediately gained about 40 hp and we had the Fairlane with the frame suspension in it and it was a pretty good car. We had a few problems like hubs would fry, so we reinvented the hubs. Had a few problems like the front spindles because of the speeds we were running. We calculated it out and it was only good for three and a half hours and the race at Daytona was a little bit more than that so we came in with a new spindle that had a calculated life of 24 hours, we eventually cut the pin length back down to 8 1/2 so we could get the tire on and off. So we ended up at Riverside and Parnelli won that race. We go to Daytona, I think I told you before, did I tell you about Mario and his spoiler? Anyhow these fellows had introduced the spoiler the year before on their Dodge, which made it easy for us. They couldn't drive that Dodge unless France gave them that spoiler. On that Fairlane..
George Wallace: It was the original '66 fastback Charger.
Charlie Gray: On our Fairlane, we needed a spoiler. And in the tunnel-and we did more tunnel work than anyone ever knew, we'd go up for 25 hours at a time when people really didn't know that we were doing aerodynamics-we had to have aerodynamics, we had no horsepower. So it was a simple little thing with the spoiler, either you wanted it with no spoiler, a 30 degree spoiler or a 45 degree spoiler, but whatever you qualified with in those days, you had to race it. So I had gone down the year before to the 400, the middle of July 4th race, and I'd seen this guy by the name of Andretti driving Smokey Yunick's big Chevy. And he really took the place apart because he knew it was a slow car, but he ran it so loose with the tail sticking up the bank that he was really fast. So it came time for 1967 and I presented all the facts to the drivers and said 'Here it is, with a 30 degree spoiler you're going to be faster and you're going to have a loose condition, and a 45 degree spoiler you're going to be pretty well planted. He's the only one that chose the 30 degree spoiler. He ran that race with the tail sticking up the bank and he won it. We did fairly well that year, Richard won a lot of races but we didn't go to any of those races. [Laughter]. And when we brought out the '68 Fairlane we could not believe how fast that thing was. It really was fast. And these fellows [Chrysler] had come back and they were running their Hemis and we were fortunate in winning some races and then in the fall of that year, these guys showed that Dodge [Charger 500]-our Talladega and Cyclone II would never have seen the light of day if they had not shown that Dodge at that October race and I got permission to build the car and we went from there. Then in 1969, there were 22 superspeedway races and we won 21 of them. And in 1970, Mr. France invented the restrictor plate and that killed our 429. Our engine was a high winding, high horsepower engine, the Chrysler Hemi was a good torqueing engine, a wonderful engine, and we couldn't run with them. We were done. So the restrictor plate came out and by that time, we were getting our budget cut back. Bunky Knudsen had fallen out of favor with Mr. Ford, seeing how there was a gentleman by the name of Iacocca who really wanted to be President and he got Mr. Ford to let Mr. Knudsen go and we quit racing.
George Wallace: That's the first favor Iacocca did for Chrysler! [Laughter].
Charlie Gray: Let's put it this way, personally speaking, I had a hell of time. I enjoyed it thoroughly. When we got back into racing they did come out and asked me to go back but I had learned how to be a human being. I learned that it was wonderful to be home with the family on weekends and watch the races on TV, and not be gone all the time. And I've had to live with that. I still am friends with the people, go to several races each year, just saw the Wood brothers testing in Michigan two months ago, I was just down with Bud Moore at a roasting type of thing about two weeks ago, so we're still friends. But it was a hell of a life.
Larry Rathgeb: I feel the same way. I spent my 16 years in that business. Probably the best years of my life. They really were. There were a lot of people, fine people..
Charlie Gray: I've said this forever, and I'll say it again, if you're smart enough to make a living in racing, you're smart enough to make it anywhere. It is so competitive. The thing that I think that I added to the Ford program is I gave them the freedom to do what they wanted to do. I was fortunate in that LeMans came on about that time and I had nothing to do with LeMans. And where everybody was trying to really get the job done there, I had a lot of freedom, I didn't have to ask a lot of people what I needed to do or what I could do, I just did it. We invented the 396. I'll never will forget the first race we ran with that, a guy by the name of Fred Lorenzen ran the only engine we had and we ran Firestone Red Dot 104's all the way around, they were left side tires, and at 3,800 lbs they were smooth enough to get it done..and this was all before the 427 block. Then we invented an engine that was, was it 354 or was it 374...
Larry Rathgeb: 374 I think.
Charlie Gray: Anyhow we still used the 427 and got it down so that we could run a 3,500 lb car by the formula and I called Junior and I asked him how light he could get his car and I said we got an engine for you that can do the 3,500 if you can do it. So he took the engine and Darrel Derringer was driving it for him and he sat on the pole at Wilkesboro and led every lap. First time it had ever been done.
Larry Rathgeb: What year was that?
Charlie Gray: '67 and he did not believe that engine was that small. The only real problem we had with that engine was that we had to put so much weight on the throws, the crank throws, to balance it that we had very, very low meat under the piston pins. And we just knew that those pistons were going to fly through the top of that engine. But it didn't. We never had a piston failure and it was amazing. Course we lightened the pistons just as much as we could, took all the meat out of those pistons, almost unbearable where we thought the thing would fall apart.
Rathgeb: Were those tunnel ports or just conventional beam rods?
Charlie Gray: That was tunnel port. I promise I'd tell you about the tunnel port. In '67 we showed up at the beach. Smokey's Chevelle sat on the pole at 182 mph with Curtis driving. Our fastest car was right at 180 and that was Cale. And the rest of them were like 178 or whatever. We had tremendous problems with the engine, the oil pan, and so forth. So the day after qualifying, in those days you had two weeks between qualifying and the race, because we had the ARCA race the following weekend. And then the 500 the weekend after, so we had two weeks. Dick Hutcherson had a meeting with the guys the next morning and I said Dick, you gotta develop this oil pan. And we were very restricted on how much oil we could take. And the problem was when we were under caution or whatever on the bank all the oil would run away from the pickup. As long as you were under speed and you had the g-force the oil would go to the pickup. So we developed a pan with a swing pickup and various things and our window was 8 to 11 quarts. So we got that figured out. The exhaust system, uh, Junior took on the camshaft and I forget who it was took on the exhaust system. Anyhow no one took us serious and Freddy won one of the 100-mile races and the day after we stuck in our racing engine and all a sudden the little Chevelle that qualified at 182 was running 178 mph. In race trim, Mario was running 182, Cale was running 181, a couple of other cars were running 180. My friends here [Chrysler] saw an intake manifold come off of one of our engines, and it was a tunnel port engine, and nobody had ever heard of that. And the reason why they knew something was funny, is because the pushrods ran up and down through the intake port so Mr. Taylor called and said 'Charlie, we got a problem'. And I said what's that Mr. Taylor. And he said 'You got a funny engine in your car'. [Laughter]. Why's that Mr. Taylor? He said 'Well, some of your friends over there have seen pushrods in the intake.' And I said yes sir, it's a tunnel port engine. And he said 'Well, it's illegal'. And I said why's that Mr. Taylor. He said 'You didn't tell me about it.' I said I THOUGHT that what you said we had to do was to send you five sets of AMA specifications in October so you would know what's in these cars. And he said 'Yes that's true'. I said you happen to have a set of those specifications. There are right here. So he opened them up and said 'Hmmmm, it's in there'...so he, of course, approved the engine. And our friends here [Chrysler] got pretty upset. [Laughter]. And there we were, we developed our own problem doing the 100-mile races, ended up we all of a sudden had engines that were leaking water. And racers are racers. We had tunnel port heads that our engine and foundry designers had told us were at the max, as far as the volume was concerned, through the intake ports. But racers are racers and they gotta know how to build up those engines-and they ground them through and made them so thin that we had leakers. So all of a sudden there we are and we got the guys to fess up. And the night after the qualifying races, before we put the race engines in, we had a C47 in town, a DC3 and we flew all these cylinder heads down and we built a dyno out of packing crates right outside my office at Daytona, and we took every race day engine and took the cylinder heads off and put on the brand new cylinder heads that were not ported, that were stock, built the way that Engine and Foundry wanted them, put them together, Jack spent all night running those engines making sure that they were sealed and we put them in the next day and that's when we started flying. But people were very upset at us, and they thought we were illegal, but we won it.
George Wallace: Very quickly..
Charlie Gray: We were legal. We did it the way the rules said. We did have a few things that these guys didn't appreciate, in there were no rain gutters on the cars. They were 95% in size, we thought. [Laughter]. A couple of the body panels were not inside the slate. It's probably the only reason we have templates in NASCAR now. [Laughter]. We had no horsepower and people did not know how much time we spent in the wind tunnel. We spent gobs and gobs and gobs of time in the wind tunnel working out all these details.
George Wallace: Were the Torinos fastbacks mainly designed as race cars or was it just a production model that happened to be a good race car?
Charlie Gray: In '68?
George Wallace: Yep.
Charlie Gray: In those days, we were given no consideration.
George Wallace: Same way with us.
Charlie Gray: In '63, that '63 test car was built for us. We had a square back. And they built that '63 for us. And it was good in '63 and '64. And then we got that box in '65.
George Wallace: So you said styling designed that?
Charlie Gray: Did styling do that for me in 63 or 64, I don't know. That was a long time ago. But I do know that since then even though we got out of racing in 1970, the gentleman who was in charge of engineering at that time would call me over to the design center and ask my opinion on bumpers. We were outta racing, but we knew that guys like the Wood Brothers and Bud Moore were doing that, so the people did become educated, and they'd give us a little hand and a little tactic here.
Larry Rathgeb: There's some other things I'd like to say. I have two stories I'd like to tell. First is somebody mentioned out there the Dow Chemical-Prestone thing and what had happened with that. It was a race at Darlington, for some reason I didn't go. As Charlie said whenever you could get away from it and stay home with your family, it was good to do, so I didn't go. And for some reason-we were running a winged car see-all the winged cars fell out because of overheating. Every single winged car. And everybody thought well, it's because of the horrendous heat down there in September, a lot of heat in South Carolina. Who was the guy that was running the place at that time..?
George Wallace: Colvin.
Larry Rathgeb: Oh no, I'm not talking about Darlington, I'm talking about the Chrysler Corporation. But he called me anyway and said 'Rathgeb, We've got a problem and by the next race I want it solved. I don't want this to happen again. We don't have enough cooling and blah, blah, blah'. So I didn't go to the races, but anyway I spent the next week and a half with the cooling people trying to find out as much as I could and have them develop for me whatever they could to help that system, and they checked out the Corvette. It was just a air separating thing is all it was. And there was already a tapped hole in this suction side of the crossflow radiator, so they said now tap this here, run this there, run this piece out to the eye of the pump and the overflow from this put into a bottle, so when it goes out it comes into this. The problem they thought was, ok when these guys go into the pits, all of that metal heat goes in the water, the water boils over, goes out the overflow on the ground, when they start up the water goes back and condenses again and it's even smaller, then we have big pockets of air in the system and now we overheat. So this should resolve your problem. They made up a whole bunch of packages for all of the contracted people and so of course, some of the independents. And I took off for Charlotte the next race. And as I drove into the track I see this big 18 wheeler parked there and it says Dow Prestone, you know, and I had already gone through this problem about how Prestone has a cooling medium bringing the temperature up. It boils at a much higher temperature therefore we don't get the nucleate cooling that you get with water at 212° so you lose cooling capability.
George Wallace: It has a much lower specific heat point..
Larry Rathgeb: Right, than water! So I said, Oh, that's it! I went up there and said I want to talk to whoever is in charge. Somebody here is in charge and I gotta talk to them. So he introduced himself and I said how much of this shit is in the Chrysler cars? He said 'All of them. Boy these guys owe you $5,000 if they come in the first five places and on and on and on'. And I said, well I'm going to go in and I'm going to take it out of all of the Chrysler cars and I don't ever want to see it in there again. [Laughter]. I'm going to use water. We used plain water and two pint cans of water pump lubricant, water soluble oil and Chrysler at that time, probably had the best stuff on the market and I had brought a bunch of that stuff with me too. And I went around to everybody and they all did it, they drained it all out and threw it away and I went to the Petty's and said take your [Dow] sticker off the car and put water in it and do this. Everybody did, except Petty left the sticker on. And I said Maurice, you know, you guys overheat, you're going to lose your [Chrysler] contract. There's no way around it, because I've been warned that this thing better not happen again to any of our cars. And he said 'Don't worry about that, everything's going to be ok. Everything is going to be fine.' They never overheated. The following races, they didn't overheat. I figured they were using the same thing. We get down to Talladega and he comes up to us and says "How much of that Prestone do I have to put in so that the Dow people will know it's there but it won't hurt me?' [Laughter]. I said quit using it. 'Oh hell Larry,' he says, 'We used water in there. You know when you told us that at Charlotte, we drained it all out and took it home in buckets and poured it into the bathtub, you know, looked at the color of it, drained it all out and then we fed green dye into water until we had the same match.' [Laughter]. And that's what he'd been using ever since. And he said 'Well, they came back and they checked us with some kind of thing, a hydrometer kind of thing and it said we didn't have enough in there.' He didn't have ANY in there! [Laughter]. You know, you want that $5,000, you better use Prestone or get that sticker off the car! Well, you know a quart probably won't hurt you, but they'll know it's in there. But I don't know what he did after that. And the other one I have, is my early association in this whole thing and it was at Darlington, and you know, the contract that Householder had with all these people involved the car owner and some of the drivers getting cars to use, you know, production cars, passenger cars to drive around. And Lee Petty that year had chosen a big Chrysler Suburban. A huge piece with an electrically operated tailgate window. And I was walking through the garage and here's Householder and Lee in there talking back and forth and Ronnie's got this thing in his hand. He's got the little coupling that goes between the electric motor shaft and the window operating mechanism. And it's a piece of rubber and it's got two D-hole washers vulcanized at each end. One of those washers had come loose so we had two pieces and he said 'Ronnie, I need you to get me a fresh piece. I can't operate my window. It's down and I can't get it up again.' I went and interrupted and said excuse me, I can fix that. I can take care of that. There's a new product that's a 24 hour dry chemical drying thing that they call epoxy. And if you let me, I can take that thing and I can fix it and have it ready for installation by tomorrow morning and get your window back up. Neither one looked convinced, they looked at one another and looked at me and kinda shook their heads but ol' Ronnie, he liked the idea having it ready by morning. So, he said 'Get the parts, Larry, get the parts.' So I ran into Florence and got to the hardware store and I found some Foxy epoxy in there, went back to the track and ol' Ronnie and Lee, they watched as I measured it out and fixed it up and poured that glue on those pieces and put it all together. And I'm looking around for a place to put this, you know, while it hardened. And you know there wasn't a whole lot of places. And Lee's standing there and he says 'Got a beam up there? Put it up on that beam. Nobody will mess with it up there.' So I hopped up on the bench and reached up there and put it-there was a big post here, a big 4 or 5 inch post-and I slid it over right next to that post thinking I was the only one who'd know where it was. And I came down. Next morning, Lee meets me at the gate. He says 'Lets go find that part, son.' So we walked down there, and, 'right here ain't it?'-and I jumped up on there and was feeling around, you know, feeling with my fingers and I hit that thing and knocked it over and it falls right down that thing, right through the pole, right down to the concrete, that thing's in cement down there! [Laughter]. And Lee, he wasn't just mad, he was pissed. So he kind of fidgeted a little bit and I said well, you know, maybe I could find an magnet. If I find a magnet, I can lower it on a string down there, maybe I can get it and pull it back up again.
Charlie Gray: And this is a race engineer?! [Laughter].
Larry Rathgeb: Yeah! If I can get it back up, you know, if I can retrieve the part and maybe save a little bit of respect I lost. I couldn't find a magnet. So Lee and I were standing there and he's getting madder and madder and he's puffing on his pipe and there's a set of tanks there. Welding tanks. 'You know how to use a torch?', he says to me, 'You know how to use a torch?' I said yes, of course I do. I got one of those things and I weld all the time, I know how to use that. And he said 'Well, get on with it. Get on with it!' So I opened the tanks, set the pressures, put the goggles on, lit the torch, you know, I get down there, I'm telling ya, like a real pro. And I cut just a beautiful hole about 4 inches up from the floor and as that flame came around to the initial cut, that big piece just fell into the pipe and whoosh!...the flame that came out of that hole![Laughter]. We got the can and doused the whole thing and got it all cooled off and put everything back and I reached in that hole and I pulled out two very dark D washers![ Laughter]. Lee grabbed them from me and put them in his hands, he grabbed me by the collar, and then he marched me right over to Householder. I remember it like he said it just yesterday, he says 'Ronnie, I asked you for a part. And all you give me was two tubes of glue and an engineer...now look what I got!' [Laughter]. I'm sure I never regained any confidence with Lee again, you know, I don't know if I ever had any to begin with but..you know they all say hey, 16 years old, I grew up with such a wonderful life. I had some bad days too, I'll tell ya!
Charlie Gray: You forget all the nights you stayed up. You forget all the times you never went to bed...
Larry Rathgeb: Yep, you just remember the good times.
George Wallace: One of the nice things about NASCAR is they threw you out of the garage. You couldn't stay there all night like other race operations.
Charlie Gray: Yeah, but we had our shops at Charlotte.
Larry Rathgeb: That's right, you were there and went right back, and like, we went to Patterson's garage and somebody's kickin' that cold meat out to you at 3 o'clock in the morning while you're laying under there doing something, you know. No matter what, it was good. I enjoyed it.
Charlie Gray: That Dow Chemical thing..those first 396's we ran we couldn't get them to seal. As Petty's qualifying, it was smoking. It was the only engine we had, we took it out of the car, took it right back to Charlotte, we were at Rockingham, took it back to Charlotte, got into that thing that night. They paid a lot of money, Perfect Circle did, if you ran their piston ring. Of course, all three piston rings had to be Perfect Circle. The only way we could get that thing to seal is to run a different oil ring and that's the way it ran but it had the Perfect Circle decal on the side and we got paid by Perfect Circle. Do you remember Stoney?
Larry Rathgeb: Yep, sure do.
Charlie Gray: And he thought something was up.
Larry Rathgeb: He knew it wasn't sealed..Ha-Ha!
Charlie Gray: He knew it WAS sealed, so he knew it wasn't right. But you did things like that, you were there to race, you found out how to run and you got it done. One other thing on Darlington, yeah you're right, we had the same kind of problems like the cooling. But I'm sure you had the same thing, but we had three different radiators, we had nine fins per inch, eleven fins per inch, thirteen fins per inch, we fooled with fifteen but that was like a solid wall. And of course when we went to the Supers and qualified, you had the biggest density you could have and when you went to Darlington, because you ground so much rubber off the tires, it clogged up the radiator all the time and you ran nine fins per inch and wished that you had five.
George Wallace: And the engine was so hot.
Charlie Gray: So you could kind of cool this thing and pass the rubber through.
Larry Rathgeb: You were talking about them allowing you so much freedom. We didn't do it that way. We tried to hold them to exactly what we thought they ought to have. In design, we located the instrument panel, we located the rear sway bar, we located all of the variables in the car as design criteria.
Charlie Gray: That's not the kind of freedom I was talking about. I was talking about creative freedom.
Larry Rathgeb: Oh, ok.
Charlie Gray: The 396 would never have been invented if I had to think it up. I gave them the freedom to think. The 354, 374, none of them would have been thought up if I hadn't have given them the freedom. I wasn't smart enough to do that. They were smart enough to do that.
Larry Rathgeb: Right.
Charlie Gray: There's so much talent and so many people that know what needs to be done. There's so much talent in the racing world, just give them the opportunity to get it done. They respect you and you can get it organized and so forth. The highest man counts, that's true, you knew that, but you give them freedom to think. I told Howard one day, I said Howard, you make these guys understand that they're free to do whatever they want to do and if it works, so be it. Let them tell the world. If it screws up, just tell them I told them to do it. [Laughter] And I think that was the only thing I did, they did all the thinking. They did all the rest of it. Yeah we did the engines and we had a good time.
George Wallace: What was that about that motion thing [with Lee Petty]?
Larry Rathgeb: All I know is he had, initially, he had a lateral torsion bar that was anchored in the right side rail and it was tied off to the left side of the axle, it was just another spring. And he ran a single leaf spring on that side he said it was a weight swap. He said "When the car rolls over, it pushes up here, puts all that load right over there. Ain't no more load over here, all of that load goes right over there.' And I said now, there's a big difference now between internal stress and external force..
George Wallace: (Laughing) I guess!
Larry Rathgeb: [Imitating Lee]Weight goes right over there, you got to know that there, son! [Laughter]. How's your health, boy? [Laughter].
George Wallace: Are you green?
Larry Rathgeb: Oh yeah, that was it! He walked up and says 'Are you green, boy?' Yeah. He said 'Good cause you got to be green to grow.' [Laughter]. Good ol' Lee Petty.
George Wallace: Giving him a stopwatch was dangerous. He'd start timing the car then he'd wander away and then he wouldn't remember where he was when he started the lap. He'd draw a line, with his toe, he'd draw a line in the dirt, even then he'd forget where he was. [Laughter].
Larry Rathgeb: He was an original.
George Wallace: Yes.
Larry Rathgeb: He was a fine racer.
George Wallace: Till he went over the wall.
Charlie Gray: He always said 'I'd rather be lucky than good'.
Larry Rathgeb: That's right.
George Wallace: We both really went over the wall with him, but it's none of our fault.[Laughter].
Larry Rathgeb: I don't know where it came from but Maurice was telling me a motto 'Boy, you win if you can, you lose if you must, but you always cheat.' [Laughter].
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